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VENEZUELA: Venezuela lawmaker says workers seize, stop Coca-Cola plants

Market Watch
October 23rd, 2006

Former Coca-Cola workers blocked access to all Coca-Cola Co. (KO) bottling plants in Venezuela and picketed administrative offices Monday, demanding a solution to a long-running dispute over unpaid severance.

A vocal lawmaker close to President Hugo Chavez celebrated the move which has forced the company to cease production across the country.

"We have seized Coca-Cola plants...We will not allow a single truck from Coca-Cola to leave with soft drinks," Iris Varela, a lawmaker, said during a televised interview with state television.

Varela did not specify how long the seizure could last or what role the government is playing in this dispute between the company and workers.

"Now we will see if they will pay workers what they owe them," she said.

A Coca-Cola official who declined to be named, said former soft drink distribution contractors have blocked access to all four bottling plants in Venezuela, effectively paralyzing production since early this morning. Protesters are also picketing outside some administrative offices in Caracas.

The company has fought a legal battle with former distribuitors over unpaid severance for years.

The workers have stopped employees from entering the plants but have allowed others to leave, the official noted.

Liliana Sierraalta, a spokeswoman for the company, said she could not comment yet but would release information later in the day.

Varela, the lawmaker who announced the protests, expressed support for the worker cause and suggested the government should eventually expropriate the company's assets if it fails to comply with worker demands.

If Coca-Cola doesn't follow through, "the company should be expropriated," she said, and a new company could produce "Venezuelan soft drinks instead."

Venezuela's congress is now completely dominated by politicians who support President Hugo Chavez, since opposition parties decided to pull out of last year's congressional election citing electoral irregularities.

Chavez has vowed to create a socialism for the 21st century in Venezuela and to expropriate "idle" land and company assets. He has also threatened expropriation in cases where companies have unresolved disputes with workers.





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