Morales nationalizes Spanish-owned airport company

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LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - President Evo Morales nationalized on Monday the Spanish-owned venture that runs Bolivia's country's three main airports in his government's third expropriation of a Spanish company in 10 months.

The move drew an angry response from Spain's Foreign Ministry, which "deeply deplored" the lack of warning and, "in particular, the police occupation of its offices."

The ministry said it would "reconsider the whole of relations" with Bolivia in light of the "unfriendly act, combined with other similar measures" that Morales' leftist government has recently taken against Spanish companies.

The affected enterprise, SABSA, runs the airports in the cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. It is a joint venture between Barcelona-based Abertis Infrastructuras SA and AENA, Spain's airport authority.

Morales, who was backed by the company's unionized workers, said the company had failed to make promised investments. The airports were privatized in 1996 and Abertis-AENA's contract was until 2025.

The Bolivian president said Abertis-AENA had committed to invest $26 million from 2006 to 2011 in SABSA but only came through with $5.6 million. He accused the venture of seeking only "to maximize profits" at state expense. He said Bolivia would hire an independent company to determine fair compensation for Abertis-AENA.

SABSA officials in Bolivia refused to comment, and a woman who answered the phone at Abertis' office said a company spokesman was not immediately available.

Morales has nationalized a series of foreign companies since first taking office in 2006 that he considers public utilities and thus property of Bolivia's people.

On Dec. 30, his government took over electricity distribution subsidiaries of the Spanish energy company Iberdrola.

In May, he nationalized Transportadora de Electricidad belonging to Spanish company Red Electrica, which controlled 74 percent of energy transmission in Bolivia.

In his first year in office, Morales renegotiated contracts with a dozen hydrocarbon companies, including Repsol, Petrobras, BG and Total, to provide Bolivia with a greater share of revenues from natural gas production.

In 2009 Morales transferred to state control the country's largest telephone operator, which had been controlled by Italy's ETI, and in 2010 he did the same with the four largest power generators, which had belonged to French-owned Suez, Rurelec of Britain and Bolivian shareholders.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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