Venezuela's Polar: 'Absurd' to nationalize group

Thu Jun 23, 2011 4:28pm EDT

* Chavez has long threatened to seize group's holdings

* Reticent company president urges price control changes

By Moises Avila

SANTIAGO, June 23 (Reuters) - Nationalizing Venezuela's top brewer, Empresas Polar, would be "absurd" given its law-abiding record, the group's president told Reuters on Thursday, pushing back against government criticism in rare public comments.

The country's biggest private employer and largest brewer and food processor has faced repeated threats of seizure from socialist President Hugo Chavez, who accuses it of stockpiling food and speculating with prices.

"That is absurd. It's madness. This is a private company with its own legal jurisdiction provided by the constitution, dedicated to our own activities and complying with Venezuelan law," company president Lorenzo Mendoza said at a business conference in Santiago.

Last year, the government accused Polar of instigating protests against the nationalization of one of its suppliers, U.S.-owned bottle maker Owens Illinois Inc (OI.N). [ID:nN27275545]

Chavez, who has been in power for 12 years, has nationalized large swathes of the economy from oil companies to banks and miners in the name of his "21st century socialism."

Mendoza generally avoids the incendiary political debates that have polarized the country under Chavez, but he called for an adjustment of the price controls imposed since 2002.

"Venezuela needs an adjustment of certain prices, because we have prices frozen in many sectors ... and of course when they raise raw material prices and that's not reflected, you end up with a serious problem," Mendoza said.

Local business owners have said Venezuela's price controls are responsible for intermittent food shortages.

"In the end the consumer suffers and cannot get products because there is no way to supply them. Nobody can produce at a loss," he added. (Additional reporting by Fabian Cambero; writing by Brad Haynes; editing by Daniel Wallis and Andre Grenon)