Merida, February 16th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Over the weekend Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez inaugurated some of the new government run hypermarkets which are taking the place of the recently nationalised Exito hypermarket chain, announced the possibility of buying 80% of another, related, supermarket chain, ordered Venezuelan food company Polar to move its storage buildings out of Caracas, and announced a new commerce minister.
On Saturday president Chavez inaugurated one “Bicentennial” hypermarket, or large supermarket, as it opened its doors in Barquisimeto, Lara state. The new hypermarket is one of six new ones around the country, including in Caracas, Carabobo state, Maracaibo, and Puerto la Cruz. Chavez said that in the future he hoped to have more hypermarkets in other Venezuelan cities.
In mid January this year the government expropriated the Exito hypermarket chain, due to selling of out of date goods and their speculation and price changes following the devaluation of the bolivar. The government then incorporated the stores into the Corporation of Socialist Markets (COMERSO), a publicly owned network of subsidised supermarkets and food stores.
At the inauguration, Chavez said that products previously obtained by the old Exito hypermarket, “when speculation reigned in that shop”, could now be sold for up to five times less, for “fair prices”. Discounts will average 40% less than the normal market price, with 14% discounts on already regulated food, 18% discounts on non-regulated products, and other discounts on white products, electronics, and other household items.
“The oligarchy tried to create a scandal over the expropriation of this hypermarket…but the real outrage is what they were committing against their workers and the people. Further, they tried to create a fuss at the world level, that didn’t come to anything,” Chavez said.
Workers speaking to state owned television channel VTV in January said the company had ignored employment benefits and health and safety regulations.
Venezuela to buy 80% of Cativen
Also, the Casino group, the key French stockholders in the Venezuelan Shop Chain (Cativen) proposed to sell 80% of the chain’s shares to the Venezuelan government, Chavez announced.
The Casino Group also had 29% ownership of the Exito hypermarkets and has 21% ownership of the Polar food and drink company.
Chavez said that having evaluated the proposal, he authorised the vice president, and minister for agriculture and land, Elias Jaua, to begin a process of evaluation to determine a fair price for the business, to talk with the Cativen workers, and to come up with a plan to maintain operation of the chain.
Chavez signed a document to open negotiations, saying, “They want a peaceful, friendly arrangement. The expropriation will be a friendly agreement.”
“They told us they were very annoyed with the management that they had here, for all the things that it was doing, that they never approved it. We don’t have any reason not to believe them, right?” he said
Cativen sells basic food products, among other products, and currently runs 35 establishments nationally, called Anonymous Company Distributor of Food (CADA), has eight distribution centres, a fleet of nearly 100 trucks, and a pay list of 5,099 workers.
Chavez said that once proceedings started, the company could have a “mixed orientation”, meaning it would be in hands of Venezuelans but where the French share holders could designate one member of the board.
Chavez also asked Jaua, to expropriate some Polar storage sheds located on a main road of Caracas, “where they take up three or four hectares. You could develop a housing project there, for the people who need it… we could build eight to ten popular apartments there, on that land that is worth gold, that is the people’s.”
Polar is the main food and drink company in Venezuela, and is most well known for its line of beers. In the recent past, Polar has been fined for selling alcohol illegally, during prohibited hours, and Chavez has accused it of hoarding food.
Chavez also asked the respective mayor and governor to oblige Polar to move outside the city.
“I want you to oblige that company to leave that area, to go to the outskirts of the city. The city is for the citizens, not for the Polar company,” he continued.
New minister of commerce
Chavez also announced a new minister of commerce, with Richard Canan replacing Eduardo Saman. He said Saman would take on “new tasks…in the defence of the consumers and of the people.”
Canan was vice-minister of Agriculture Economy for the Ministry of Agriculture and Land, and also president of the Agricultural Bank of Venezuela.
The announcement follows a range of recent cabinet changes in the government.