Bolivia nationalizes four oil firms, telecom company


La Paz : Bolivia Thursday said it had taken over four international energy companies in a continuation of the nationalization of its oil industry and would also take control of a telecommunications firm.

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The energy companies are Transredes, part of British firm Ashmore; Andina owned by Spain’s Repsol; Chaco, a subsidiary of Pan American Energy; and CLHB, controlled by joint Peruvian and German firm Kapital/Oiltanking GmbH, newspaper La Razon reported.

The government also said it would take control of telecommunications firm Entel, which is owned by Italy’s Telecom Italia.

The move comes as one of Bolivia’s wealthier provinces, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, prepares to hold a maverick referendum Sunday seeking greater autonomy to commandeer more of its endemic wealth in the form of natural gas and other resources.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader elected in 2005, has declared the referendum illegal.

The leftist-populist president set about nationalizing the country’s energy resources two years ago to fund government programmes in support of the Indio majority, who live mostly in the resource-poor highlands in the western part of the country.

Santa Cruz’s large population of European origin is trying to block Morales in his efforts.

In the first year after Morales nationalized much of the oil and natural gas industry, the government’s income doubled from the resources. But the lion’s share of the income continued going to the provinces.

Morales’ government has also renegotiated substantially more lucrative contracts with foreign energy companies.

Morales has received strong backing from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua in his efforts to nationalize the Andean nation’s energy resources.