Venezuela food producer Polar says local Pepsi workers freed

Government detained employees, have accused company of slowing production to spur product shortages
||Last Updated: 12/21/2015

CARACAS (Reuters) — Employees at a Pepsi-Cola Venezuela plant have been freed by the government, which had detained them for halting operations for lack of raw materials, Empresas Polar, owner of the local Pepsi division, said late on Sunday.

"Pepsi-Cola Venezuela managed to obtain full freedom for its Caucagua plant workers, who were arbitrarily detained on Friday," Polar tweeted, without offering further details.

President Nicolas Maduro routinely accuses Polar, the country's largest food and beverage producer, of slowing production or hoarding goods to spur product shortages in the OPEC nation's struggling economy. Polar denies that.

Polar said labor ministry inspectors arrested several workers on Friday and ordered the reactivation of its plant in the town of Caucagua in the central state of Miranda.

Reuters was unable to immediately obtain comment from the government.

Polar said production lines were halted because of delays due to the country's currency control system that have left it unable to import the necessary raw materials.

Venezuelan media reported that labour ministry inspectors, along with local police, ordered the arrest of the manager, two human resources workers and a lawyer at the plant.

Maduro has described the country's chronic product shortages as the product of an "economic war" led by opposition leaders and private companies.

His critics say currency controls have left companies unable to obtain imported machine parts and raw materials while price controls have made it unprofitable to produce many basic consumer goods.

The decaying state-led model created by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez has also suffered heavily from last year's collapse in the price of oil, which provides nearly all of the country's export revenue.

The ruling Socialist Party lost control of congress for the first time in 16 years in a sweeping opposition victory this month that was driven largely by anger over the economic crisis.

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