CARACAS – Venezuela’s National Guard seized roughly 120 tons of merchandise Thursday from the country’s largest food company, the guard’s commander said.
The “preventive confiscation” came after authorities say they detected inconsistencies in reports from the Empresas Polar conglomerate about the content of several warehouses in the western city of Barquisimeto, Gen. Luis Bohorquez Soto told state television.
He said the guard seized more than 91 tons of wheat flower, 12 tons of butter, five tons of rice and more than 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of cooking oil, among other products.
The operation was part of President Hugo Chavez’s efforts “to protect the Venezuelan family” and avoid the phenomenon of empty shelves at grocery stores, the general said.
Venezuela suffers from periodic shortages of staples such as milk, wheat flour, beans and coffee. While the leftist Chavez government blames hoarding by merchants to drive up prices, business says the problem is lack of foreign currency to pay for imports.
Chavez imposed price controls on staple foods in 2003 as part of an effort to control inflation and Caracas continues to maintain currency controls.
Bohorquez said authorities are making a detailed inventory of the merchandise taken from Polar in preparation for delivering it to the state-run food-distribution network.
Polar is already in a legal battle with the government over the expropriation of company land to make room for low-income housing.
Founded some 70 years ago, Empresas Polar has 30 processing plants and its products are sold in more than 150,000 locations. The firm says it employs around 30,000 people and that its operations generate an additional 180,000 jobs in supply, distribution and support services.