First published June 2012 in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227
On 16 April and 1 May respectively Argentina and Bolivia reclaimed ownership of energy companies privatised by Spanish corporations during the neoliberal assault of the 1990s. Sharp reactions from the Spanish state and the European Union underline the conflict of interest between those exploited for their resources and labour, and imperialism, which lives off this plunder.
Bolivia and Argentina have distinct histories, but both have long been trapped in the web of financial dealings woven by the imperialist powers. In their national struggles to throw off these parasitic ties, the clash of nationalisation versus privatisation of the main industries has been key. Nationalisation immediately places the surpluses of these industries at the disposal of the state, but provokes intense hostility from domestic and transnational capital which battle to repossess the property or demand huge compensation.
Argentina and Bolivia have dramatically different histories, populations and standards of living. Argentina has the second highest average GDP per capita in purchasing power terms in Latin America after Chile, yet at $14,700 it has fallen from near the top of global rankings in the 1930s to 51st in the world today. Bolivia has an average per capita income of only $4,789, and lies in 120th place. Two thirds of Bolivians live in poverty. Argentina is highly urbanised and predominantly populated by peoples of European origin, Bolivia has a majority of indigenous peoples. Argentina depends on agricultural products in its trade, Bolivia on minerals extracted. Bolivia has an external debt of $6,164bn, and is currently assessing the lawfulness of its foreign debt. Argentina defaulted on its $95bn debt in 2001, forcing new agreements on all but $6bn worth of creditors.
At the turn of the century the democratic movements of the Latin American poor and indigenous people, dramatically turned the tide against the ‘neoliberal’ assault of the 1990s. The determination of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to base political and economic development on the needs of the masses was central to this change.
In April the government announced renationalisation of a majority of Repsol’s shares in the YPF oil and gas company, first privatised in 1993. Repsol bought its 57.4% stake in 1999, leaving the government with no control over its energy resources. Repsol repatriated profits to overseas shareholders. Despite incentives to promote oil and gas exploration and production, between 1999 and 2011, its oil reserves contracted 40.5% and its gas reserves 47.1%. Its oil production dropped 38.3% and its gas production 25.4 %. Its net exploration wells fell to record-low levels. Its net investment was only $3.6bn. Consequently Argentina spent $9.4bn on fuel imports last year. In December 2011 Repsol defensively announced a find of one billion barrels of shale oil. Argentina consequently ranks third in the world in terms of potentially recoverable resources behind China and the US. Central government will now take 51% of YPF shares, leaving Repsol with 6%.
The Argentinian government renationalised Aerolíneas Argentinas in 2008. These policies are pushed by La Cámpora, a ‘social democratic/Keynesian’ group within the ruling Justicialista Party. The struggle for power inside the Justicialista Party is between open pro-imperialists and Kirchner’s bourgeois nationalists.
Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Morales, won the 2005 elections campaigning for the nationalisation of the gas and oil industries ‘with the cooperation of foreign investors’. On 1 May 2006 it renationalised Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) hydrocarbons (entirely privatised by 1997), followed by the renationalisation of electricity in 2006, Entel telecommunications in 2007, and the smelter Vinto (among others) in 2007. In 2007 the government announced its intention to renationalise the National Railway Company (LENF) privatised in 1996, and created Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) to replace Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano as its flag carrier.
Now TDE (Transportadora de Electricidad), the electricity transmitter privatised in 2002, has been recovered. It had been bought by the Spanish state transmissions monopoly Red Electrica of Spain: 20% Spanish government-owned. Now the Bolivian state controls most of the country’s electricity supply chain, and will obtain profits for the state budget.
These nationalisations are national reforms within a state dominated by imperialism. They weaken the multinationals involved. They are aimed at stimulating local business and local markets. Any consequent amelioration of the miserable poverty under which the mass of the population live, and so any reduction in the political threat this represents, is a bonus for the national bourgeoisie. These reforms cannot alone create the conditions for a firm step toward socialism without a political programme that presents an alternative economic and social plan for the democratic development of the country. Communists support the nationalisations because they obstruct the capacity of imperialism to dominate such countries, but we demand a complete change to the purposes and management of the operations of these companies.
Reactionary forces in the east of Bolivia control agriculture and so food supplies, while private capital dominates other mineral extraction. Lacking funds, YPFB, the state energy company, has been unable to increase its shareholdings to 51% in the industry’s principal exploration and production units. These stay with Brazil’s Petrobras, the sector’s biggest investor, and Spain’s Repsol YPF. The Bolivian government is encouraging Bolivian business to participate in mining, as well as manufacturing, construction, agriculture and housing. It also seeks alternative international sources of development. Private corporations such as the US Franklin Mining and Russia’s Gazprom are involved, seeking to impose their own agenda. Splits are provoked between the government and its indigenous support base by international commercial interests, for example the conflict over the proposed construction of the Villa Tunari to San Ignacio de Moxos highway, which would have cut through the Isiboro Sécure National Park.
Threats by imperialism
Repsol is now suing Argentina in the US for $10.5bn, and has cancelled a contract to provide liquefied natural gas. Argentina imports natural gas to meet 20-30% of its consumption. It will now take gas from Bolivia and YPF will produce more.
In Latin America the poor have intensified their protests, pushing aside the most slavish of servants of imperialism, giving room to a new breed of pragmatic politicians sympathetic to the poor, or compelled to respond to popular demands. However, the national bourgeoisie are anxious to seize new markets and capital resources elsewhere, such as in Asia, for themselves. In this changing scenario the working class and poor peasantry must impose their will. New and uncompromising political programmes are essential for the working classes internationally. In Bolivia the indigenous majority and urban poor are defending the natural environment and demanding policies to deal with global pollution and to meet their social and economic needs in opposition to big business. In Argentina the highly-organised Unemployed Workers Movement has won successes in basic social security conditions. These movements require our support. All power and resources to the people!