Latin Regimes Rewrite Natural Resources Pacts; Leftist Governments Demand Greater Stakes in Oil and Gas Reserves as Well as in Aquifers

Article excerpt


BUENOS AIRES - Prodded by high global commodities prices, leftist governments in Latin America have begun enforcing a doctrine of "resource nationalism" by demanding majority ownership of joint ventures and re-engineering contracts with foreign companies.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez is forcing foreign oil firms such as ChevronTexaco Corp. and Conoco Phillips to convert contracts into joint ventures, in which Venezuela's state-owned oil company holds a majority stake.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has gone even further by nationalizing the nation's natural-gas reserves.

The trend has taken an unusual twist in Argentina, amid rumors of a U.S.-led government conspiracy to seize control of a huge aquifer beneath land purchased by an American conservationist to protect it from development.

The underground supply of fresh water sits beneath 741,000 acres of marshy wilderness purchased in northern Argentina by Doug Tompkins, the multimillionaire founder of Esprit clothing, who wants to turn the area into a national park.

Luis D'Elia, an undersecretary of housing, publicly suggested that Mr. Tompkins is spearheading U.S. efforts to exert control over the aquifer.

Mr. D'Elia and at least one lawmaker are pushing legislation to expropriate Mr. Tompkins' land.

Mr. Tompkins, a hard-core conservationist who has purchased land in Chile and elsewhere in Argentina to protect it from logging, mining and other development, noted the irony of the charges, given his criticism of Bush administration environmental policies. …