Bolivia Should Seek New Gas Markets Including Chile, Reyes Says

By Jonathan J. Levin

Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) — Bolivian presidential candidate Manfred Reyes Villa, who will challenge incumbent Evo Morales in Dec. 6 elections, said he would seek to increase commodity exports and end a policy that forbids energy shipments to Chile if elected.

Bolivia loses $2 billion annually because it hasn’t been able to open new markets for its natural gas and metals, Reyes Villa, 54, said in a Sept. 25 interview at the international airport in El Alto, a city that borders the capital La Paz.

“He who pays should be able to buy gas,” said the candidate, a member of the Plan Progress party and a former governor of Cochabamba province. “We didn’t take advantage of the best economic moment that the country has experienced, with raw materials at their highest values.”

Bolivia has the second-biggest natural-gas reserves in South America after Venezuela, and the Andean nation also exports metals such as tin and zinc. All of Bolivia’s foreign natural-gas sales go to Brazil and Argentina, and South Korea is the biggest buyer of metals.

Reyes Villa said the Morales government has “demagogically” avoided the Chilean market because of a dispute that dates back to a 19th century war in which Bolivia lost its coastline to the neighboring country.

“Today, the economy is based on narcotics trafficking,” Reyes Villa said.

Bolivia is the world’s third-largest producer of cocaine after Colombia and Peru, according to a United Nations report.

Coca Crop

Morales tolerates a limited crop of coca, cocaine’s raw ingredient, which Bolivians consume legally in teas and medicines. Although he expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from the country last year, he says he opposes the production and sale of cocaine.

The Bolivian leader has 57.7 percent support in the Andean nation, according to a Gallup International poll conducted from Aug. 5 to Aug. 22. Reyes Villa had 8.6 percent support. The poll has a margin of error of 2.27 percentage points.

The poll was conducted before several opposition candidates, including former Vice President Victor Hugo Cardenas and former President Jorge Quiroga, dropped out of the race.



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