Chavez Calls for Take-Over of Argentine-Owned Steel Plant

Wants to expropriate Ternium-Sidor

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called for the country's largest steel firm, majority owned by Argentina, to be expropriated. Chavez has ordered the formation of a commission to take control of Ternium-Sidor, in which Argentina's Techint has a 60% stake, even as negotiations over compensation to the Argentine consortium continue.

"This decree-law names a commission to take control of the company and put it at the service of the nation, the Republic and its workers," Chavez said in on May 1 in honor of May Day. Venezuela's National Assembly on April 29 declared the steel-maker useful to the nation, a prerequisite for expropriation under Venezuelan law.

Chavez said Techint was demanding three to four billion dollars in compensation, while the Venezuelan government was offering $800 million.

Venezuela's Vice President Ramon Carrizales had announced on April 9 that the country would nationalize Ternium-Sidor, after talks on a union contract broke down. After 15 months of negotiations failed to bear fruit, Chavez asked Carrizales to meet with Ternium-Sidor management concerning a contract for almost 12,000 workers. After the meeting Carrizales announced the steel concern would be put into state hands.

"Sidor is going to be nationalized. (Carrizales) tried to get the company to understand the workers' concerns but it did not accept, and in the end, the nationalization was announced," Jose Rodriguez, president of the steelworkers union, explained.

Ternium-Sidor, state owned until 1998, sold 3.9 million tons of steel products in 2007, including 2.5 million tons on the Venezuelan market, according to statement released by the company on May 1.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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