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US Congressman Criticizes Venezuelan Takeover Local Unit of US Company


A U.S. congressman has criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's decision to nationalize rice production operations of a local unit of U.S.-based food giant, Cargill.

Florida Republican Connie Mack said in a statement Thursday that the Venezuelan leader will stop at nothing to impose his Bolivarian revolution on the Venezuelan people. Mack linked the president's action to efforts to keep Venezuela's economy afloat amid falling crude oil prices and said nationalizing key sectors of the economy dooms it to failure. Venezuela is a major oil producer and an OPEC member.

President Chavez took action against Cargill Wednesday, alleging the company was violating price control rules on basic rice. Cargill has responded by saying it expects an opportunity to clarify the situation. The Minnesota-based company also says the rice mill was designed to manufacture parboiled rice, which it has done at the site for the past seven years and elsewhere in Venezuela for 13 years.

Separately, Mr. Chavez Wednesday threatened to nationalize Venezuela's biggest company, Empresas Polar, in a dispute over the major food producer's rice output. Mr. Chavez issued the warning days after seizing a rice processing plant owned by Polar.

The government alleges Polar has been operating at less than 50 percent capacity. It accuses Polar of selling mostly rice enriched with colors and artificial flavors to evade price caps which only apply to white rice. The company denies the claims.

The dispute is Mr. Chavez's first conflict with industry since winning a referendum last month that ends term limits for elected officials.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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