CARACAS, July 30 (Reuters) - Venezuelan troops occupied a Caracas warehouse complex used by local food giant Empresas Polar and Nestle to distribute food and beverages, workers and company officials said on Thursday.
The move follows months of accusations by President Nicolas Maduro that Polar, the country’s largest private employer, is working to sabotage the economy. The company denies the accusations.
Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez expropriated several warehouses from Polar, in some cases arguing that the space should be used to build houses for the poor.
Around 50 workers protested inside the complex, including atop a water tower, with contractors joining them in solidarity outside, in a poor neighborhood in the west of Caracas.
“If we don’t work, we don’t eat,” said truck driver Carlos Munoz, a 43-year-old contractor for Polar. He transports food and drink from the site to shops and distributors.
“There’s no food in Venezuela and now they do this! How are people going to eat?”
Workers said dozens of national guard and police took over the building on Wednesday evening. National Guard troops remained within the complex. Graffiti on its walls read, “No to expropriation.”
A Polar spokeswoman said the company did have an immediate comment because it was preparing a statement. The government did not respond to a request for comment.
Nestle spokesman Andres Alegrett said the company was informed by the facility’s owner that the area was in the process of being expropriated and that the firm was preparing alternative means of distribution.
The OPEC nation is suffering what is believed to be triple-digit inflation and nagging shortages of basic goods from shampoo to chicken that critics say is the result of a failed state-led economic model but Maduro blames it on an “economic war.”
Polar has said its operations have been limited by its inability to obtain dollars to import raw materials such as malted barley to make beer.
Maduro faces legislative elections in December and his popularity has sunk considerably since his election to power in 2013, after Chavez’s death.
Authorities told Polar that the area was to be used for housing, said a company source who is unauthorized to speak publicly about the issue.
Around 50 people on Thursday rallied outside the warehouse in support of the measure, chanting, “We want homes.”
“Many of us here don’t have homes. Chavez promised us homes,” said Lindomar Nieves, a 37-year-old mechanic holding a Venezuelan flag. (Reporting by Girish Gupta; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Corina Pons; Editing by Richard Chang)