CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s socialist government said on Monday it was taking over and re-activating a plant that U.S. personal care products maker Kimberly-Clark Corp has halted due to the nation’s economic crisis.
Kimberly-Clark, which makes Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues, said at the weekend it was halting its two-decade-old Venezuela operations as it was unable to obtain raw materials or hard currency and was struggling in the face of high inflation.
But Labor Minister Oswaldo Vera appeared at its plant, in the central provincial city of Maracay, surrounded by workers who he said were re-starting operations immediately.
“Kimberly-Clark is going to continue producing, now in the hands of the workers,” he told state TV. “We’ve just turned on the first engine.”
There was no immediate response from Kimberly-Clark, and it was unclear how the plant would continue producing if there were insufficient raw materials.
After U.S. cleaning products maker Clorox Co pulled out of Venezuela in 2014, the government also announced workers would take over, but the products it made are hard to find.
Critics say nationalizations and takeovers during 17 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez from 1999-2013 and now under President Nicolas Maduro, has destroyed local production and cowed private business.
Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, the South American OPEC nation is suffering a severe crisis, with the economy shrinking since early 2014, inflation the highest in the world, and basic food and products increasingly scarce.
Low oil prices have exacerbated a failing socialist model.
However, Maduro, 53, accuses political foes and businessmen of an “economic war” against his government with U.S. backing.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Rigby)