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New York Times: Bolivian Protesters Shut Down Pipeline

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: February 3, 2007
Filed at 12:10 a.m. ET

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Protesters forced the shutdown of a natural gas pipeline serving several of Bolivia’s largest cities to demand that President Evo Morales broaden his petroleum nationalization and expand state energy company operations in southern Bolivia.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia confirmed that protesters on Friday had taken control of a pumping plant outside the city of Camiri, 320 miles southeast of the capital of La Paz, forcing employees of pipeline operator Transredes to shut off the flow of gas.

The pipeline serves La Paz and the eastern city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s two largest cities, but the shutdown had not affected supplies in either city, Garcia said.

Garcia said the protests have ”no justification, because the pipelines are the veins of our country.”

Officials at Transredes, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, declined to comment except to say they were monitoring the situation.

The shutdown did not affect pipelines carrying Bolivian natural gas to neighboring Brazil and Argentina.

Since Monday, the protesters have blockaded the main highway outside Camiri to demand that Bolivian state energy company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos, or YPFB, build a local headquarters in their town.

The office was planned before Morales was inaugurated last year, but scrapped as the beleaguered company reorganizes itself under the terms of his oil and gas nationalization.

Saying that nationalization has not gone far enough, the demonstrators also have demanded that Morales seize two Bolivian oil refineries operated by Brazilian state energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras — a move his government announced last September but quickly aborted in the face of fierce international criticism.

The protesters are also seeking the ”refounding” of YPFB, which was eviscerated by a botched 1996 privatization. But Morales already declared the company ”refounded” last August while announcing plans for a complete overhaul.

”They’re asking for the refounding of YPFB, and we’re working on it,” Morales said earlier Friday.

Morales nationalized Bolivia’s extensive natural gas fields last May, sending soldiers to seize foreign companies’ installations. But after six months of delicate negotiations the companies were allowed to remain in the country after signing new contracts granting the state a significantly larger share of their revenues.

In the early 20th century, Camiri was home to one of Bolivia’s first big gas wells, but production has since moved elsewhere. Local residents hope a new YPFB office could bring much-needed jobs to the area.

Shutting down pipelines is a common form of political protest in Bolivia. Last August, demonstrators briefly shutdown a gas pipeline to Argentina to protest border crossing fees, while in the same month Guarani Indians seized a pipeline control facility to demand a larger share of gas royalties.

Related article

New York Times: Protesters Occupy Natural Gas Station in Bolivia
 
By REUTERS
Published: February 2, 2007
Filed at 9:35 p.m. ET

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Demonstrators seized control of a natural gas facility in Bolivia on Friday in protest over the government’s nationalization of the energy industry, which they say has not gone far enough, local radio reported.

The protesters, who have blocked roads in the country’s gas-rich southeast for the past five days, stormed into the pipeline control station run by Transredes, operated by energy major Royal Dutch Shell, local radio Fides said.

“We’re going to keep up our protest until (state oil company) YPFB is rebuilt, so it serves only the Bolivian people and not the multinationals,” said one of the protest leaders, Mirko Orgaz.

The leftist government of President Evo Morales nationalized Bolivia’s energy industry in May 2006, but the protesters say he has failed to make good on vows to return to state control several small gas fields in the region.

They also want the government to relocate YPFB’s exploration and exploitation unit to the town of Camiri, which lies some 1,000 km (620 miles) southeast of the administrative capital, La Paz.

“They want YPFB to be overhauled, and that’s already on the way, that’s what all Bolivians want, but what has been destroyed in 20 years can’t be rebuilt in just one,” Morales said during a visit to the Chapare region in central Bolivia.

Morales — a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — took office a year ago on pledges to boost state control over natural resources, and invest the extra revenue to ease poverty in South America’s poorest country.

Under the nationalization, foreign energy companies with operations in Bolivia signed new operating deals that give YPFB control of production. The government says the state will see a bigger share of profits, though several of the companies have disputed that.

Shell is in talks to sell a 16-percent stake in natural gas pipeline company Transredes to the Bolivian government. The share transfer would allow YPFB, which has a 34-percent stake in Transredes, to control the firm.

Friday’s protest led Transredes to shut down the pipeline valves for safety reasons, Fides reported.

The protest measure will not affect exports of natural gas to Brazil and Argentina — the main buyers of the fuel from Bolivia, which has the largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

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