By Carlos Camacho
Latin American Herald Tribune
CARACAS -- Venezuelans may be used to nationalizations by now, but the announcement by President Hugo Chavez Monday night of his plans to nationalize the only ferry line that connects the mainland to tourism-haven Margarita Island surprised even the most jaded observers.
The nationalization announcement followed the established pattern: Chavez phoned in during one of his favorite shows, “Contragolpe” on state television network Venezolana de Television, criticizing the company for providing poor service and charging too much, casually mentioned that he was going to nationalize Conferry and then, suddenly, raised the tone, . “That’s enough! Conferry is a disaster!” Chavez thundered.
"You are going to see a new line of the state," Chavez promised.
He then stated that Vice President Elias Jaua was going to be handling the nationalization.
Business leaders were quick to reject this new nationalization, which, according to industry umbrella organization Fedecamaras, constitutes the 401 company or asset nationalized or expropiated in Venezuela this year alone.
“Why expropiate Conferry instead of propitiating the creation of two or three more companies to lend that service?” Fedecamaras President Jorge Botti told the Latin American Herald Tribune. "Instead of more nationalization, the government should foster the creation of more ferry companies to serve Margarita," Botti added, concluding that if Conferry was indeed lending a poor service, it had more to do with currency exchange controls that keep it from getting dollars for parts and repairs than with just poor management,
"The expropiations and nationalization policy in Venezuela is just damaging to the economy”, Botti said. "And often, nationalized companies become improductive and inefficient," he added.
Conferry was founded 46 years ago and operates high-speed ferries and cargo ships that serve the tourist haven Margarita Island from a port outside of Caracas at La Guaira and from Puerto La Cruz..