As the two Amazonian states of Beni and Pando Sunday resoundingly voted for more autonomy, the backlash against the socialist government of Bolivian President Evo Morales marched on even though the central government has declared it illegal.
Undeterred Morales nationalized yet another foreign company on Monday, this time the fuel transport company Transredes, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell and the British company Ashmore. Transredes was handed over to the state company Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB).
Headquartered in Santa Cruz, Transredes had been operating in Bolivia for 12 years, controlling all gas pipelines in the country. Energy Minister Carlos Villegas said the deadline for Transredes stockholders had expired on May 30. He said Shell will get $48 per share, but no such agreement exists with Ashmore.
The official state news agency, ABI quoted Morales as stating that companies that invest in Bolivia are welcome, as he offered them legal security and guarantees if they respect Bolivian regulations. However, he warned that he would now allow companies to come to Bolivia and get involved in politics as Morales claimed Enron and Ashmore had supported plots against his administration. Ministers know, I have tolerated this plot since 2006, he declared.
‘Despite having a series of meetings between the government's negotiating team and the executives of Transredes, the company insistently rejected the government's proposal, a statement from the President's Office said. We won't accept authorities or managers or companies that come to conspire against democracy or the national government.
Last month conservative leaders in the Santa Cruz Province won an overwhelming victory in garnering approval for a referendum that generates a statute that would give Santa Cruz the ability to elect its own legislature, create its own police force and raise new taxes. It would also allow the province to negotiate its own royalty agreements with energy companies.
Conservatives said the referendum shields the province from Morales's draft constitution that would transform Bolivia into a society based on socialist and indigenous principles. After the governing MAS socialist party used its parliamentary majority to push through a new constitution, dialogue has been suspended between the socialists and the conservatives.
In response, Morales called for an August 10 revocation referendum on his presidency. The President has agreed to face a recall vote along with Vice President Alvaro Linares and Bolivia's nine regional governors.
Pro-government supporters tried to stop Sunday's referendum vote in Beni and Pando by blocking roads and torching ballot boxes in the capital of Pando. Government officials defended the violent protests, asserting they were legitimate since the process was illegal.
However, Beni Governor Ernesto Suarez told autonomy supports that what you have decided today will be carried out completely. Thank you Benianos for saying no to violence and centralism.
Pando Provincial Governor Leopoldo Fernandez called on Morales to recognize the will of the people.
A fourth autonomy vote is scheduled June 22 in Tarija Province, which is home to Bolivia's natural gas industry.
Four provinces in Bolivia's eastern lowland region are opposed to land and resource redistribution measures advocated by Morales to benefit poorer, mainly indigenous Bolivians of the western regions.
Nevertheless, the European Union, the Organization of American States and the U.S. government have all backed Morales's contention that the referenda are illegal.