Venezuelan Government Acquisition of Polar Company Land Causes Stir

A move by the Venezuelan government to remove national food and beverage  company Polar from land in Lara state in order to construct housing has caused legal and other actions from both the opposition and from supporters.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuealanalysis.com

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Mayor Amalia Saez (agencies)
Mayor Amalia Saez (agencies)
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Merida, April 30th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A move by the Venezuelan government to remove national food and beverage  company Polar from land in Lara state in order to construct housing has caused legal and other actions from both the opposition and from supporters.

On 27 April President Hugo Chavez signed a decree for the forced acquisition of five plots of land in Barquisimeto, Lara, including land where Polar has some storage sheds. The mayor of the area, Amalia Saez, said Polar had to “immediately” vacate its storage sheds and move elsewhere.

Polar is the biggest food and beverage company in Venezuela, with a monopoly on many products. The move by the government comes as part of a national priority to address the massive housing shortage in the country.

The process of acquisition began in February when Chavez visited Barquisimeto and asked the local authorities to start legal proceedings to expropriate the land and transfer the company elsewhere. The mayor issued the first order to the company to vacate the land on 15 March, a move later ratified by the president in early April.

However, Chavez criticised her order which gave the company five years to move and suggested 6 months was more appropriate. Finally, on Tuesday he signed the national government decree, which  made the municipal decree invalid.

Mayor Saez explained to press that the national government made the decree following the doublespeak of Polar’s owners, who, according to her, had agreed to talk with her and begin the process, while at the same time their lawyers were appealing to the Supreme Court in order to not have to vacate the premises.

Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Polar, will have to reconsider this appeal, as it was against the decree by the mayor. Noel Alvarez from Fedecamaras, the coup supporting chamber of commerce, also said his organisation would take the issue to the International Court of Human Rights and to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, Unete, pro-Chavez the National Union of Workers, said it will also go to court, but against Polar, for violating food sovereignty and transporting cornflour machinery that was being used in Venezuela, to Colombia.

National opposition press such as El Universal and El Nacional are suggesting that the move by the government has “renewed fears about the state of private property in the country” and also report that affected workers have declared themselves in “permanent assembly”,to defend the company and have put chains on the main gates to prevent unwanted entries. The opposition media also claims they  have the support of the local communal councils.

To back up this claim, El Universal quoted the president of Fedecamaras in Lara, Elías Bessis, as saying that the workers “don’t want to leave the companies on their own” and want to defend their jobs. El Nacional quoted one worker and said workers were worried that the National Guard would occupy the area.

There has also been some controversy over the governor of Lara state, Henri Falcon, ex member of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who has come out against the acquisition measure, saying it’s not about “defending the interests of the company but rather the people of Lara’s right to work.”

In the last year, Polar has been fined for selling alcohol illegally during prohibited hours, and Chavez has accused it of hoarding food. Its president, Mendoza, is the second richest person in Venezuela with a net worth, according to the Forbes rich list, of $3.5 billion.

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