Venezuela’s Largest Beer Producer Shuts Down

In this Friday, July 31, 2015, a Polar beer vendor makes his last weekend delivery to a liquor store in Caracas, Venezuela. Starting Monday, at least two of Polar's six beer plants is closing temporarily for lack of ingredients, affecting 25% of beer production in a country with one of …
AP Photo/Fernando Llano

Alimentos Polar, the corporation responsible for making 80 percent of Venezuela’s beer supply, has shut down all its beer plants after months of being denied the dollars necessary to buy malted barley for production. The shutdown threatens to completely deplete Venezuela’s beer supply.

Polar’s chief executive, Lorenzo Mendoza, has been demanding for months that the nation’s socialist government allow his corporation access to dollars for buying malted barley and other necessary goods to make beer. President Nicolás Maduro controls all private access to dollars, and with Venezuela suffering the world’s worst inflation rate, it is nearly impossible for companies to import products using the national bolívar currency. Maduro has denied Polar access to the money, and its international suppliers have run out of patience waiting for payments.

Mendoza has lamented that socialist laws prevent him from legally acquiring dollars through any supplier but the government. “Without approval and a supply of [foreign] currency to the suppliers, the company doesn’t have a way to operate… The company cannot go out and buy currency anywhere because it’s against the law,” the Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying.

Maduro has threatened to “reclaim,” or seize, the Polar company, which also produces soft drinks and some food products, if they shut down production plants, calling the shutdown a crime. His only publicly produced solution has been for Mendoza to supply his corporation with locally-produced malted barley instead of importing it, which is impossible due to Venezuela’s inhospitable climate for barley.

Maduro has deemed Mendoza a “class enemy” and “head bigwig” due to Polar’s financial success in its 75-year history. Mendoza initially reacted to these attacks by penning an open letter to Maduro offering to negotiate with the government for access to dollars in April 2015, but his warnings that the company would soon run out of raw materials to make beer was ignored.

The shutdown affects 10,000 workers, with the company warning that they may have to dismiss up to 300,000 workers. What’s more, as the second-largest beer producer in the country, Regional Beer, is so small it would only be able to replace up to 20 percent of the market’s beer supply at full production speed, Venezuelans are likely to be left without beer indefinitely.

The lack of beer has forced the government to add whiskey to the list of rationed goods, which currently includes a variety of basic grocery items such as milk, vegetable oil, flour, toilet paper, and laundry detergent.

Former Polar plant workers who no longer have a source of income have taken to the streets of their relative cities, driving empty distribution trucks and forming vehicle caravans to block roads in protest.

“Our heart is the nation/We are part of the solution.”

“Today it is Polar Beer, tomorrow it could be your business.”

“This truck is empty because the government has taken its prime materials, but it is still full of will and effort.”

Beer joins hundreds of medications, birth control pills, breast implants, and most foods on the list of items Venezuelans either have absolutely no access to or must toil on six-hour grocery lines to acquire in rationed portions.


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