Bolivian Delivers Ultimatum to French Oil Giant
February 22, 2009 - Latin American Herald Tribune

LA PAZ -- Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday he has given French oil major Total an ultimatum to fulfill its investment obligations in this nation's natural gas industry and that, if it does not comply, the state will take unspecified action to rectify the situation.

In a press conference with international media, Morales said that on his recent trip to France he met with high-ranking Total executives and asked them to "expedite" their investments in Bolivia and comply with the contracts they've signed with the government.

"We've demanded the investments be made immediately," the president said, adding that if the company is not willing to do so then "Bolivia has all the right to take decisions to invest."

Total is one of the leading energy companies operating in Bolivia and is a partner of state-owned YPFB, Brazil's Petrobras and Spain's Repsol YPF in the country's richest gas fields.

Morales' administration has demanded on several occasions that foreign energy companies carry out new projects to boost natural gas output amid problems meeting demand from neighboring Brazil and Argentina.

The companies say they face the uncertainty that their contracts, which went into force in 2007 after Morales "nationalized" the industry in 2006, will be adversely affected by Bolivia's new constitution.

Morales' 2006 gas industry "nationalization" decree already gave "ownership, possession and total and absolute control" of hydrocarbons to the Bolivian state and mandated that YPFB must have a majority stake in all of the country's natural gas projects.

A new constitution that was enacted earlier this month grants greater rights to indigenous Bolivians, limits the size of landholdings and establishes that the state controls all mineral and oil and gas reserves. EFE