Venezuela's Chavez Orders Seizure of Owens-Illinois

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered the expropriation of U.S.-based glass container manufacturer Owens-Illinois's subsidiary in the South American country.

Hugo Chavez
Miguell Guitierrez | AFP | Getty Images
Hugo Chavez

Company spokeswoman Stephanie Johnston said Tuesday that "we were surprised to learn of this decision and we are prepared to work with government officials to better understand the situation."

Chavez announced plans to expropriate the company in a televised speech late Monday. The leftist leader criticized the company's practices in the country, saying it had been "taking away the money of Venezuelans" and exploiting local people.

Chavez did not detail his complaints about the Owens-Illinois, which is based in Perrysburg, Ohio.

"O-I has been supplying glass food and beverage containers to meet the needs of the Venezuelan people for more than 50 years," Johnston said. "Our two plants in Venezuela, located in Los Guayos and Valera, employ more than 1,000 people and represent less than 5 percent of our global segment operating profit."

Owens-Illinois is the world's largest glass container manufacturer, with operations in 22 countries.

The subsidiary Owens-Illinois de Venezuela CA counts among its clients Nestle, PepsiCo and Empresas Polar, which produces the local beer Polar.

It was unclear how the government would handle compensation for Owens-Illinois' assets in Venezuela, or how the takeover would affect supply agreements with the company's clients.

Chavez has nationalized or expropriated a wide range of companies, including cement makers, retail stores and a steel maker, while seeking to lead Venezuela toward a socialist system.

Government opponents and business leaders say the seizures are hobbling the economy and spooking investors.

Chavez said in his speech that more expropriations are planned.

"There's another list around here," Chavez said, but added that he would save additional announcements for later.