* Chavez has long threatened to seize group's holdings
* Reticent company president urges price control changes
By Moises Avila
SANTIAGO, June 23 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).
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)