CARACAS Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that one of the world's richest men and owner of a major brewery in the South American country, Lorenzo Mendoza, was planning a U.S.-backed presidential run.
Chavez, an avowed foe of U.S. 'imperialism,' did not provide evidence to back the claim that the owner of Empresas Polar had political ambitions, saying only that the billionaire should think carefully before jumping into politics because the government controlled grain supplies.
"Lorenzo Mendoza wants to be president, and the Yankees are guiding him," he said. "Polar depends on whether or not I sell it corn."
In recent weeks, Chavez has frequently warned the tycoon that he could nationalize the brewer and food maker in his economic war on the "bourgeoise." He has already nationalized dozens of companies, including multibillion dollar oil projects.
"Careful Mendoza, he said on Sunday, "You'll end up with nothing."
The attacks on Mendoza and what Chavez calls Venezuela's "parasitic bourgeoise" seem to have the goal of rallying supporters against the opposition in the lead up legislative elections in September.
Mendoza, listed along with his family at number 125 on the Forbes Magazine world rich list, is a well-known public figure whose company is a central part of Venezuela culture, providing the nation's favorite beer and the most popular brand of flour to make corn 'arepa' patties, a staple food.
Polar was founded in 1941 by Mendoza's grandfather.
The socialist president who has been in office for over 11 years is likely to run again in the next leadership elections in 2012. The elections for legislators in September are seen as an important test of support for opposition parties, who are running unity candidates but have no clear leader going forward.
Chavez has already nationalized some warehouses belonging to Polar and frequently threatens to take over more of the oil exporting country's main private employer. Many Polar workers oppose a government take-over and analysts think it would be a mistake for Chavez to tackle the company.
On Saturday, he said he was considering raising taxes on beer and cigarettes, and warned Mendoza that he would not tolerate Polar trucks selling crates of beer in poor neighborhoods outside of licensed hours.
Nationalizing Polar would be an unpopular move, but that does not mean Chavez will not do it. In 2007, he refused to renew a broadcasting license for the nation's most popular TV station, despite opposition from his own supporters.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Philip Barbara)