Venezuela’s Polar struggles for money to run brewery

Venezuela’s leading brewery Empresas Polar has been claiming unfair treatment by the government compared with main competitor Cervecería Regional. The company like most other industries in Venezuela is suffering under strict  currency controls of the ruling Maduro regime, which does not allow to import enough brewing materials like malt, hops or cans. In April this year most of the breweries in the country stopped production. Polar could only reopen two of the four brewing plants and reducing production to 40% from before with a $35 million loan from Spanish bank BBVA. Regional, on the other hand, received steadily funds from state currency board Cencoex (formerly named Cadivi).  "Since February ... we have asked four times and they have given us four times, though less than we requested." said Carolina Requena, marketing manager for Cervecería Regional, in a Reuters interview. And she continues: "For our size and needs, we've had an ok access (to dollars)."

Reason for the unequal treatment seems to be the attitude of the owners of the two privately held companies.

Gustavo Cisneros (71), since 1992 owner of Cervecería Regional, the second largest brewing group with an estimated share of 15% of Venezuela’s beer market, dominates Cisneros Group, a conglomerate, which is also involved in Venezuelan television stations, telecom  and real estate.  The group is said to collaborate with former President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro.

Lorenzo Mendoza (51), CEO of Empresas Polar, which is the dominant counterpart of the Cisneros Group in Venezuela and manages the Polar brewery, which controls stunning 80% of Venezuela’s beer market, is a long-time critic of deceased former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  Chavez attacked Mendoza, who is one of the richest people in Venezuela, because of his self-confident appearance and strong position in the public food supply. Mendoza was born in Venezuela’s capital Caracas but was educated in the United States. He helds a MBA from Sloan School of Management and is also said to have political ambitions.The family made its fortune with the brewery which was founded in 1941 by the grandfather of Lorenzo Mendoza. Besides, the company also produces maize flour (which is the base for the main Venezuelan meals like arepa), snacks, ice-creams, mayonnaise and ketchup and soft drinks (Pepsi-Cola ).

President Nicolas Maduro has called Mendoza  an "oligarch of the devil". He accused him of deliberately  decreasing production and hoarding products in order to create shortages and provoking public disorder and riots. In one recent speech he claimed "If you can't manage your companies, give them up to the people. Bandit, thief, oligarch, traitor!"

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