CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday he had no plans to nationalize the local unit of Spanish bank BBVA because a senior company official had apologized for his comments during a testy exchange.
The socialist leader said the executive, Pedro Rodriguez, had behaved “haughtily” when Chavez phoned him live on television this week and warned him the bank could be taken over if it did not provide more home loans.
The president has often threatened to nationalize any bank that stands in the way of financing for much-needed residential construction in the South American country, and has previously singled out BBVA’S Banco Provincial unit.
“I only telephoned him to tell him, to ask him, to attend to these people, but Senor Rodriguez behaved a bit haughtily. Of course, I always end up looking like the bully,” Chavez said in a televised Cabinet meeting.
“He then said the bank was not for sale. And I replied, and responded as I did, in order to put him in his place.”
Chavez said the tense exchange had been “exploited to the maximum” by right-wing media, but that Rodriguez had subsequently met Venezuela’s vice president, who told him the bank executive had apologized.
“He said he was surprised by my call. ... Well, it’s alright. We accept the apology, and if I also spoke very strongly to him, then I offer my apologies. It is the correct thing to do. I have no plans to nationalize this bank.”
Wednesday’s telephone call was a classic example of the political theater that has been a hallmark of Chavez’s rule.
Supporters say he is redressing years of imbalance in the country, while opponents say he is wrecking the economy and scaring away investors with increasingly radical policies.
Since coming to power in 1999, Chavez’s government has nationalized large swathes of the economy in the continent’s biggest oil producer in the name of “21st century socialism.”
The public sector now controls about a third of the banking system, and the government has passed laws obliging private institutions to release more funds to promote home building to try to address a national shortage.
Rodriguez is executive president of Provincial, which issued a statement after Chavez’s call in which it stressed its commitment to funding homes for Venezuelan families and to complying with all the nation’s laws and regulations.
Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Xavier Briand