Bolivian President Evo Morales replaced his mining and energy ministers on Monday in a cabinet reshuffle, Reuters reported. At the mining ministry, former Potosi provincial governor Mario Virreira will replace Jose Pimentel. Potosi province is home to the famous Cerro Rico silver mines and the country’s biggest mine, San Cristobal. Virreira also at one time worked at the Vinto tin smelter. Juan Jose Sosa, a deputy president of state energy firm YPFB, will take over as head of the energy ministry in place of Jose Luis Gutierrez.
The changes come against a background of booming exports and a need to stimulate investment in the minerals sector. The administration is working on new laws aimed at luring back foreign investment that has stalled since the nationalization of natural gas fields six years ago. Acknowledging the need to “innovate ideas,” Morales said he needed “to make some important changes in order to keep serving the Bolivian people.” The president also named new health, justice and communication ministers as part of the cabinet shake-up.
Bolivia’s mineral exports rose by almost a billion dollars to US$3.4 billion in 2011 thanks to high metals prices, according to the outgoing Pimentel last week. The high prices for metals such as silver, zinc, tin and gold contributed to the increase over the US$2.41bn registered in 2010, Business News Americas reported. Mining companies paid US$164 million in mining royalties to the government in 2011 and about US$272 million in taxes, Pimentel was quoted as saying by state news agency ABI.
Tin is Bolivia’s third most important mining export, with metal and concentrate sales accounting for 10 – 15% of total foreign earnings, behind silver (around 40% of total export value) and zinc concentrates (25 – 30% of the total).