Bolivia opposition wants higher-priced gas exports
August 23, 2008 - The Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Bolivia's political opposition demanded Friday that the government charge more for the natural gas it exports to neighboring Brazil and Argentina.

Opposition leader Raynaldo Bayard called for export prices to be more than tripled to US$18 per thousand cubic feet (28.3 cubic meters). Brazil and Argentina now pay about US$5 per thousand cubic feet for Bolivian gas.

"We can't continue giving away our natural resources," he told allies in Bolivia's southern Chaco region, where the country's biggest gas reserves are found.

Government opponents pledged to block the main highway linking southern Bolivia to Argentina and Paraguay early next week in protest, but promised not to occupy gas fields or tamper with export pipelines, Bayard said.

Brazil and Argentina depend on and even squabble over natural gas from Bolivia, which has South America's second-largest reserves. The poor, Andean country produces about 1.4 billion cubic feet a day -- of which Brazil alone buys 1.1 billion cubic feet, or half the natural gas consumed by its booming economy.

Opponents of Bolivian President Evo Morales also resolved Friday to take to "the warpath" if he proceeds with plans to put a proposed new constitution up for review in a national referendum. The new constitution would empower Bolivia's indigenous majority, boost central government powers and allow Morales to seek indefinite re-election.

But pro-government unions planned to gather weekend in support of Morales and to push for his draft constitution be taken to referendum -- or be decreed into law, Morales ally and union organizer Julio Salazar said.

Morales, who emerged from an Aug. 10 recall election with 67 percent of voters' support, is likely to press ahead with the referendum plan.

Opposition leaders warn the constitution's approval could pique violence and force some governors to push forward their own plans for a federalist system with greater regional autonomy.