Venezuela: Multinational rice plant taken over


Following a week of inspections of privately owned rice processing facilities aimed at assuring the supply of essential foods at regulated prices, the Venezuelan government announced plans to expropriate a plant owned by the multinational food company Cargill, which was found to be modifying all its rice in order to evade price controls on basic food items.

"Initiate the process of expropriation of Cargill, and with that a legal investigation, since what they are doing is a flagrant violation", President Hugo Chavez declared on national television on March 4.

"[Cargill] is not even producing one single kilogram of regulated rice, but they do produce 2400 tons of pre-cooked rice, which is not subject to regulation", stated agriculture vice-minister Richard Canan.

The government plans to restart rice production to be sold at the controlled price.

Venezuelans experienced widespread shortages of rice last year when the world food crisis set in and prices soared. In response, Chavez passed the Law on Food Security and Sovereignty, which defines food security as a matter of "public utility".

This allows for expropriation of property to ensure that goal is fulfilled. "The revolutionary government will not hold back when it comes to food security", Chavez stated.

Chavez also warned Venezuela's largest food producer, Polar, that "we could expropriate all Polar's plants if necessary".

On March 1, the government took temporary administrative control of a Polar plant in Guarico state that was also enhancing its rice to avoid price controls. With the support of the workers, the plant is now processing rice that Polar had stored away and the government is in discussions with the owners about the next steps.

[Abridged from]