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Latin leftists mull quitting World Bank arbitrator

Washington Post

Latin leftists mull quitting World Bank arbitrator


29 April 2007

BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Bolivia and Venezuela, both nationalizing huge swathes of their economies, should quit a World Bank body that arbitrates between foreign investors and states, Bolivia’s president said on Sunday.

Evo Morales, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, proposed at a Latin American summit that Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua should pull out of the Washington-based International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

"(We) emphatically reject the legal, media and diplomatic pressure of some multinationals that ... resist the sovereign rulings of countries, making threats and initiating suits in international arbitration," the Morales proposal read.

It was not immediately clear when the nations involved would decide whether to accept the proposal of Morales, who decreed a nationalization of the energy industry last year.

Morales declined to name companies he felt had started illegitimate claims against the Bolivian state.

However, Telecom Italia has said it is considering international arbitration after Morales decided to return its Bolivian subsidiary to state control.

Swiss-based commodities trader Glencore International is fighting the takeover of its Vinto tin smelter.

As part of Morales’ nationalization drive in the Andean gas producer, companies such as Petrobras and Spain’s Repsol YPF have signed contracts agreeing to grant a larger share of their profits to the Bolivian state.

The poor nation resents its run-ins with ICSID, particularly after a case was brought against it by a venture run by Italy’s Edison and Bechtel Enterprise Holdings which had to pull out of a $200 million water project there in 2000.

The project, which would have increased water prices, sparked nationwide demonstrations and violent protests.

"The governments of Latin America, and I think the world, never win the cases. The multinationals always win," Morales complained.

Quitting ICSID could also prove attractive to Chavez as the body is now considering a claim from Italy’s Eni, which is seeking compensation for Venezuela’s seizure of its Dacion oilfield last year.

Venezuela is also taking a state majority in the massive heavy crude fields of the Orinoco heavy crude belt, affecting companies such as ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Plc, Total, Statoil and Chevron Corp.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez has said some companies will not be compensated for their losses in the Orinoco.