Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, said on Monday he would target under-exploited mining concessions as part of his drive to nationalise his country’s natural resources.
“There are mining concessions that have only been paper concessions because actual investment was never carried out,” he said. “But there are also some where the land is being mined and jobs are being created, and those will be respected.’’
The same kind of distinction would apply to his farming land policy, he said. “What we don’t approve of are large landowners that don’t allow the land to be farmed.”
Speaking to reporters after addressing the European parliament, Mr Morales said some of his recent comments about the seizure of assets and his economic strategy had been misrepresented and had created unnecessary tensions with other nations and corporations.
“Nobody is being expropriated and nobody is being expelled. Any company that has invested in Bolivia will have every right to regain its investment and profit, but they won’t have control,” he said.
Mr Morales also played down friction with Brazil’s government, which has grown anxious about the implications of his nationalisation plans for its state oil company, Petrobras, and other big Brazilian investors in Bolivia. He said he considered Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to be “my big brother’’.
Centre-right MEPs earlier attempted to force the cancellation of Mr Morales’ visit, according to Josep Borrell, president of the European parliament. Left-leaning MEPs who listened to Mr Morales greeted his speech with loud applause.
Mr Morales told the parliament the US had used the fight against illegal drugs to subordinate foreign countries. Bolivia would instead overhaul its coca production to ensure that it could fully benefit from coca leaf, which he described as “the best foodstuff in the world’’.
“You cannot just use the fight against drug smuggling as an instrument for re-colonisation,” he said.
“There are countries such as the US which use the fight against drugs as a way to subordinate other countries.’’
But he later also insisted that, in the past four months, his government had been more successful in clamping down and confiscating illegal drugs than in the whole of the previous year.