GM to leave Venezuela af­ter fac­tory seized by govern­ment.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUAN CAR­LOS HER­NAN­DEZ AND JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

Gen­eral Mo­tors an­nounced Thurs­day that it was shut­ter­ing its op­er­a­tions in Venezuela af­ter au­thor­i­ties seized its fac­tory in the coun­try, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the es­ca­lat­ing chaos en­gulf­ing the South Amer­i­can na­tion amid days of deadly protests.

The plant in the in­dus­trial city of Va­len­cia was con­fis­cated on Wed­nes­day as anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers clashed with se­cu­rity forces and pro-govern­ment groups in a coun­try bat­tered by eco­nomic trou­bles, in­clud­ing food shortages and triple-digit in­fla­tion. Three peo­ple were killed and hun­dreds ar­rested in the dead­li­est day of protests since the un­rest be­gan three weeks ago.

The seizure arose from an al­most 20-year-old law­suit brought by a for­mer GM deal­er­ship in west­ern Venezuela. The deal­er­ship had been seek­ing dam­ages from GM of 476 mil­lion bo­li­vars — about $665 mil­lion at the of­fi­cial ex­change rate, or $115 mil­lion on the black mar­ket where many Venezue­lans are forced to turn to sell their in­creas­ingly worth­less currency. GM said it was no­ti­fied this week that a low-level court or­dered the seizure of its plant, bank ac­counts and other as­sets in the coun­try.

Hun­dreds of work­ers desperate for in­for­ma­tion about their jobs gath­ered at the plant Thurs­day to meet with govern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the deal­er­ship that brought the law­suit. The ne­glected fac­tory hasn’t pro­duced a car since 2015 but GM still has 79 deal­ers that em­ploy 3,900 peo­ple in Venezuela, where for decades it was the mar­ket leader.

Gen­eral Mo­tors’ an­nounce­ment came as Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion moved to keep up pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, tak­ing to the streets again Thurs­day a day af­ter the big­gest anti-govern­ment demon­stra­tions in years.

It’s not the first time the Venezue­lan govern­ment has seized a for­eign cor­po­ra­tion’s fa­cil­i­ties. Last July, the govern­ment said it would take over a fac­tory be­long­ing to Kim­berly-Clark Corp. af­ter the Amer­i­can per­sonal care gi­ant said it was halt­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing be­cause ma­te­ri­als weren’t avail­able in Venezuela.

But the move against GM, the United States’ big­gest au­tomaker, was a much more pow­er­ful state­ment, and could lead to a fur­ther ero­sion of re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

“This is a test case for Trump,” said Raul Gal­le­gos, a Bogota-based an­a­lyst at Con­trol Risks con­sul­tancy. “His re­sponse to a rogue na­tion tak­ing over the as­sets of a brand name U.S. com­pany will be in­dica­tive of the road it wants to take with Venezuela.”

The State De­part­ment said Thurs­day it was re­view­ing de­tails of the GM 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,” State De­part­ment spokesman Mark Toner said.

Tens of thou­sands of pro­test­ers took to the streets Thurs­day to de­mand elec­tions and de­nounce what they con­sider an in­creas­ingly dic­ta­to­rial govern­ment. They were met by a curtain of tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets as they at­tempted to march to down­town Caracas.

Across the coun­try, the clashes have been in­tense. Pro-govern­ment mili­tias were blamed for two deaths on Wed­nes­day, in­clud­ing that of a teenager in Caracas who was head­ing to a soccer game with friends.

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