Bolivian says companies that invest have nothing to fear

United Nations, Feb 20 (EFE).- Bolivian President Evo Morales said here Wednesday that Spanish energy group Repsol and other firms that invest in the Andean country need not fear nationalization because that step is only taken against companies that come to "plunder."

"For those companies that invest, I can tell them that their investment is guaranteed" and that they have the right to recoup their investment and make a profit, Morales said in a press conference at the United Nations' headquarters.

Morales stressed that Bolivian authorities work "jointly" with "companies that are partners" and invest, citing Repsol as a prime example.

His comments came two days after La Paz nationalized the Spanish-owned firm that runs Bolivia's three largest airports, accusing the company of not investing enough in improvements.

Servicios de Aeropuertos Bolivianos S.A., or Sabsa, is the sixth Spanish-owned Bolivian enterprise to be nationalized in less than a year.

Sabsa obtained in 1997 a 25-year-concession to operate the airports serving La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

The company changed hands twice since then, passing in 1999 from U.S.-based Airport Group International to Britain's TBI, which five years later sold the firm to two Spanish concerns: state-owned aviation administrator AENA and infrastructure giant Abertis.

From 1997 to 2005, there was "no investment plan, just plundering," Morales said Wednesday, referring to Sabsa's stewardship of the airports.

While Sabsa later pledged to invest $26 million between 2006 and 2025, "they had only invested $5 million" by 2011, the Bolivian president said.

Morales said he was on the verge of nationalizing Sabsa three years ago, but then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero convinced him to wait and hold talks and pledged he would ensure that the company invested in its operations.

"Unfortunately, in that dialogue with the company all we did was waste three years," the president added.