In an exclusive interview, Bolivia's powerful Hydrocarbons Minister contends that the recent visit of JoaquÃn Lavin (2) to La Paz "takes place in the context of constantly more frequent pronouncements in favour of a Bolivian route to the sea. He firmly asserts that his country "can indeed talk of having suffered decades of hostility" from Chile.
It is not easy to get to Evo Morales' point man in the strategic area of energy. Not because he avoids journalists, since he worked as one for years, complementing that, certainly, with legal work and, in the 1990s, with his duties as a deputy for the Patriotic Conscience Party, a now defunct group of the nationalist Left.
He is hard to interview because he is responsible for setting in motion the first steps of the hydrocarbons nationalization plan, unexpectedkly decreed on May 1st by Morales, the former coca growers leader, now head of government in our neighbouring altiplano country. His diary is full of meetings but Andres Solis Rada (b. 1939) made time to answer our questions.
ERCILLA: Do you feel more comfortable in your post following the recent support President Evo Morales gave you after rumours that you might resign?
Solis Rada: I feel comfortable not just for the support you mention but also from the way way I identify with President Evo Morales across the board on national policy. The starting point of that policy has been the nationalization of gas and oil, which has reopened the process of the Bolivian national revolution, but this time with the leading participation of social movements and indigenous peoples led by Evo Morales, now become the catalyst of the nation of the oppressed.
ERCILLA: How would you describe his relationship with the current Bolivian government? What kind of leadership does he offer, as President?
Solis Rada: President Morales has built his leadership in the Rural Workers Federations of the Cochabamba Valley (in the centre of the country) characterized by collective, open, democratic decision making. These antecedents explain why his policy is summed up in two simple, profound slogans: "Zero corruption and zero nepotism". If either of these scourges is discovered the dismissal of any official, however high-ranking he may be, is instant. This has created a climate of trust, mutual respect and friendly relations between myself and the President which makes me feel privileged.
ERCILLA: Do you foresee success for the legal demand, recently presented, apparently in the context of an audit, against controversial former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (exiled in the US after his resignation in 2003) for alleged irregular contracts with the Enron oil company?
Solis Rada: The legal proceedings we have just started with the Bolivians responsible for signing contracts that handed the corrupt Enron 40% of the shares of the gas pipeline from Bolivia to Brazil have a legal basis and are also based on national dignity. It was no longer tolerable for my country , being one of those most affected by the US oil company, not to take a measure already put into practice by more than 40 countries around the world. The Public Ministry will undertake the necessary legal action which ought to culminate in convictions of those at fault.
Thermally generated electricity
ERCILLA: Does Bolivia still maintain its policy of "Gas for Sea" vis-a-vis Chile?
Soils Rada: The policy of "Gas for Sea" is a response to the referendum of July 18th 2004 when the Bolivian people supported it on a vote. That same referendum has provided the basis for the nationalization of hydrocarbon resources and so that YPFB (Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos) (3) might recover the shares of the oil businesses that were in the hands of two pension fund administrators. For that reason one cannot take just one part of the referendum in isolation. However, the government has not taken up the formula "Gas for Sea" dogmatically, since it has modified it by offering to sell Chile thermally generated electricity, which would be a beneficial commercial transaction for Chile to the extent that it would meet the energy needs of its big mining companies , while benefiting Bolivia because it would sell gas with value added, which would boost income wihtout setting aside its policy of natural gas for sea which will continue to be used as leverage for an end to the country's unjust geographic enclosure.
ERCILLA: Do you think this policy you mention of selling thermally generated electricity to Chile while keeping natural gas to negotiate a route to the sea is viable?
Solis Rada: The answer to that question is in the hands of the governmnet in Santiago.
ERCILLA: Do you not think the big mining companies in northern Chile might well junk any eventual agreement with Bolivia on account of a perceived high "geopolitical" risk?
Solis Rada: That is a brittle argument. The governments of Evo Morales and Michelle Bachelet are characterized by stability and seriousness. Right now enormous oil transactions are being carried out with countries like Nigeria and Iran, beside which those with Bolivia are models of solidity and confidence.
ERCILLA: Do you also think that following the gas agreement between La Paz and Buenos Aires, Chile ought to pay a "more than reasonable" price as the Argentine Planning Minister Julio de Vido put it?
Solis Rada: It has been remarked to the point of exhaustion that the most expensive energy is the one you don't have. Mexico has just offered to buy gas from Bolivia at international prices, namely those current between Mexico and the United States. Bolivia likewise offers to sell Chile thermally generated electricity at "reasonable prices".
ERCILLA: Why should one not regard the agreement signed between Argentina and Bolivia as a "hostile" act against Chilean interests?
Solis Rada: The dominant privileged sectors in Chile have no right to talk about alleged Bolivian hostility. We have said before and we repeat. What's really hostile is to lock up a neighbouring country for 127 years. Hostility is signing with Peru the Complementary Protocol to the Treaty of 1929 by which Lima and Santiago agreed jointly to take over Bolivia's maritime coast. Hostility is to freely use for over 102 years the waters of the springs of the Silala (4) (misnamed an "international river"). Hostility means to preach a policy of commercial openness but to close it off for really important economic products like beef, sugar or soya. Hostility is to sow military mines along the frontier for no good reason. Bolivia can certainly talk about hostility that it has suffered for decades.
ERCILLA: From your point of view, is the announcement by the Bolivian and Chilean sub-Secretaries Mauricio Dorfler y Alberto Van Klaveren regarding the inclusion of access to the sea in the bilateral agenda really a step forward when earlier governments were already talking about a dialogue "excluding nothing" and the Chilean side has made clear that there's no talk of ceding sovereignty?
Solis Rada: I think that on Mauricio Dorfler's part there was good faith, goodwill and a sincere hope of resolving our common problems. I hope that the actions of the Chilean government demonstrate similar purpose to those of Bolivia
ERCILLA: What opinion or importance do you give the recent visit to La Paz of Joaquin Lavin when he declared "for me it's obvious that the matter of access to the sea has to be on the agenda of Bolivia and Chile"?
Solis Rada: What's going on is that the world changes, despite those who try to deny it. Sr. Lavin's position is in the context of constantly more frequent pronouncements in favour of Bolivia's right to a route to the sea, from those made by a highranking head of the Navy (ERCILLA: this probably refers to statements by Jorge Arnacibia UDI senator and former Navy chief) to the statements by social movments that met in Chile's national stadium to show solidarity with Evo Morales and Bolivia's access to the sea the day Sra. Bachelet asumed her country's presidency). On this point I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration and respect for people like Pedro Godoy and Leonardo Jeffs, who, in the tradition of Gabriela Mistral and Oscar Pinochet de la Barra, advocate a route to the sea for Bolivia via the Centre of Chilean Studies (Cedech).
ERCILLA: Will Bolivia participate in the Southern Gas Pipeline project ( the initiative of the Venezuelan President to build a gas pipeline carrying gas over 6000 kilometres from Venezuela via Brazil to Argetina, Paraguay and Uruguay)?
Solis Rada: Bolivia will participate on three conditions: that an important part of Bolivian gas is processed inside Bolivia; secondly that the business is run under the leadership of the State oil companies of the countries you mention and thirdly that the producer country receives a share in the profit of the gas sold in the destination countries.
ERCILLA: Do you still maintain your assertion that, on your country's request to increase the gas price, Brazil took a hard negotiating line because President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva "doesn't want to lose votes" faced with his campaign for re-election? How do you see the progress of these negotiations given that in order to avoid international arbitration an agreement needs to be reached by mid-August?
Solis Rada: It is difficult to negotiate with Brazil before, during and after its elections. Bolivia will do everything possible to sort out the pricing problem without going to arbitration. We hope Brasilia will do the same.
ERCILLA: How do you think the alleged axis configured between Havana- Caracas-La Paz might facilitate closer relations between Bolivia and Chile, taking into account that La Moneda (5) has legitimate differences with the model of that axis?
Solis Rada: Bolivia and Chile have the legitimate right to maintain their own visions on the economy and their international alliances, which should not stop them from finding their own points of agreement.
ERCILLA: From your point of view, what paths should Palacio Quemado and La Moneda and their respective peoples follow?
Solis Rada: President Evo Morales has repeated the fraternal nature of the Chilean and Bolivian peoples. It has been the oligarchies and centres of world power that have involved them in conflicts that set us against each other and weaken us. I am a supporter of the Bolivarian ideals and of the Latin American Homeland which I consider a socialist, pacifist, humanist and democratic ideal capable of showing new directions to a world that is disintegrating with ecocide, war and the arms race engaged in by the centres of world power who think they are the owners of truth, rationality and common sense.
Translated from Spanish into English by toni solo, a member of Tlaxcala (www.tlaxcala.es), the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation is Copyleft.
1. A Chilean review.
2. Leader of the Chilean right wing opposition.
3. Bolivia's State energy resources company.
4. Silala, the Silala is a water source composed of around 90 springs and other water sources on Bolivian territory that has been a source of conflict between Chile and Bolivia as a result of water needs in northern Chile, especially for big mining operations there.
4. La Moneda, the residence of the President of Chile.
5. Palacio Quemado, residence of the President of Bolivia