Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez over the weekend ordered the army to seize control of all the the country’s rice processing plants, citing the companies’ failure to adhere to price control regulations. “I have ordered the immediate intervention in all those sectors of agro-industry, intervention by the revolutionary government,” Chávez said in a nationally televised address March 1. “This government is here to protect the people, not the bourgeoisie or the rich.” He also warned that he would nationalize the country’s rice industry if the processing companies do not respect price controls.
“I will expropriate them. I have no problem with that and I’ll pay them with bonds. Don’t count on me paying with hard cash,” Chávez warned. A nationalization could affect mills owned by US food giant Cargill and Venezuela’s main food company, Grupo Polar. Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua said a commission would be appointed to oversee operations at Polar’s rice plants in Guárico state pending complete nationalization. The group’s lawyer denied any wrongdoing and called the takeover arbitrary and illegal.
Chávez counters that government-owned farms have increased rice production and bought new machinery, and there is no excuse for shortages of white rice. He charged that rice processors dodge price controls on basic white rice by adding artificial colors and flavors. “They’ve refused 100 times to process the typical rice that Venezuelans eat,” Chávez said on his “Alo Presidente” TV program. “I’m tired of it and if they don’t take me seriously I’ll expropriate the plants and turn them into social property from private property.” (AHN, Bloomberg, La Jornada, Mexico, March 1; RTT News, Feb. 28)