Bolivian Senate ratifies military pact with Venezuela, approves oil contracts

Bolivia's Senate ratified a military agreement with Venezuela and approved nationalization contracts with foreign oil companies during a hastily called session that ended early Wednesday morning.

Lawmakers ended a weeklong boycott Tuesday night and passed President Evo Morales' sweeping land reform bill, then remained in the chamber past midnight to approve a vaguely worded accord signed by Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in May.

The treaty would create closer ties between the armed forces of the two leftist governments and have Venezuela help Bolivia construct a military base in the northern city of Riberalta and a river port on its border with Brazil.

While the agreement easily passed the House months ago, opposition leaders here have questioned provisions that propose cooperation in areas such as "control of armament and disarmament" and "democratic control of forces."

Senators last month passed a separate agreement calling for oil-rich Venezuela to help out its cash-strapped ally by purchasing US$100 million (€76.01 million) in Bolivian treasury bonds.

On Tuesday night, the Senate also ratified contracts with international companies according to the terms of Morales' May 1 nationalization of Bolivia's petroleum industry.

The agreements, signed last month, grant Morales' government a majority share of the foreign companies' Bolivian revenues and control over their operations in the country.

Companies signing contracts include Brazilian state energy giant Petrobras, Spanish-Argentine company Repsol YPF, the French company Total SA, and British Gas.

Bolivia's natural gas reserves are South America's largest after Venezuela's.

The conservative opposition party Podemos, which led the boycott to block Morales' land reform plan, holds 13 of the Senate's 27 seats. With help from two senators from minor opposition parties, Podemos had earlier prevented the body from reaching a 14-seat quorum.

Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, has 12 Senate seats.

But Tuesday night, one Podemos senator returned to the chamber to vote for land reform, joined by assistants filling in for two other opposition senators.

With the additional support in the Senate, MAS also approved the Venezuela treaty and nationalization contracts.

Opposition leaders have accused Morales' government of bribing the senators' assistants, a charge the president has denied.

Morales' agrarian reform law grants his government the power to seize unproductive land for redistribution to Bolivia's landless poor.

Reposted from International Herald Tribunal

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