The visit of the Bolivian President Evo Morales to the Argentine capital this week left without the arguments of his local and regional critics who accuse the Bolivian leader of isolating Bolivia in the Latin American community. What did the heads of the two countries agree on? What push will the meeting of the two Latin American leaders of the Bolivian-Argentine interaction give?
On April 22, Evo Morales (Spanish – Juan Evo Morales Ayma) began his official visit to Argentina. One of the leaders of the regional “left” forces met with the Argentine president of the “right” camp, Mauricio Macri primarily to discuss a number of agreements on economic and technological cooperation. As the Venezuelan crisis deepened the differences between the heads of the countries of South America, this visit was the first in-person meeting between Morales, a firm ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (Spanish – Nicolás Maduro Moros), and Macri, one of the supporters of the change of official government in Caracas.
According to a number of political analysts, the visit of Morales to Argentina was a very meaningful action, because this meeting demonstrated the ability to maintain interstate relations outside of political and ideological differences. In addition, at least publicly, in the framework of the meeting of Morales and Macri, topics relating to actors of international politics, in respect of which both leaders hold different positions, were not touched upon. The main agenda items were aimed at the development of Bolivian-Argentine interaction in the fields of economy, energy, health and scientific and technological cooperation.
On the sidelines of the April 22 meeting, Morales and Macri did not discuss the current situation in Venezuela, and issues affecting regional integration processes, such as the UNASUR crisis (Spanish – Unión de Naciones Suramericanas) and the emergence of a new association – PROSUR (Spanish – Foro para el Progreso de América del Sur). The positions of the heads of both states on these issues are well known, and they were able to skillfully focus only on coinciding interests, as if speaking of “business outside the conjuncture”.
Mauricio Macri confirmed the willingness of Argentina to continue to acquire Bolivian natural gas and electricity until the end of 2026. This contract will subsequently be renewable. Another item from the agreements reached during the visit in the energy sector was an agreement on opening “Argentine doors” for Bolivian investors in the gas sector. In a joint statement, Morales and Macri noted that they had finally resolved their lengthy disputes over natural gas and laid the foundations for energy integration, which would include the joint export of liquefied natural gas on a regional scale. The Argentine Minister of Energy Gustavo Lopetegui said that it took two governments two weeks and two meetings to agree on a solution to the problem, which every year became more and more confusing. As a result, an additional protocol was signed to the contract for the export of natural gas from Bolivia to Argentina and a memorandum of understanding on several energy integration projects.
The long-awaited additional protocol for the export of natural gas from Bolivia implies a change in the volumes fixed in the contract valid until 2026. The content of the document establishes new gas minima for Argentina, which will vary between 11 million cubic feet per day (MMCFD) during seven “warm” months and the size from 16 to 18 MMCFD in the period of five “cold” months.
The Bolivian minister of hydrocarbons, Luis Sanchez (Spanish – Luis Alberto Sánchez Fernández), noted that thanks to this agreement, the parties were able to increase the export price from 10 million cubic feet per day (based on the international gas price), and to reach an agreement on a stable nomination, that will help take care of reservoirs and field productivity. Of course, such a protocol will allow Bolivia to solve the technical and economic problems that the South American state faced in 2018, when gas demand in the region fell several times below the established minimum.
Another important theme of the meeting of the leaders of Argentina and Bolivia was cooperation in the field of health. The Argentine Minister of Health Adolfo Rubinstein reported that the two presidents managed to reach agreements on the coverage of medical care for their non-resident citizens. In addition, Rubinstein stressed that the ministries of health of both countries “are moving along the path of bringing together potential reciprocal agreements between the two states”. The delegations of Bolivia and Argentina will continue to conduct a negotiation process on the details of the draft bilateral agreement, which will allow them to serve relevant foreign non-resident citizens “or for tourist purposes to provide emergency care or other expensive medical services”. The authorities are finalizing the details of the framework agreement and are committed to providing the finished project for several months, which will allow Bolivian citizens to have free access to medical care in Argentina, and for Argentines in Bolivia. Adolfo Rubinstein praised the work of the Minister of Health of Bolivia Gabriela Montaño (Spanish – Lilly Gabriela Montaño Viaña) and noted that the Unified Health System of Bolivia (Spanish – Sistema Único de Salud, SUS), which entered into force on March 1 and guarantees free medical insurance for the entire population, is a huge incentive for the implementation of bilateral agreements between Argentina and Bolivia. Rubinstein recalled that in Argentina 100% of the population has the right to receive free medical care in public institutions, and the fact that in Bolivia the situation is now the same way will allow and will facilitate the mutual agreements that both countries need.
Summing up the visit of the Bolivian leader to the Argentine capital, it is worth mentioning that the opposition have already noted the importance of trip of Morales for his election campaign, timed to coincide with the presidential elections to be held in Bolivia in October of this year. Indeed, according to official statistics, there are 345,000 Bolivians living in Argentina, which is about 19% of the total number of migrants in the country. Such a number of votes can be decisive in the October vote, in which the opposition candidate, as polls show, literally “comes on the heels” of the current president.
The meeting of Morales and Macri has once again proved that in the conditions of the multipolar world, mutually beneficial cooperation between countries “outweighs” ideological differences. Whether countries will be able to fulfill the agreements reached will be shown in time. However, it is quite obvious that the Bolivian-Argentine interaction is entering a new stage.