January 14, 2006

Preliminary Balance of Evo Morales' World Tour

MABB © ®

Mr Morales returned this past weekend from his world tour. A tour which took the president-elect to Cuba and Venezuela, to Western Europe, China, Sourth Africa and Brazil. No other Bolivian official (althoug he is not official yet) has headed such a world tour not had such a coverage by the international press. On the way, Morales met with presidents, prime ministers, other high officials and even kings. The topics of speculation and interests were of course the natural gas reserves of Bolivia and Mr Morales' sweater.

As he returns to Bolivia, the question arises, what has he achieved with this trip? He is not even the president and yet and he went on a world tour? Why? This small and preliminary article pretends to extract a sort of balance to Evo Morales' trip.

Among the most significant result of Morales' trip seems to be the support he has secured from other governments (Spain, France, the EU, China and South Africa, and of course Cuba and Venezuela). Among the most significant shows of support he got we can count the financial offerings of Hugo Chavez, the condonation of half of the debt owed to Spain, and the promises of investment by the government of China.

First, Morales traveled to Cuba, where aside from calling Fidel Castro "maestro" (master), he secured assistance from the Cuban government to help people with eye problems and a promise to help eradicate analphabetism in 30 months.

Second, Morales arrived in Caracas, where he signed an agreement of cooperation with Chavez of US$ 30 million and he also received assurances from Chavez of plentiful oil supplies for Bolivia.

The third stop was Spain. It was there where his sweater made more news than his policies. He was received by King Juan Carlos, afterwards he met with the Spanish head of government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (the real one) and confirmed the condonation of half of the US$ 120 million debt to that country.

In Brussels, he met with the foreign minister of the Euroean Union, Javier Solana. Morales left Brussels empty handed, but not without being warned and with promises of moral support.

In France, Morales met with Jacques Chirac, and there he received assurances of support and an offer to condone some €US 20 million in debt.

Morales' sixth stop was Beijing, where he met Hu Jintao and also got assurances of significant investments from the part of Chinese companies to develop the Bolivian natural gas resources.

In Pretoria, South Africa, Morales was received by president Thabo Mbeki, but does not get to see another one of his heroes, Nelson Mandela. However, he does not leave empty handed. Aside from getting suppor and an understanding to tighten relations between the two countries, Morales receives notice that the US government is interested in talking with him over the drug eradication program, and later on that it will be attending his inauguration. This was a result of Morales' statement forgiving the US for, as Morales puts it, earlier humiliations and verbal attacks against his persona.

Lastly, in Brazil, Morales convinced Lula Da Silva to agree with the renegotiation of the contracts signed with Petrobras. There is also a second agreement of increasing Petrobras' participation and investment in the hydrocarbons industry. Apparently, Petrobras controls 46% of the proved and probable reserves of Bolivian natural gas.

Ensuing the aforementioned agreement, Repsol-YPF (the Argentinean/Spanish consortium) has expressed its intention to increase investment and its desire to become Bolivia's principal partner in the exploitation and industrialization of the natural gas reserves.

On top of it all, and in spite of Vicent Fox's comments about Bolivia and its gas, the Mexican government has expressed its interested in buying Bolivian gas. A Mexican offical has express Fox's desire to meeting with Morales next May in Vienna.

Additionally, there were a few clarifications (statements made by Morales) to his government's domestic policy.

Morales repeatedly stated that he will not confiscate the property of the transnationals operating in Bolivia. There was much speculation on Morales' policiy of nationalization. Did that mean confiscation or not? For now, at least, it is clear that confiscation will not be an option.

What is also clear is that the government will be increasing its share of the benefits. How? it is not yet known.

It was also confirmed by Morales, once again, that he will pursue the legalization of the production of the Coca leaf. That would mean to, in some significant way, affect the current eradication program backed by the US.

On the foreign policy front, Morales opened the doors to the possibility of some kind of relationship with the US government. He had previously said that his government would be a nightmare for the Bush administration.

Overall the balance of Morales' world tour can be qualified as positive. With significant financial contributions (in different forms) and many diplomatic victories. Morales must be coming home satisfied and more self-assured.

The most immediate issues requiring his attention now, up until his inauguration, are: the construction of his government and the presidency of the Senate.