Venezuela takes over cement company

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's government seized control of a cement company owned by Mexico's Cemex SAB Monday night after failing to reach a deal on terms for its nationalization.

Backed by National Guard troops, government officials and flag-waving workers occupied at least two Cemex plants.

President Hugo Chavez called the cement nationalization one of many "steps toward socialism," following nationalizations of telecommunications and electricity companies, Venezuela's largest steel maker and major oil projects.

Just before midnight, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the government was expropriating the Cemex subsidiary because "we couldn't arrive at an accord" on compensation terms.

"We're taking over operations," Ramirez said. He raised a fist in the air at the stroke of midnight as the expropriation became official, while workers cheered at the cement plant in the eastern state of Anzoategui.

Two other cement companies, Lafarge SA of France and Switzerland's Holcim Ltd, agreed to nationalization terms for their subsidiaries in Venezuela on Monday.

Cemex acknowledged Venezuela's intent to assume operational control of its plants in a statement, but declined further comment.

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