Diesel Shortage Strains Ties in Bolivia
ber 30, 2007, Houston Chronicle - AP

© 2007 The Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A diesel shortage is aggravating tensions between President Evo Morales' populist government and conservative agribusiness leaders, whose tractors need the fuel to begin Bolivia's planting season.

Hydrocarbons Minister Carlos Villegas announced Tuesday that Bolivia is importing diesel from Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru to cover the shortfall, which he attributed to the growing economy in the nation's richest city.

"There has been a significant increase in demand for diesel, particularly in Santa Cruz," Villegas said.

Bolivia's is South America's second largest producer of natural gas, but its diesel refining capacity cannot meet domestic demand. And despite decades of chronic shortages, the government spends $100 million each year to subsidize the fuel, creating an opportunity for many Bolivians to smuggle diesel out to neighboring countries for resale at a higher price.

Bolivia's wealthier landowners have objected to Morales' plans to seize land deemed idle or fraudulently obtained for redistribution to the poor.

Now two weeks of long lines at gas stations in the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz are adding to the tensions.

"I guarantee there will be a big food crisis if the government does not have a strategy" to confront the diesel shortage, Javier Baldomar, spokesman for the Eastern Agribusiness Chamber.