[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Bolivia gas move sparks hope and unease
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Since Bolivia announced on Monday it was taking state control of the energy industry, life at the gas and oil installations around the city of Santa Cruz continues as normal - with one substantial difference: military police are guarding every office, refinery and pumping station.

Military police outside Transredes
Employees feel like prisoners, Transredes says
Wearing white helmets and sporting guns, they search the bags of employees and visitors entering and leaving the buildings and patrol the corridors, their boots squeaking on the polished floors.

They say they are there as a security measure and so that important documents are not destroyed.

Teresita Arandia, the spokeswoman for Transredes, which transports gas and oil, says employees felt like prisoners.

"The government decision leaves many uncertainties," she says.

"We all have Bolivia's interests at heart but also we all want jobs. Many Bolivians have to go abroad to work and if this decision frightens away foreign investment, then we'll lose more jobs."

Moratorium

The eastern city of Santa Cruz is different from La Paz, the seat of government, in many ways.

This government has to guarantee that there will be no problems later on - with neighbouring countries, the countries that have investments here because we need investment
Daniel Castro
Pro-Santa Cruz Committee
It is flat, hot and humid. Its gas and oil wealth is shown off in ostentatious houses and shiny 4x4 vehicles.

But the roads are potholed and the health system in a poor state. Most of the wealth generated in the region is sent to La Paz and that is causing increasing resentment, with growing calls for greater autonomy and even full independence.

"We're different politically and culturally from La Paz. But basically Santa Cruz wants to earn, spend and enjoy more of its own money. That's why it wants more autonomy," says Benito Espindola from the Santa Cruz newspaper El Mundo.

A planned 24-hour strike called by the civic authorities last Thursday was suspended at the last moment after a government minister sent from La Paz promised to address the complaints.

The Santa Cruz authorities will decide at the end of this month whether the government is keeping its word.

Concerns

This is the area where opposition to President Evo Morales is probably at its strongest.

President Evo Morales
Evo Morales has shown his supporters that he means business
He won last December's elections with such a huge majority that complaints up until now have been muted.

Mr Morales had been promising change, but what left many in Santa Cruz shocked was the suddenness of his decision to nationalise and the dramatic pictures of troops being sent in to guard installations.

Many in Santa Cruz support state control over the gas industry but have little faith in the government's ability to handle the situation to their advantage. Or, they suspect that Evo Morales is being manipulated by Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez.

Daniel Castro from the Comite Pro Santa Cruz, the civic body that negotiates on the city's behalf, expresses a view common in the region:

"This government has to guarantee that there will be no problems later on - with neighbouring countries, the countries that have investments here because we need investment.

"But basically we're in agreement since we can't continue with a situation in which the multi-nationals had control of all our energy resources."

Compromise

Mr Morales came to power on the back of a promise that Bolivia's poor would receive a greater share of the wealth from the country's natural resources.

Few Bolivians, in both the predominantly indigenous Andes and the oil and gas producing east, would disagree with that sentiment.

Where they differ is on how that should be achieved.

Mr Morales has shown his supporters that he means business. But he cannot afford to lose the support of Santa Cruz or their friends in the foreign companies that invest in Bolivia.

They want Bolivia's oil and gas and to make a profit extracting it. Bolivia needs their expertise and investment but wants a greater share of that profit.

There is plenty of room for compromise and manoeuvre and there is likely to be a fair amount of both over the next few weeks and months.




SEE ALSO:
South Americans reach energy deal
04 May 06 |  Business
Petrobras scraps Bolivia project
04 May 06 |  Business
Chavez in Bolivia before gas meet
04 May 06 |  Americas
Q&A: Bolivia's gas takeover
03 May 06 |  Business
Crisis talks on Bolivia gas move
03 May 06 |  Americas


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific