Venezuela's 'beer war' mirrors hostile politics

Fri Nov 25, 2016 10:15am EST
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By Diego Oré

CARACAS (Reuters) - Running short of raw materials in mid-2015, Venezuela's two biggest beer makers Polar and Regional publicly chided the socialist government for delays in releasing foreign currency to import hops, barley and tin for cans.

Their stance in a joint communique angered President Nicolas Maduro's administration, which allocates dollars to businesses under currency controls that are a cornerstone of Venezuela's state-led economic model, beer industry sources said.

But it then dealt with the two companies very differently.

Executives at Regional met surreptitiously with government officials, and weeks later the currency board coughed up crucial dollars for hop imports, a plant expansion and some foreign debt payments, said sources close to the talks.

But Polar, Venezuela's largest private company whose high-profile owner Lorenzo Mendoza is cast by the government as a symbol of callous capitalism and architect of an "economic war" against socialism, was given the cold shoulder.

It received fewer dollars - then not a single one this year - while inspections of its factories and detentions of its managers multiplied.

Venezuela's beer war had begun, with a political flavor.

"We are being subject to discrimination, it is public and notorious: we have requested (currency) countless times this year, every day, and they have not given us anything, not once," said Marisa Guinand, director of Polar Brewery, at her office in an industrial zone of Venezuela's capital, Caracas.   Continued...

Bottles of Regional beer are seen at a bar in Caracas, Venezuela November 15, 2016. Picture taken November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello