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Venezuelan Authorities Seize Idle Heinz Ketchup Plant

By: Gregory Wilpert –

Caracas, Venezuela, September 9, 2005 - Venezuelan military seized a Heinz Ketchup plant in Venezuela's Monagas state last Monday. Heinz company representatives complained that the seizure represented, “a violation of property rights and free trade as well as due process.” Venezuela's Minister for Agriculture and Land, Antonio Albarrán, argued, though, that 80% of the plant actually belongs to the workers and that Heinz bought the plant illegally in 1996. The plant has been closed for nearly a decade, according to Albarrán.

The take-over of the Heinz plant in the town of Caicara, Monagas, was carried out by Venezuelan troops at the request of the pro-Chavez state governor, José Gregorio Briceño. The move comes at a time that the Chavez government is investigating over 700 closed enterprises, evaluating them for their suitability for worker takeovers, via expropriation.

Workers at many other factories and businesses have begun taking matters in their own hands, not waiting for the government to act in the expropriation of idle factories.

The president of the anti-Chavez industrial business federation Conindustria, Juan Francisco Mejías, said that he hopes that the government will “rectify” its action in the case of the Heinz tomato processing plant.

However, the president of the National Confederation of Ranchers and Agricultural Businesses, José Augustín Campos, a group that is considered to be close to the government, said that Heinz's closing of the plant was a “criminal act” because it caused all the surrounding tomato growers to go out of business.

The coordinator of Venezuela's new union federation, the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT – /Unión Nacional de Trabajadores Venezolanos/), Marcela Máspero, said that the UNT is considering the take-over of 800 closed businesses. “Accompanied by the communities, we will occupy these businesses because we cannot continue to allow that the reactivation of the country's productive apparatus is diminished due to the closure of businesses,” said Máspero.

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