CARACAS – Coca-Cola Femsa committed itself on Monday to pursuing a “dialogue” with the government after the announcement by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that he had ordered the firm to vacate land in Caracas so that low-income housing can be built upon it.
“We confirm our highest willingness to support initiatives that contribute to the goal that the government has set ... and we are confident that dialogue will result in our creating proposals and alternatives that benefit all,” said the Mexican-owned bottling company in a brief press statement.
Chávez gave Coca-Cola Femsa two weeks to vacate land in western Caracas that it currently uses to park delivery trucks.
“I’m giving two weeks to the Coca-Cola company for them to voluntarily vacate that land,” said Chávez on his Sunday radio and television program, “Hello President.”
The leftist leader said that he hopes that “right away” authorities in the capital municipality of Libertador will arrive at a decision that allows the state to recover the land and use it to build housing “for the people.”
Coca-Cola Femsa is the largest firm of its type in Venezuela, where it employs 8,000 workers and pays some $140 million per year in taxes, according to the firm.
Chávez said on his radio and TV program that every day he will step more and more forcefully “on the accelerator” to propel the country toward socialism, and he asked for the “help and support” of his allies in that task.
In the past week, Chávez announced the first phase of a reorganization of his Cabinet to give it “more efficiency,” and he reintroduced the program of intervening in industries and confiscating private lands to transform them into “social property.”
Chávez announced last week the seizure of 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of land owned by Ireland-based packaging giant Smurfit Kappa Group, part of his government’s “agrarian revolution” program.
The El Piñal plantation, where Smurfit grows eucalyptus trees to make cardboard, “was taken over yesterday,” the socialist head of state said last Thursday.
“We’re going to use that wood (eucalyptus) in a rational way and then we’ll plant other things there ... beans, corn, sorghums, cassava, yams,” Chávez said.
It was eight years ago that Chávez declared a “war to the death” against the extreme concentration of land ownership characteristic of Latin America and began seizing “idle” land and distributing it to poor peasants.
Last Wednesday, he ordered the takeover of a rice plant belonging to U.S. agribusiness titan Cargill, accusing the company of violating laws intended to ensure Venezuelans have access to high-quality food at a reasonable price.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Richard Canán said an inspection of Cargill’s Cristal plant in the northwestern state of Portuguesa revealed that the mill was not producing white rice, which is subject to price controls, but flavored varieties whose prices are not regulated.
Venezuela’s biggest food producer, Empresas Polar, has brought a legal challenge to the government’s takeover of one of its rice plants, also for ostensibly failing to produce enough white rice.
Chávez imposed price controls on staple foods in 2003 as part of an effort to control inflation, currently at 31 percent. EFE