Venezuela takes over GM site
Auto company announces it is leaving country amid political turmoil.
General Motors announced Thursday that it was pulling out of Venezuela after authorities seized its auto plant in a fresh sign of the turmoil gripping the South American country as anti-government protests swell.
The plant takeover happened as huge crowds of demonstrators marched against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, calling for new elections and a return to democratic rule. The move against GM could further strain relations between Venezuela’s leftist government and Washington.
The State Department said Thursday it was reviewing details of the case but called on authorities to act swiftly and transparently to resolve the dispute. “A fair, predictable and transparent judicial system is critical to implementing the essential economic reforms critical to restoring growth and addressing the needs of the Venezuelan people,” spokesman Mark Toner said.
GM called the expropriation of its factory “an illegal judicial seizure of its assets” and announced it would cease operations in the country, where it employs nearly 2,700workers.
Venezuelan officials offered no explanation for its seizure of the GM facility. Some analysts sawit as part of a pattern of confrontation between the Maduro government and manufacturers as the economic situation deteriorates. But the timing of the move also led to suspicions that Maduro may be looking to escalate tensions with the United States and blame his government’s struggles on a brewing confrontation with the Trump administration. Maduro claims his opponents are colluding with U.S. authorities to overthrow him.
“It fits a broader pattern, in the sense that the government’s response to surges in opposition activity tends to be the deepening of the revolution,” said Phil Gunson, a Venezuela-analyst for the International Crisis Group, using the government’s term for its socialist makeover of Venezuelan society. “There are those at the top, including Maduro himself, who appear genuinely to believe that this is a revolution and the ultimate goal is the replacement of the capitalist economy with one that is entirely staterun.”
On Wednesday, a Venezuelan court in the state of Zulia ordered the U.S. company’s assets frozen and its property seized, siding against GM in a suit filed by a former GM dealer in 2000, according to Venezuelan news accounts. Why the court issued the ruling 16 years later, at the peak of anti-Maduro protests, was unclear.
The automaker said the judicial order was “arbitrary” and “in total disregard of (GM’s) right to due process, causing irreparable damage to the company.”
Auto manufacturing has virtually come to a halt in Venezuela amid a broader economic collapse under Maduro. The economy contracted by an estimated 18 percent last year as the country faced one of the world’s highest inflation rates and suffered widespread shortages of food and medicine.
Once one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations, the oil-rich country has witnessed a broad, painful withering of industrial activity.
Protests against Maduro continued Thursday, but the crowds appeared to be smaller than during Wednesday’s marches.
Production at the GM plant in the city of Valencia had idled due to government import restrictions and shortages of raw materials.
David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, said that despite the timing of the GM takeover, he didn’t see themove as an attempt to “tweak the U.S.”
“It is part of a broader pattern in which big manufacturers reduce their activity to a trickle because they cannot get the dollars to import the inputs they need to produce,” he said. Then the government accuses them of reducing production as part of an ‘economic war.’ The standoff ends either with the company closing shop or the government seizing its assets.”
Police officers protect themselves from tear gas during protests Thursday in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.