Bolivia’s working people had a special reason to celebrate International Workers Day this year, as their new government, headed by President Evo Morales, chose May Day to announce nationalization of the country’s hydrocarbons resources. The decree required foreign-owned firms to turn their natural gas fields over to the government at once. Military personnel and officials from the state energy company YPFB immediately began to occupy over 50 energy facilities, including gas fields, pipelines and refineries, to guarantee continuing production.

The government told foreign energy firms they must sign new operating agreements within six months. The firms are to receive about half the value of production, except for those at the two largest gas fields, which are to receive 18 percent. Major foreign investors include Brazilian, Spanish, UK and French firms.

Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, totaling nearly 49 trillion cubic feet, are the second largest in South America. Reclaiming this resource for the Bolivian people has been a key demand in repeated popular uprisings.

In another far-reaching move, Bolivia on April 29 joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), initiated last year by Cuba and Venezuela as an alternative to Washington’s drive for so-called free trade agreements, which destroy local economies to benefit U.S.-based transnational corporations.

Under a separate pact, Cuba agreed to send doctors to treat Bolivia’s poor, and teachers to conduct literacy campaigns. Venezuela will send gasoline to Bolivia and set up funds totaling $130 million for development and social programs.

“In Cuba and Venezuela we find unconditional solidarity,” Morales said as he signed the ALBA agreement. “They are the best allies for changing Bolivia.”

Bolivia has now joined Cuba and Venezuela in the forefront of the growing drive among Latin American countries to take control of their economic and political destinies. Such independent actions carry risks. Bolivia’s people and their government need our wholehearted solidarity and unrelenting vigilance, as they step forward on a new path to use their resources for the benefit of ordinary working people.