LATIN AMERICA

Diplomacy to soften seizures

While Spain seeks "fair" deal in Bolivia for REE, Argentina courts US oil firms

Bolivia's Hydrocarbons Minister Juan José Sosa (left) meets with REE president José Folgado.

The president of Spain's Red Eléctrica de España (REE), José Folgado, said Tuesday he is confident he will reach "a fair" agreement with the Bolivian government over the price for its share in the local Transportadora de Electricidad (TDE), which was expropriated by President Evo Morales on May 1.

Also on Tuesday, in Washington, Argentina's Vice President Amado Boudou began courting US oil companies to invest in YPF following his government's own seizure of Repsol's stake in the local affiliate on April 16. But the Spanish oil company has warned competitors in a letter that it will take legal action if they invest in YPF. Among the companies to which the letter was sent are Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Argentina is hoping the May 2011 discovery of a giant oil field by Repsol in Patagonia, known as Vaca Muerta, estimated to hold some 160 million barrels of oil, will be too tempting for the US companies to pass up.

The Spanish government is working behind the scenes with its European partners to look at imposing trade sanctions against Argentina after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced the expropriation of Repsol's 51-percent stake in YPF. Congress approved the takeover last week and Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday appointed Miguel Galuccio as the affiliate's new general manager.

Argentina has also threatened not to pay Repsol its asking price. Company chairman Antonio Brufau has stated that the stake is worth at least eight billion euros.

In La Paz, the Spanish government appears to be taking a softer approach to try to get a fair deal for REE's shares in TDE. Folgado met on Tuesday with Hydrocarbons and Energy Minister Juan José Sosa, when it was agreed "to jointly look and select a renowned independent company of international prestige to conduct an appraisal of TDE," according to a REE statement. The meeting came one day after Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera said Bolivia would pay "a tiny amount" or maybe "nothing" for the 99.4 percent of the shares Red Eléctrica Internacional SAU held in TDE, which were expropriated by Morales.

The Spanish government is working behind the scenes with its European partners to look at imposing trade sanctions against Argentina

But despite Boudou's petition for more oil investment in Argentina made before the Council of the Americas at the US State Department, Spain appeared to get a sympathetic ear from US House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress. "We will insist that every nation honor the rule of law, meet its obligations, and respect international norms. That means paying debts to bondholders; honoring legal commitments and the decisions made by international arbitrators; and respect private property," Boehner said. "Some governments in the region have demonstrated an alarming willingness to drift away from such norms when it suits their objectives. When this occurs, it is harmful not only to the people of those countries, but to the potential of all of the Americas. And it cannot be excused."

In Buenos Aires, Fernández de Kirchner launched an attack on international critics by explaining in a speech that nationalization moves were "not rooted in ideology or populist decisions," but motivated by "the disaster caused by concessionary companies, which force us to intervene."

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