Chavez orders army to seize Venezuela rice mills

In a dispute over the price of one of Venezuela’s staple  foods, Chavez told soldiers to take control of the rice mills,  which could include installations owned by US food giant  Cargill.

“I have ordered the immediate intervention in all those  sectors of agro-industry, intervention by the revolutionary  government,” Chavez said during a speech to commemorate deadly  riots over high prices in Venezuela 20 years ago.

Chavez accused the companies of disrupting the supply chain  by refusing to produce rice at prices set by the government.

Government officials entered a mill owned by Venezuela’s  top food company, Grupo Polar, yesterday afternoon and said  they would increase its output overnight.

Earlier this month, Chavez won a referendum vote on  allowing him to stay in office as long as he wins elections.

The socialist president, who has already governed for a  decade, often radicalizes his policies after electoral  victories and has nationalized large swaths of the Venezuelan  economy in recent years.

Venezuela’s rice millers association said its members were  producing what they could with available stocks of the grain  and had not been formally notified of Chavez’s order.

The former soldier warned he would nationalize the rice  industry if companies tried to further interfere with supplies  of the grain.

“I will expropriate them. I have no problem with that and  I’ll pay them with bonds. Don’t count on me paying with hard  cash,” he said.

In the past, Chavez has paid reasonable compensation for  takeovers, but falling oil prices limit his ability to pay for  such moves.

The government imposes price controls on basic products and  frequently accuses private companies of hoarding food.

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