November 18, 2016 / 2:16 AM / 3 years ago

Venezuela food company Polar says owner barred from flying to Ecuador

Empresas Polar workers gather at the main gate of one of its breweries in Caracas, Venezuela, May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan food company Polar, the South American nation’s largest private firm, on Thursday said its owner had been barred from flying to Ecuador on a company plane for a business conference and denounced “harassment” by the state.

Lorenzo Mendoza was held for four hours at the regional airport of Barquisimeto and ultimately had to return to Caracas on a commercial flight, Polar said on Twitter.

“Polar denounces harassment of its president,” the company said, adding the detention was illegal. A Polar source said no official reason had been given for prohibiting Mendoza from boarding the company plane.

Tensions between Polar and the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro have been constant. Maduro frequently accuses Mendoza of intentionally slowing food production to create shortages and weaken his struggling government.

Mendoza has said the company has been forced to cut back production of staple items such as corn flour because it cannot obtain dollars through the state run currency controls to import raw materials.

He has become more vocal about the problems in recent weeks, and a video circulating online showed him angrily denouncing the product shortages from the Barquisimeto airport.

Venezuela’s government retains exclusive control over legal sales of hard currency but has been unable to provide the dollars needed by the economy as a result of low oil prices.

The country’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Mendoza incident.

Reporting Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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