Political Beer in Venezuela: Chávez Looks to Nationalize Major Brewery

Venezuela has the highest per capita consumption of beer in Latin America, clocking in at 90 liters per person annually. Empresas Polar, one of the largest breweries in the country, is currently in the crosshairs of President Hugo Chávez, who would like to put the company under state control.

Since becoming president in 1999, Chávez has nationalized numerous industries, from the oil sector to Venezuelan operations of the US agricultural and food corporation Cargill.

Now, Chávez has his sights on Polar, a major beer and food producer. The move is part of a government strategy to stem food shortages and decentralize corporate wealth to benefit the majority of Venezuelans.

Venezuelan billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza, the owner of Polar, placed (with his family) in 125th on Forbes Magazine list of the global wealthy.

“I’m not afraid to nationalize Polar, Mendoza, so be careful,” Chávez said. “Let’s see who lasts longer — you, with your Polar and your riches, or me, with my people and the dignity of a revolutionary soldier.”

Sending a clear signal to Polar, which is also the distributor of Pepsi Cola in the country, Chávez ordered the company to remove a massive globe-shaped Pepsi advertisement from a high-rise building in downtown Caracas. The Chávez government also moved to expropriate a Polar warehouse outside of Caracas to turn it into a space for public housing.

In one verbal attack against the billionaire, Chávez said, “Come down from your cloud, Mendoza. Here in Venezuela… We’re done with the sacred cows.”

Benjamin Dangl is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, and the co-author, with Chris O’Brien of the forthcoming book, Bottoms Up: A People’s Guide to Beer (PM Press, 2011).

Photo from Flickr.