The Patiño, Hochschild, and Aramayo mining groups, expropriated in 1952, accounted for nearly all the foreign capital in mining at that time. In 1955, Bolivia issued the Petroleum Code, safeguarding foreign investment in the exploitation of petroleum, and US oil companies began large-scale exploration and development. Although the investment law of December 1971 granted substantial benefits to foreign investors, political instability, inadequate infrastructure, and Bolivia's poor debt-repayment record held foreign investments down. The 1990 Investment Law guaranteed basic rights to foreign investors: national treatment, free currency conversion, no restrictions on remittances, and the right to international arbitration in most industries. Under the Capitalization Program (Bolivia's version of privatization) in 1996–97, 50% ownership in five of the largest parastatals—in transportation, energy and telecommunications—was exchanged for the pledge of $1.7 billion in new investment by foreign "strategic partners." Subsequent laws governed activities in the mining, hydrocarbon, and banking sectors. Bolivia's economic future lies in the development of large reserves of natural gas discovered by foreign companies working in Bolivia. Plans to construct pipelines to deliver gas to Mexico and California depend on foreign investment.
Bolivia has free trade zones (FTZs) in El Alto (the Department of La Paz), Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba. In 2000, foreign investment activities were the focus of two widespread social protests. In April, protests spread nationwide over the issue of foreign investment in municipal water systems and in September/October, economically damaging roadblocks were thrown up around the country by indigenous farmers, coca growers, and a variety of labor and social movements to protest the government's policies. Relevant to the investment climate, in 2003 Bolivia remained on the US government's list of 23 "major" drug-producing and/or drug-transit countries.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow to Bolivia averaged $928 billion from 1997 to 1999 under the impetus of the Capitalization Program, but then dropped to an average of $670 million for 2000 and 2001 mainly due to the fall in investment from Argentina (from $158 million in 1999 to $9.2 million in 2000) and Brazil ($144 million to $38.5 million). The United States has been Bolivia's major foreign investor, accounting for a third to a half of all investment. In 1999 and 2000, other major investors were the Netherlands ($145 million total), Italy ($116.2 million total) and Spain ($59 billion total). Smaller investments were made by Chile, Peru, and Canada.