Bolivia prepares to nationalize power firms
February 10, 2009 - Reuters

LA PAZ, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Bolivia is gearing up to nationalize foreign-owned electric power companies, which would allow leftist President Evo Morales to increase state control of the economy, the government said on Monday.

Morales has previously said that he would like to return to state ownership a number of power companies privatized in the 1990s, as well as several railway operators.

Morales' new Energy Minister Oscar Coca told reporters on Monday that he will study an existing power company nationalization plan in order to make an announcement before the end of the week.

"The government fully intends to regain control of (power) generation as well as transmission on behalf of the Bolivian people," said outgoing Energy Minister Saul Avalos in a joint press conference with Coca.

Morales named Coca, a former Public Works minister, on Sunday to replace Avalos in a cabinet shake-up announced a day after a new constitution came into force.

Foreign companies control power generation and part of the transmission grid in the impoverished Andean country since the mid 1990s, when Bolivia privatized energy, telecommunications and utility companies.

The biggest power companies in Bolivia are Corani, in which Ecoenergy International -- a subsidiary of France's GDF Suez (GDFZY.PK) (GSZ.PA) -- has a 50 percent stake; and Guaracachi, in which British company Rurelec PLC (RUR.L) has a 50 percent interest.

The largest transmission company in Bolivia is Transportadora de Electricidad, owned by Spain's Red Electrica de Espana (REE.MC).

In an effort to increase state revenues from the country's abundant natural resources Morales has already nationalized natural gas and mining companies as well as the country's largest telecommunications company.

He has pledged to build cement, paper and sugar firms and has created a state airline that is expected to start operations shortly.

(Reporting by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Fiona Ortiz; Richard Chang)