| CARACAS, April 5
CARACAS, April 5 Venezuela's leading beer and
food company, Empresas Polar, responded sharply on Friday to
renewed government criticism, saying the state currency board
owed it $141 million and was delaying the release of dollars for
up to 200 days.
Polar's unusually strong statement came after a threat
against it from acting President Nicolas Maduro that may have
foreshadowed more clashes between the private sector and the
socialist government if, as expected, he wins an April 14 vote.
Maduro, who like his former boss Hugo Chavez, has been
blaming private companies and "speculators" for Venezuela's
economic difficulties and tore into Polar at a rally on
"Polar, Polar, Polar, carry on with your sabotage of the
people's food, carry on, it's fine," he said, sarcastically,
before warning: "Everything in life comes to an end."
Though he was not specific, Maduro appeared to be blaming
Polar for shortages of some products in Venezuela and reviving
Chavez's oft-stated threat to nationalize the company.
But the company said it was producing at maximum capacity,
while being hampered by inefficiencies in the release of dollars
under Venezuela's strict currency controls.
That is a common complaint of importers in Venezuela.
"In some cases the delays reach 200 days. This situation
prejudices the production cycle, relations with international
suppliers and the timely obtaining of materials," Polar said.
"We are waiting for $140.7 million to be released ... Food
is a sensitive subject for the population, so we are surprised
that President Nicolas Maduro has made a threatening public
reference to this company based on incorrect information."
Chavez, who died of cancer a month ago, built his political
career on pledges to smash Venezuela's capitalist elite and
redistribute wealth to the poor. He nationalized large swathes
of the South American OPEC member's economy.
Maduro uses near-identical rhetoric of his former boss,
though Chavez's frequent spats with Polar and its owner Lorenzo
Mendoza had seldom elicited such a strong public response from
Polar is famous for making the nation's top-selling beer and
a brand of flour used for arepas, the grilled corn dough patty
that is Venezuela's staple food.
It also distributes Pepsi-Cola (PEP.N) in Venezuela.
Polar is Venezuela's biggest private employer with 48,000
direct and indirect employees. It owns 30 factories and its
products are distributed in 150,000 stores.
The company said its monthly food sales in the last six
months had been 73,356 tonnes, a 3 percent rise on the same
period of 2012.
As well as delays in dollar releases by currency board
Cadivi, Polar complained that officials were meddling with
distribution routes, costs had soared due to a devaluation, and
price controls had not been revised in two years.
It called for a dialogue with the government, which in the
past has confiscated some of Polar's properties.
(Editing by Eyanir Chinea and Bob Burgdorfer)