February 18, 2013 / 2:55 PM / 6 years ago

Bolivia nationalizes Spanish-owned airports operator

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a ceremony at the Murillo square in La Paz February 14, 2013. REUTERS/David Mercado

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales seized control of an airports operator owned by Spain’s Abertis ABE.MC on Monday, the latest in a series of state takeovers affecting Spanish-owned companies.

Morales, who has steadily tightened state control over the nation’s small economy since taking office in 2006, said Abertis’s Sabsa unit had failed to fulfill investment commitments promised almost 20 years ago.

“I want to let the people of Bolivia know about the nationalization of Sabsa,” Morales said in a televised speech in the central city of Cochabamba.

Earlier this month, a government minister said a Sabsa proposal to invest $36 million over the next nine years was insufficient and that a decision on scrapping the concession would probably be made sometime in February.

Infrastructure company Abertis will be paid compensation for Sabsa, which stands for Bolivian Airport Services SA, on the basis of an independent audit that will take into account any debts, Morales said.

Bolivia has taken control of several power transmission and distribution companies in the last year, affecting Spain’s Red Electrica (REE.MC) and Spanish utility Iberdrola (IBE.MC). No agreement has been reached yet on compensation.

At a summit of European and Latin American leaders in Chile last month, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urged the region’s governments to respect Spain’s investments.

Sabsa has operated the airports of Cochabamba, the administrative capital La Paz and the eastern economic hub of Santa Cruz since a privatization in the 1990s.

Reporting by Carlos Qurioga; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio

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