Bolivia boosts state control of mining, banking
May 2, 2011 - Sydney Morning Herald


Bolivia's President Evo Morales has overturned mining, banking and investment laws in a bid to increase state control over the Andean country's economy.

Congress will draft legislation to replace eight laws annulled by Morales at a Labor Day event today in the south-western region of Oruro. Today's decree overturns legislation enacted in 1985 by then-President Victor Paz Estenssoro, "ending 20 years of neo-liberalism," said Morales, who wore a miner's helmet and was festooned with flowers.

"We agreed to approve new laws in Congress to bury the old decree," Morales said at the ceremony, where miners burned a black box symbolizing the overturned legislation. "The best legacy of the Bolivian people is to be anti-imperialist, anti- capitalist and anti-neoliberal."

Since taking power in January 2006, Morales has seized gas fields, oil refineries, pension funds, telecommunications companies, electricity companies and a tin smelter to give the state greater control over Bolivia's industry. Morales told reporters in La Paz on April 12 that he planned to overturn the privatization of state mining assets.

A new mining bill, which has yet to be sent to Congress, won't "substantially" change contract conditions for miners including Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp., Pan American Silver Corp. and Orvana Minerals Corp., said Deputy Mining Minister Hector Cordova.

Higher Royalties
"Companies will have to pay a little more in royalties because metals prices have risen," Cordova in a telephone interview from La Paz.

Silver, which touched a 31-year high of $US49.845 on April 23, climbed 28 percent in April. Zinc for three-month delivery has risen 68 percent over the past two years on the London Metals Exchange, closing at $US2,247 per ton on April 29, while tin nearly tripled in the period to $US32,050 per ton.

The government will seek to renegotiate contracts with Glencore International AG and sign a contract with Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Cordova said. New legislation will seek to give state mining company Comibol a controlling role in joint ventures and force companies to return concessions that aren't being tapped, he said.

Bolivia produced 430,879 metric tons of zinc, 84,537 tons of lead, 19,581 tons of tin and 1.33 million kilograms of silver in 2009, according to the US Geological Survey.

"There's always concern," Orvana Vice President Bill Williams said in a telephone interview from Vancouver on April 29. "It sums up the history of Bolivia, where you hear all this noise but it all seems to work anyway."