Venezuela's largest private firm Polar halts pasta production

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s largest private company, Empresas Polar, said on Tuesday it was halting production of pasta due to delays in foreign currency allocations from the government.

Lorenzo Mendoza, owner of Venezuela's largest private food production company Empresas Polar, attends a news conference in Caracas May 13, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government is holding meetings with business leaders in efforts to boost productivity in the OPEC nation. But firms continue to complain of problems including currency restrictions.

“The Polar Food plant in Maracaibo, which makes the pasta brands Primor and Gran Senora, is obliged to temporarily suspend operations due to a delay in currency payments,” said Polar.

Companies pay local bolivars to state currency board Cencoex, formerly known as Cadivi, to receive U.S. dollars for imports. Polar said it needed to import wheat for pasta, a basic staple in Venezuela.

“Operations stopped this Sunday April 27th, after our stocks of wheat loaned from other companies ran out,” the company added, without saying how much it was owed in dollars.

Polar’s statement came the same day as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) complained Venezuela was dragging its feet on releasing $3.9 billion owed to airlines for ticket sales.

There was no immediate reaction from authorities to Polar or the IATA, though Maduro has repeatedly said Venezuela will pay all its debts to private business.

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Polar is famous in Venezuela for making the nation’s top-selling beer and a brand of flour used for arepas, the grilled corn dough patty that is another staple food.

It also distributes Pepsi-Cola in Venezuela.

Venezuela introduced currency controls in 2003 under the late President Hugo Chavez, who frequently berated Polar and its billionaire owner Lorenzo Mendoza as part of his trademark anti-capitalist rhetoric.

Mendoza met Maduro in February in a high-profile televised meeting in which he and other business leaders appealed for greater flexibility and space for private enterprise in the running of Venezuela’s economy.

Venezuelans have been suffering severe shortages of basic products from flour to milk for more than a year.

Businessmen say the government has squeezed private enterprise while running state businesses incompetently, while Maduro says a capitalist elite engaged in an “economic war” are causing the shortages through speculation and hoarding.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Chizu Nomiyama