Media Notes: Coverage of Bolivia’s Gas Re-nationalization

Those who have followed US and European press coverage of Bolivian President Evo Morales haven’t been surprised by mainstream coverage of Morales’ move to re-nationalize Bolivia’s natural gas fields, just disappointed. 

The Financial Times’ Hal Weitzman kicks off his review of Morales‘ action by lamenting: "Since Evo Morales took power in Bolivia at the end of January, his government has often seemed like an administration in search of an economic policy."  

Weitzman later quotes an unnamed "Western diplomat" who said, "The government does is driven by political ideology. The instinct of nationalism has trumped any economic plan."  

The FT knows that the best way to discredit an opponent’s strategy is to deny that one exists. Bush and the mainstream media are involved in a massive effort to paint the ideological roots of Latin American resistance to US-imposed free trade policies as "populist," haphazard, "nationalist," and now, unplanned.

For its part, the Washington Post has been fomenting fears with headlines like, "Crisis Feared Over Bolivia Gas Takeover"…their spin on the story accents divisions between lite-leftists Kirchner and Lula and the Chavez and Morales, who favor "socialism," according to another Post story.. 

This, despite the fact, as the Post duly reports, [Chavez and Morales] embraced before heading into the session. At the end, there were hugs all round. Lula said the meeting should reassure investors." And that,  "Emerging from the meeting, Morales, Kirchner, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez were keen to stress that solidarity…" 

A solid look at the story reveals that the only "crisis" is how Bolivia is going to pay for the transition to full re-nationalization, something that Chavez has offered to finance. 

A suprisingly responsible view comes to us from Daniel Altman the International Herald Tribune, who reports in Managing Globalization that most transnational oil companies, including Petrobras, have diversified their holdings specifically to be able to shoulder political changes that affect operations:   

"Petróleo Brasileiro, the Brazilian energy giant, has operations in 16 countries, said its chief financial officer, Almir Guilherme Barbassa. Bolivian gas is an important resource for Brazil, but it’s not such an important source of Petrobras’s profit, probably just a few percentage points."  

Barbassa also explained that Petrobras figures in "self-insurance" in their overall operating costs. According to the story,  

"Self-insurance works like a medical savings account or a rainy day fund: You contribute to it over time, and you dip into it when you need it. 

"’When we are going to evaluate a new project in a country, we add to the capital cost we expect from that project some basis points or some additional cost of capital to cover the political risk,’ said Barbassa." 

Hmmm…enough to make you wonder, "Where’s all the ‘crisis’?" 

Finally, CNN, in the ultimate "Who me?", published a story on Tuesday that portrays Morales as a paranoid conspiracy theorist who is worried about "Political critics and landowners allied with an [sic] ‘international mafias that own media outlets…’" As if neo-liberalism had no defenders! The story then chides that Morales, "presented no evidence for the accusations or for similar ones he made against the foreign energy companies in February."  

Maybe the Pres didn’t present evidence then and there but, last we at checked, that gathering and presenting evidence is what news reporters are supposed to do—not wait for it to be handed to them on a plate. Remember Colin Powell’s speech at the UN? Would have been nice to follow up on that "evidence" before sounding the war sirens. 

CNN would have you believe that Bolivian people, who elected Morales largely because of his commitment to strike better deals with transnationals gas companies, had no valid complaints against the transnationals.