Why would Bolivia blow off the International Oil industry
unless they already had a long-term, pressure immune alternate buyer
BOGOTA — When President Evo Morales nationalized
Bolivia’s gas industry this week, he fulfilled a popular campaign promise
to return his country’s riches to its people. But he may have done more
harm than good to Bolivia’s interests and those of the region, analysts
Bolivia boasts the second-largest hydrocarbon reserves in South America,
with an estimated potential value of $70 billion and including nearly
$1 billion in natural gas exports last year. If foreign investors
off by nationalization, the poorest country in the continent cannot afford
to fully exploit its hydrocarbons sector alone, the analysts say.
Bolivia is easily the most foreign foreign
country we have visited in our peripatetic voyages around the Western
Hemisphere. It is different
in so many ways and on so many levels that
a visit to Bolivia is more like a trip to another planet than
From the impossibly high Lake Titicaca, the highest
navigable body of water in the world, where people live on stilt houses
over the water, or on masses of interwoven vegetation floating on it,
to the Upper Amazon black market town Santa Cruz, known as the "White
City" and famous as the seat of Bolivia’s two most profitable industries,
oil and cocaine, and as a sort of spook central for the entire Amazon
Basin, the entire landlocked redoubt is a series of unsolvable, inscrutable
Andean and Amazonian riddles.
The last time we were in La Paz (world’s highest
national capital unless you include Lhasa. Tibet, which we do), the
city of winding,
climbing stone streets of Incan origin or inspiration which literally
takes ones breath away, seemed to be populated entirely by Indians and
In fact, Bolivia is the most ethnically Native American
country in the world. About 2/3 of the country are full-blooded Indians,
and most of the rest are Mestizos. And at the time the Dowbrigade last
visited, in the mid-70′s, La Paz still had a large and vibrant community
of ex-Nazis (for by then, after all, nobody was a Nazi anymore), refugees
and sympathizers, whose paperwork had been conveniently destroyed in
the war, but who had managed to escape with something valuable enough
that they had ingratiated themselves with the local power structure,
which had inclinations in those directions (fascism and graft) anyway.
They met at the old Hotel Italia, pulling up before
its stone and mortar porticos in chaffer-driven Mercedes, trim intense
men in their 50s and 60s, dressed in great, long woolen coats and high
leather boots against the mountain chill. We watched them come and go
because there wasn’t much else to do. La Paz didn’t seem to go in much
for public entertainment, and it was almost impossible to score. Plus,
the Italia was one of the few places to get a decent European-style meal.
But we digress. The conclusion that is stunningly obvious
to the Dowbrigade, and which we are incredulous that no one else is writing
about, is that Evo Morales would not be telling his traditional customers
(Brazil and Argentina, as well as the international oil companies represented
in Bolivia by Brazil’s Petrobras, Spanish-Argentine
Repsol YFP, and France’s Total to go take a flying fuck UNLESS HE ALREADY
HAD ANOTHER SIGNED DEAL IN HIS POCKET.
Who would dare deal with a rogue state like Bolivia
after they had blown off the US and international oil? Let’s think here
a minute, folks, its not nuclear fusion. Who can’t be bullied by George
Bush and the international oil cartel he is fronting for? Who would find
Evos brand of leftist populism and state control of vital industries
downright comforting? Who is desperately scurrying around the globe these
days to hunt down and tie up energy reserves in anticipation of the frantic
competition sure to ensue as demand increases and supply dwindles?
Meanwhile, business leaders in Santa Cruz, the headquarters
of Bolivia’s petroleum industry and its financial capital, have called
for a general strike today to protest the occupation by soldiers of 56
gas installations around the country.
Santa Cruz has long been controlled by a series
of Bolivian Army Colonels, who established themselves there as sort
of Western Warlords,
out of the effective reach of the capital, and smack atop the drug, smuggling
and spying nexus between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. A few years before
the Dowbrigade visited the place, Che Guevara was finally run to ground
by a CIA ht squad in the jungle less than a day’s march from town. The
Colonel de Jour took public credit, but the lesson seemed to be you could
get away with anything in Santa Cruz, if you knew who to talk to.
When we blew through town, three sleepless days
and nights on our way to Itagua, a tiny Paraguayan river port reputed
have the finest embroidery in the hemisphere (they did), before we finally
caught "The Train of Death" through the pestilent swamp to
anthropologists. Just because we were young and American, they
assumed we were drug dealers. Three times during our stay, runners came
up to us on the street and palmed us packets with 2 or 3 grams of pure
Bolivian flake inside, and a phone number written on the back
But wee are digressing again. A hazard of accumulated
experience. Everything reminds us of something else, these days.
In fact, representatives from the Chinese Oil Ministry
and China’s National Petroleum Company have been spotted in Santa Cruz
and La Paz often during the past six months. China has the capital, the
need and the will to take control of Bolivia’s huge natural gas resources
until they are empty. And why stop at gas? China has an understandable desire to make friends in the Americas as a counterbalance to US influence in Asia. In a few years, expect Bolivia to function as a fully-funded franchise of China, Inc.
The fact that Latin American countries are feeling freer
to abrogate deals signed by previous governments, levy new taxes and
fees in the face of the unprecedented capital accumulation represented
by the run-up in oil prices, and now even taking over their oil industries,
infrastructure and all, does not bode well for the future of American
For whatever reason, be it our overextended military,
our clear lack of national resolve, or our increasingly obvious moral
bankruptcy, our brother and sister nations are no longer willing to follow
our lead, or our instructions.
Today they are dissing our oil companies, breaking
deals and stealing equipment. Next thing you know they will be refusing
pay their loans, or deal with the IMF! And if it starts with our American
brethren, pretty soon we won’t be able to push people around in Asia,
Africa or the Middle East! Gadzooks, the American century just started,
and its already slipping out of control!
But what can we do? Invade Bolivia? And Venezuela,
Ecuador, Peru and Brazil? Is this the final battle of the Indian Wars which have been going on for the past 500 years, since White Men began displacing Red Men from the seats of power? Are we finally seeing the systemic readjustment
of the relative
value of raw and finished goods some economists have been predicting since the 60′s?
Or is it just the opening acts of Armageddon? Stay tuned…..
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