Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

GM closing operations in Venezuela

Government had confiscate­d automaker’s factory there

- By Juan Carlos Hernandez and Joshua Goodman

VALENCIA, Venezuela — General Motors announced Thursday that it was shuttering its operations in Venezuela after authoritie­s seized its factory, a move seen as having the potential to 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 Wednesday as antigovern­ment protesters clashed with security forces and pro-government groups in a country battered by economic troubles. Three people were killed and hundreds arrested in the deadliest day of protests since the unrest began three weeks ago.

The seizure — which the automaker called an “illegal judicial seizure of its assets” — arose from an almost 20year-old lawsuit brought by a former GM dealership. 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.

Hundreds of workers 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.

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.

“This is a test case for Trump,” said Raul Gallegos, a Colombia-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 again Thursday in Caracas and other cities across the country 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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