Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Evo Morales re elected - but FOIA papers show UK Labour Ministers stood with BP and British Gas against Morales.

With Evo Morales re-elected in Bolivia because of his socialist policies, I am republishing this 2009 article based on FOIA docs that is a reminder that our own New Labour government did all it could for BP and British Gas to throw Morales off course- they failed -

A sinister minister; Howells's push to clear the way for British profiteers inBolivia

Solomon Hughes
Morning Star
February 6, 2009
When shops find out that something they sold contained unexpected dangers, they issue a product recall.
From time to time, small notices in a newspaper carry announcements such as "customers who purchased Binky the Rabbit children's T-shirts from our store should discontinue use and return them to us for a complete refund. Some units unexpectedly contain barbed wire and poisonous ants."
Our government should now be issuing a product recall through its embassies. "Customers who were persuaded by Britain and its G7 partners to use neoliberal policies should discontinue their use. These may cause unexpected economic instability, wipe away value and require emergency nationalisations."
Britain's foreign policy, like its economic policy, was based on worshipping banks which unfortunately turned out to be tin gods. Well, less than tin gods, because at least if they were you could melt down the metal and sell it on. By contrast, the banks were based on completely imaginary values, although they made very real transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich.
This looks most stark in Britain's relations with Latin America.
Bolivia, for example, made efforts to drag its citizens from poverty by nationalising their natural resources rather than being dictated to by the market.
This enraged British politicians, because our companies were trying hard to exploit Bolivia - Britain's United Utilities tried to run off with Bolivian water at Cochabamba, while BP and British Gas  tried to make off with the country's hydrocarbons. This inspired urban uprisings that put Bolivia'ssocialist government in power, much to the regret of our Labour government.
Papers that I obtained from the Foreign Office under the Freedom of Information Act cover then foreign office minister Kim Howells's 2007 visit toBolivia. As I showed last year, the papers reveal that Howells used his time not to explore Bolivia's anti-poverty programmes or to understand how a socialist government could be so consistently popular. Instead, Howells nagged the Evo Morales government about nationalisation.
As the papers record, "Dr Howells used his meeting with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to express our concern about investment security in Bolivia, after the recent wave of nationalisations of European-owned companies in telecommunications and hydrocarbons.
"Bolivia had to compete with the rest of the world for investment. Investors needed to know that Bolivian investment rules would be consistent over the next 10 years. Private investment was, as in the UK, a key resource if the government wished to achieve priorities such as poverty reduction."
Well, as Britain has now been forced into its own emergency nationalisations, carried out in a British panic rather than with Bolivian planning, it seems obvious that Howells owes David Choquehuanca an apology.
However, the Foreign Office papers also show why being new Labour means never saying sorry - the documents show that Howells did not make a fraternal visit to the people of Bolivia. Instead, he came as an emissary of BP and British Gas.
One "steering brief" for Howells says: "Following the 1 May nationalisation of the hydrocarbons industries, which affected Shell, Ashmore and BP, the meeting with Choquehuanca is also an opportune time to discuss investment security."
Another preparatory paper notes that Howells would meet Choquehuanca and President Morales.
With Choquehuanca, Howells could "have a chance to make clear how the recent government measures and rhetoric, and the uncertainty over judicial security, act as a disincentive for potential foreign investors."
With Morales, "Dr Howells might, if there is time, also care to mention the nationalisation process, and how it is sending negative signals to international investors."
If Howells had any honesty, he would now have to visit Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson to warn them against their nationalisations.
Not content with representing British businessmen against Bolivia's government, the British embassy also organised a rally of discontented Bolivian businessmen as well.
Howells's visit included a talk with various Bolivian rightwingers who offered "a pessimistic message from economic and political analysts." Nobody was invited from the working-class suburbs of El Alto to deliver a positive message about Morales reform.
Howells then ganged up with the European Union to try to bully Bolivia back into BP's arms.
The Foreign Office documents record: "Dr Howells' visit usefully coincided with the visit of the EU Commission Director General for External Relations, Eneko Landaburu, who gave an equally robust private and public message on investment security to the Bolivian authorities after meeting EU and hydrocarbons company representatives."
Howells also used the local newspapers to moan at Morales.
"Dr Howells used his La Razon interview to make similar points (headline: 'This is a country with great investment insecurity'): Bolivia needed to open up to the world; investor confidence was one essential condition of Bolivia making progress in its key goals."
I am pleased to say that Bolivia's foreign minister sent Howells away with a flea in his ear, as "Choquehuanca admitted that Bolivia was taking a risk. But it was a government priority - on a popular mandate - for Bolivia to take back control of its natural resources 'after 500 years of pillage by foreigners.'
"The new constitution, once passed, guaranteed long-term investment, within the context of a strong state."
British ambassador to Bolivia Nigel Baker summed up Howells's visit with a sentence that is in equal parts comic and threatening.
He wrote: "Visits like that of Dr Howells are essential in getting our messages across, but also in flagging up the dangers faced by an inward-lookingBolivia. Drugs, energy security, investment security are all at risk if Bolivia goes the wrong way. (Information redacted)."
The idea that credit-crunch Britain knows the "right way" to send Bolivia seems silly. But the way that a secret, "redacted" sentence follows the possibility of Bolivia going the "wrong way" is, given the history of Latin America, downright sinister.

How New Labour sell-outs Helped Evo Morales win in Bolivia.

With Evo Morales set to win a third term as Bolivian president, I am republishing this 2006 article based on FOIA papers that shows how New Labour sell-outs - in the shape of Brian Wilson - helped Morales win by betraying their own principles. New Labour loved BP and British Gas too much to see why Morales was popular.

Helping hand :Solomon Hughes exposes the bullying British tactics in Bolivia that backfired on Foreign Office officials

Solomon Hughes, Morning Star, April 21 2006.

When Bolivians elected their radical new president Evo Morales last year, the Foreign Office congratulated him on his "decisive victory."
The British government deserves some of the congratulations as well - it helped Morales move from his rented single room into the presidential palace. But it did not mean to do it.
Britain helped Morales's Movement for Socialism get elected by pressuring his predecessors to stick with the unpopular privatisation of the country's oil and gas. Morales's opposition to these British-backed policies swept him into power.
Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act show that Labour ministers threatened Bolivian MPs with legal action and investment strikes if they stopped favourable treatment of British multinationals.
As Morales won his votes by opposing these policies, the Foreign Office congratulations must have been delivered through tightly, if elegantly, gritted teeth.
Most British newspaper stories about Morales focus on his attitude to cocaine - presumably, because journalists like to stick with an issue which they know a lot about rather than trying to figure out how Bolivia works.
Morales came to politics as a representative of the cocaleros, farmers growing the coca leaf, and he still wants to let Bolivians grow the plant for traditional remedies, in opposition to the US "war on drugs."
However, letters from the British embassy in Bolivia show that, as Morales came closer and closer to power, diplomats focused on his attitude to less glamorous products, specifically oil and gas.
Since the mid-1990s Bolivia followed a World Bank-backed privatisation programme, including handing hydrocarbons - oil and gas - to foreign firms.
Large hydrocarbon resources were discovered after privatisation and these pools of oil and gas could fund major social reforms, but they are in private hands - a point that finally made Morales president. However, Labour ministers were putting all their efforts in the opposite direction.
In 2002, Morales was narrowly beaten in an election by President Lozada, a man commonly called "the Gringo" because he was raised in the US and speaks Spanish with a US accent.
Lozada backed Bolivian hydrocarbon privatisation.
He particularly supported a plan from businessmen in what is called the Pacific LNG consortium. Two UK firms, British Gas  and British Petroleum lead this consortium and wanted to pump Bolivian gas via Chile to the United States. Britain made sure that the Gringo kept to this gas plan.
In 2002, Energy Minister Brian Wilson visited Bolivia. At the time, I asked both the Foreign Office and Wilson if they were going to Bolivia to boost the Pacific LNG scheme. They both said that they were not. They claimed that the visit was to "offer any help with a new regulatory framework for gas" rather than boost British businesses' grip on Bolivian resources.
However, papers released under the Freedom of Information Act tell a different story. Wilson wrote to Bolivia's industry minister saying: "Thank you for your letter ... inviting me to visit you in Bolivia to discuss hydrocarbons. The Bolivian hydrocarbons industry is very important to British gas companies and I am keen to support British investments in your country.
"I am considering a visit to Bolivia later this year with the purpose of helping British companies secure more business in this important market."
A note from his officials says: "A visit needs to have the involvement and support of key British gas companies."
Wilson visited Bolivia with a host of British businessmen, including local British Gas boss Rick Waddell, an ex-US army major who used to work for Enron.
Briefings for that visit from the Department of Trade and Industry say that the minister must emphasise that British Gas “is very keen to develop as quickly as possible" the scheme.
The briefings show that Britain was aware that a Bolivian announcement in favour of the Pacific LNG scheme could be unpopular and that "the packaging of the decision will need careful management to avoid a public outcry," especially the plan for foreign firms to send Bolivian gas to the US via their national rival, Chile.
The papers note that "a fierce campaign against the Chilean route has been organised by indigenous groups and trade unions."
After Wilson's visit, this "fierce campaign" organised mass demonstrations in Bolivia's capital, La Paz. However, President Lozada's forces were fiercer - they shot dead 60 protesters before "the Gringo" fled to Miami in disgrace.
After Lozada's fall, the British kept pressing Bolivia on oil and gas. Lozada's partner Carlos Mesa became president. He tried to contain popular anger over Bolivia's natural resources by imposing a new tax on energy firms.
However, a 2004 DTI briefing for Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien to help him greet a delegation of Bolivian MPs recommended that he threaten them with a lawsuit and investment strike over these taxes.
The briefing says that the taxes represent a "wholly new philosophy of increasing state control over the whole oil and gas chain," suggesting that this is a bad thing. The papers suggest warning the Bolivians that "BG/BP suggest that key investors consider the draft legislation in its current form would breach existing contractual rights, disrupt further development of Bolivian reserves and may lead to legal action by them."
The ministers' briefing also says that the new laws would cause "a freeze by them on current and future investment." In the end, Mesa's failure to press down on foreign oil and gas firms was one of the main reasons for Morales's decisive election victory last year.
Morales becoming president is an event that would have excited many Labour ministers when they were young - he is the first Bolivian Indian to win the top job. He campaigned under a socialist banner, promised to undo World Bank-inspired privatisations and to halve his own presidential salary while taxing the rich.

Ironically, Britain's Labour ministers helped Morales win by standing against the ideas that they have abandoned but he still holds.