| LA PAZ
LA PAZ Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales signed an agreement on Thursday that paves the way for the acquisition of a $300 million Chinese telecommunications satellite, the latest sign of deepening ties between the resource rich Andean country and commodity-hungry China.
The Morales government announced earlier this week that China will provide Bolivia with a $67 million loan to build infrastructure in the mineral-rich Oruro region and transportation equipment worth $2.6 million to the Bolivian armed forces.
Other recent deals have included a $60 million loan from China late last year, part of which will be used to purchase natural gas drilling rigs. Bolivia has also announced plans to buy six Chinese light military aircraft worth $58 million to fight cocaine traffickers.
"Now the President, the Vice President and the Finance Minister have to guarantee the funds, so that we can sign a contract and ... in three years, as the technicians are saying, we'll launch the Tupac Katari satellite," Morales said after signing the deal in La Paz.
The satellite, which will be named after an Indian who led an uprising against the Spanish conquistadors in the 18th century, will improve Internet access and communications in remote rural areas, Morales said.
Public Works Minister Walter Delgadillo said the accord signed on Thursday lays out the technical details of the project and the next step is to secure financing from China.
The Bolivian government is negotiating a loan with China for 85 percent of the value of the satellite.
Bolivia announced in February the creation of a space agency to oversee the launch of the satellite.
The agency will also coordinate the implementation of education, health and weather monitoring projects that would use services provided by the satellite.
The increasing Chinese role marks a shift in Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, which for decades relied on U.S. aid.
Morales, a Washington critic, has been at odds with the United States since he took office in 2006. Two years later, he expelled the U.S. ambassador after accusing him of conspiring with the opposition to destabilize his government.
China has been strengthening ties with other governments in Latin America, signing trade deals and providing financing to Venezuela and Ecuador.
Last month, Chinese oil firm CNOOC's purchased a stake in Argentina's Bridas Holdings for $3.1 billion, a deal that highlights China's hunger for energy resources to feed the world's fastest-growing major economy.
(Reporting by Eduardo Garcia, editing by Vicki Allen)