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Bolivia's Morales popularity faces mounting difficulties

Sunday, September 24th 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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Bolivian President Evo Morales' approval rating dropped from 81 to 53% between May and September in the country's five main urban areas, according to a survey released Saturday in La Paz.

Last May when Morales decreed the nationalization of Bolivia's hydrocarbons resources his approval rating soared to 81%, but has since lost 28 points in the midst of mounting difficulties to implement the decision and the stalling of the Constitutional Assembly, elected to draft a new constitution for the "re-foundation" of Bolivia, which has been unable to advance or reach any agreement.

The Hydrocarbons' nationalization has been stymied, alleges Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, by some foreign energy companies which have yet to negotiate new contracts in compliance with the May first decree.

The most difficult negotiations to date have been those with the Brazilian government owned energy giant Petrobras, the company most affected by the nationalization, and the issue has soured relations with Brazil.

Furthermore procedure rules proposed for the Constitutional Assembly earlier this month were perceived as giving an unfair advantage to the ruling Movement Toward Socialism, MAS, causing opposition Assembly members to walk out of the proceedings.

The conservative Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) claims the proposed procedure rules conceal the intention of imposing an autocratic government and closing Congress.

Before the election of the Assembly, President Morales and the opposition agreed on a two thirds majority for the drafting of the new constitution. Although Morales coalition managed a comfortable majority, --but not the expected two/thirds--, he is now wanting to back step from his original stance.

The public opinion poll taken between September 10/16 in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Tarija, sampling 1.000 people with a margin of error of 3% plus/minus, shows September as the fourth month running that the Bolivian president's approval rating has declined.

In four of the countries main cities disapproval jumped from 15 to 41% and in Santa Cruz, the most prosperous city in the country and most opposed to Morales plans and with a strong autonomous movement, disapproval rating rose from 28 to 61%. In gas rich Tarija, and also strongly autonomous, disapproval soared from 26 to 61%.

In contrast El Alto next to the capital La Paz, and mostly indigenous, support remains a solid 84%, although ten points less than in May. Similarly in La Paz support rating is 64%, but down from 91% last May. And in Cochabamaba, approval stands at 58% down from 85% last May.

Meanwhile La Paz press revealed that a decree which unleashed a furious reaction from Petrobras and warnings from Brazil's president Lula da Silva had been "temporarily suspended" by the incoming Bolivian Energy minister Carlos Villegas.

The previous minister, forced out of office following the controversy with Brazil, had established that all liquid fuels were to become a monopoly of Bolivia's government owned energy company, thus eliminating Petrobras that owns the country's two main refineries.

"Until the economic situation is not consolidated", Bolivia's energy company will not be taking over the liquid fuels distribution, reads the new resolution.

Minister Villegas said it was time to "cool statements", so "negotiations with Brazil can get moving".

This coming week Villegas is scheduled to meet with Petrobras officials in La Pay and on October 9 with Brazil's Energy and Mining Minister Silas Rondeau.

Categories: Mercosur.

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