By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Six Japanese companies -- including some of the largest names in the world -- are said to be pulling out as minority partners in the state-run alumina company, Venezolana del Aluminio (Venalum), which is controlled by Corporación Venezolana de Guyana (CVG), and have apparently wanted to do so for quite some time.
However, it remains unclear whether Showa Denko, Kobe Steel, Marubeni, Sumitomo Chemical, Mitsuibishi Materials and Mitsubishi Aluminium, who hold 20% of the equity in Venalum, want to go for reasons of their own or whether they’re being pushed.
The news was confirmed by Carlos Acosta Pérez, president of CVG, which holds the remaining 80%, although he at first said that the idea of the Japanese companies selling their shares to the state was “not yet official.”
That said, he went on to reveal that the two sides had been “talking” for months. The Japanese were “willing” to sell their shares, and CVG wanted to buy them because this would “maintain the sovereignty of this company,” he told a press conference.
What was afoot at the moment, Acosta Pérez explained, was a “review” of the value of the shares “because there has to be quantification of the physical structure of Venalum and the volume of that signifies the value of the shares.” In other words, they’re haggling over the price, although Acosta Pérez said that actual negotiations hadn’t yet begun.
Complicating matters a little, employees at the plant are said to have called for the Japanese shares to be given to them. This would put them on a par with recently nationalized steelmaker Sidor, where the workforce holds title to 20% of the equity.
But Acosta Pérez signalled that as far as he was concerned, this wasn’t on. Handing over the shares to the workers would be contrary to a “fundamental precept of socialism, which is to apply social justice and the general wellbeing.”
Reports from Tokyo say the Japanese companies want to “abandon the business in Venezuela” because of supposed “differences with the state” over the sales price of the aluminum. Some of the output is sold to Japan, where it is further processed and refined.
It’s also noted that companies in “basic industries” such as alumina production and steelmaking have been targets of state takeovers ordered by President Hugo Chávez. In addition, several companies have been plagued by persistent labor disputes, which in turn have prompted the president into ordering some plans to be “occupied” – presumably as a prelude to nationalization.