Kellogg factory will be ‘delivered to workers’ says Venezuelan President Maduro

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro addresses cheering supporters at a rally in Carabobo
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro addresses cheering supporters at a rally in Carabobo

AHEAD of this Sunday’s presidential election, the Venezuelan government has called on workers to occupy the Kellogg factory in Maracay after the firm announced it was closing the plant and pulling out of the country.

President Nicolas Maduro accused the US government of being behind the Kellogg move as part of its economic war against the country and called the closure ‘absolutely unconstitutional and illegal’.

The president said the factory has been handed to workers and will continue production. Announcing the popular move to cheering supporters in the central state of Carabobo, President Maduro said: ‘We’ve begun judicial proceedings against the business leaders of Kellogg’s because their exit is unconstitutional.’

He declared: ‘I’ve taken the decision to deliver the company to the workers in order that they can continue producing for the people.’ In 2016, Venezuela’s government took over a plant belonging to US-based hygiene products manufacturer Kimberly-Clark after it announced it was stopping operations because it could not obtain raw materials.

The Texas-based firm recently requested the start of arbitration proceedings against Venezuela at the World Bank. Venezuela’s economy has been hit by falling oil revenue and a plummeting currency, with the bolivar suffering one of the highest rates of inflation in the world.

President Maduro, who has been in office since 2013, blames Venezuela’s problems on the ‘economic war’ being waged on the country by the USA. In his 2018 State of the Union Address, US President Trump referred to Venezuela as a ‘socialist dictatorship’ while bragging about imposing crippling economic sanctions on the Latin American nation. And US Vice President Mike Pence said recently that Venezuela’s upcoming May 20 elections ‘will be nothing more than a fraud and a sham’.

In fact, Venezuela uses a highly complex electoral process that combines an electronic fingerprint voting system with an additional paper vote, making it almost impossible to manipulate the numbers.

Former US President Jimmy Carter said in 2012: ‘The election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.’ A recent poll by International Consulting Services (ICS) found that President Nicolas Maduro is leading in the polls with 55.9 per cent.

Pence has propagated false assertions that the Venezuelan government is somehow preventing the opposition from participating in the upcoming election. In reality, Venezuela’s largest right-wing opposition group, the MUD, are boycotting the vote in an attempt to delegitimise the process.

They are doing so despite repeatedly calling for elections during large-scale protests in recent years that were often marred by violence, with attacks on state institutions. However, one of their number, Henri Falcón, has broken ranks to take part in the presidential race. He’s currently polling at 25 per cent and is contesting the popular vote alongside three less prominent opposition presidential candidates: Javier Bertucci, Luis Alejandro Ratti, and Reinaldo Quijada.

Falcón’s decision to participate in the democratic process warranted the Miami Herald to label him as a ‘traitor’. President Maduro has taken over the factories of some companies that have left the country. In 2014, authorities took over two plants belonging to US cleaning products maker Clorox Co after its departure.

Venezuela’s foreign oil sales have fallen 40 per cent from a year ago to 1.1m b/d in April, according to data from tanker tracker website Kpler. Falcón, a 56-year-old retired soldier, says he wants to replace the bolivar, Venezuelan currency, with the US dollar.

He says that he would welcome humanitarian aid from abroad that the Maduro government is blocking and would stop subsidising Venezuela’s Caribbean neighbours with oil shipments. He says he would eliminate exchange controls that he claims deter foreign investment and would seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier this month, Pence urged suspension of the election which he said would be a ‘fraud and a sham’ and threatened to raise penalties against Venezuela if the vote happened. The Washington Post has repeatedly referred to Venezuela as a full-blown dictatorship, yet as soon as this year’s election was called, they described it as ‘terrible news for democracy’. Prior to the 2015 National Assembly elections, the same publication ran an editorial forecasting ‘Venezuela’s dirty election approaches’.

Just 32 per cent of Venezuelans support the economic sanctions the US keeps slapping on the country. Instead of driving a wedge between the government and its citizens as they are intended to do, these measures are actually pushing a large percentage of the population closer to the ruling party.

This can be seen in Maduro’s recent meteoric rise in opinion polls, from his lowest rating of below 20 per cent in 2016 to its current level of 55.9 per cent. Most Venezuelans know full well the likes of Trump and Pence, who are currently in the process of deporting 57,000 Hondurans from the US, couldn’t care less about their wellbeing.

As the nation’s representative to the Organisation of American States, Samuel Moncada remarked recently the Trump administration is the most ‘racist and intolerant government in recent decades’. Venezuela’s oil industry could be directly targeted by the US immediately after the upcoming presidential election, oil experts warned on Wednesday, as global energy markets braced for a further spike in crude futures.

While the Trump administration has already imposed far-reaching economic sanctions against Caracas, the additional risk of direct penalties on the country’s oil sector remains. Speculation is rife that Venezuela’s oil industry could be directly targeted by the US immediately after the election. Venezuela’s production collapse has seen its crude output drop to around 1.4 million barrels a day (bpd) in recent months – a spectacular fall of nearly 40 per cent since 2015.

The country’s state oil company, PDVSA, is also battling mounting problems after it recently lost control of its refining and storage assets in the Caribbean to US exploration and production company, ConocoPhillips. Output from PDVSA has slumped by almost 1 million bpd since its recent high in December 2015.

If Trump were to implement an oil embargo, as he’s been hinting he’ll resort to next, this would effectively bring the country to the point of collapse, massively exacerbating the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans. An oil embargo would take out the government’s ability to provide the health, education, and housing programmes its lower income citizens are dependent on.

The Venezuelan government, while permitting coverage of Falcón’s campaign to be broadcast on state television, has otherwise been hostile to the campaign. In a March speech, Delcy Rodriguez, the head of a special body President Maduro created to supersede the power of congress, said the opposition would never return to power.

‘We will never hand over political power,’ she said. Earlier this month, President Maduro told a crowd that he’d be ‘the first to shout and pick up a rifle to carry out armed struggle’ to defend the country.