UPDATE 2-Bolivia won't compensate Abertis for airport nationalization

Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:57pm EDT

LA PAZ, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Bolivia will not compensate Spanish infrastructure company Abertis for the nationalization of its local airport unit SABSA in February, President Evo Morales said on Friday.

However, Morales said he wanted to speed up compensation to Spanish utility Iberdrola, whose assets were seized by the Andean country last year.

Morales was elected on pledges to redistribute wealth in South America's poorest country and is highly critical of the privatizations of the free-market 1990s.

He says SABSA, which was put into private hands in the 1990s, had failed to fulfill investment commitments in the three international airports it ran.

"I'm convinced that instead of us compensating them, they should pay us. ... We know there has been big business" benefiting them, Morales said during a speech in the central city of Cochabamba.

Abertis, which had asked for $90 million in compensation, appeared surprised by Morales' declarations.

A press officer said Abertis had been negotiating a friendly agreement with Bolivia for months. The company had suspended an arbitration, started before the nationalization, because the government's wouldn't let it hike airport charges, the officer added.

Morales struck a different tone regarding Iberdrola, whose local units supplied power to thousands of people in the cities of La Paz, El Alto and Oruro.

"We want to publicly say that with the Iberdrola companies we have responsibilities, ... and we want to speed up the resolution of this issue, otherwise Bolivia could be poorly looked upon by investors," Morales said.

Iberdrola declined to comment.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has urged Latin American governments to respect Spain's investments in the region, and his foreign minister has warned that state takeovers could hurt diplomatic ties.

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