Did We Kick Them Out?

When Bolivian President Evo Morales nationalized the gas industry last May 1, it was seen as the latest move toward greater state intervention in the energy sector by countries stretching from Venezuela to Russia. The critics have dubbed it "energy populism." But Morales says his move was misinterpreted: that he is pursuing a "new nationalization of the new millennium." He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jimmy Langman. Excerpts:

MORALES: After gas-reform laws in 2005, our gas-export revenue rose from $250 million to $500 million. With the nationalization decree, that rose to $1.2 billion. At bigger fields, the 18 percent take for the state and 82 percent for the companies is now 82 percent for the state and 18 percent for the companies. And the companies are accepting this. This is nationalization without expulsion or expropriation, in which companies recover their investment and have the right to make a profit.

Yes, we are refounding the state gas company, YPFB, to partner with the private companies for all aspects of the gas-production chain. If companies want to invest with us, welcome. We are very advanced in negotiations with Total of France, Repsol of Argentina, PDVSA of Venezuela. [Since this interview, negotiations with more than 10 companies have been successfully concluded, including the partially state-owned Brazilian company Petrobras.]

Look, I have been called in the media almost everything. But how many oil companies have we kicked out? None. This is a new model of nationalization of the new millennium to solve our problems with our own natural resources, instead of accepting foreign aid all the time. We want to restore dignity to our country. If the private multinational companies want legal security, they must strike agreements with governments like ours to help guarantee social security for people. But if we don't solve social problems like health, education, housing, jobs, then people will rise up and question the process.

Nationalization for us means to exercise the right to our property, and we exercise that right in a way that is legal and constitutional.

Exactly. In Bolivia, governments have never solved the economic and social problems of the majority. Especially our indigenous sector, which has been excluded, discriminated, marginalized, offended, exploited, robbed, forgotten. This government, with the support of international organizations, other nations, businessmen, will solve these problems. In conversation Bill Clinton told me he understood that Bolivia does not want to be a colony, and in this he offered his support.

If private-sector investors put their resources in Bolivia, they will get our full cooperation. We want a diverse economy with cooperatives, associations, collectives of businesses, private companies. I have meetings with countless private businesses that don't want to get involved in politics or ideology; they just want to maintain profitable businesses. We do all we can to support them. For example, we are doing lots of work to extend the Andean Trade Preference Act in the United States. Ex-presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have told us they will support us in that.

I admire them and respect them a lot. I respect Fidel a lot, too, for what he has done in health and education. Chávez is supporting us in health issues, infrastructure, in a totally unconditional way. The help we get from other partners--Argentina, Norway, Denmark, Spain and France--is also impressive. France's president has said, "Evo, we respect it, and you have all our support for nationalization."

We want to export our products, not our policies. We want trade treaties that benefit people. Up to now, free-trade treaties have generally led to transnationals flooding our markets and eliminating small producers. We want fair trade. Instead of Bolivians and Latinos invading the United States, we want our products to invade the United States. But if we don't resolve this problem, Latinos will continue to arrive in the United States, and soon we will have our own candidate for president of the United States. Our trade proposal, then, solves our economic problem and the immigration problems of the United States. This is the great opportunity.