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Venezuela's Top Beer Maker Halts Output in Dispute with Government

FILE - The corporate logo of Empresas Polar is seen at a facility of the company in Caracas July 30, 2015.

Venezuela's largest beer maker halted the last of its four production plants Friday in a spat with the government over access to foreign currency, threatening a shortage in a nation already hit by severe scarcities of food and other products.

Empresas Polar, the largest private company in Venezuela, had warned it would end production on Friday because President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government was refusing to release dollars to import malted barley under strict exchange controls.

Operations at Polar's plant in San Joaquin, which had been its last still in production, were stopped on Friday morning, a company spokeswoman said.

"With this, activities at the four plants of Polar Brewery are halted," she added.

Union leader Arquimides Sequera confirmed the halt.

"Today the morning shift was suspended at the San Joaquin plant," he said. "That was the last one to be stopped, and Polar's biggest."

Polar makes about 80 percent of the beer consumed in Venezuela.

Maduro's government often accuses Polar of exaggerating its dollar needs and hoarding products as part of an "economic war" by the business community, politicians and the United States aimed at undermining socialism in Venezuela.

The OPEC nation is struggling with a recession, soaring consumer prices and chronic shortages.

Officials have said Polar's billionaire president, Lorenzo Mendoza, should spend his own offshore money if he needs dollars.

Earlier this week, in an obvious reference to Polar, Maduro threatened to seize any plants halted by private companies and hand them over to workers. "Any plant that is shut will be recovered, it is a serious crime against production," he said.

Polar is also well known in Venezuela for producing the flour to make the beloved national staple "arepas," a form of cornmeal flatbread.