The Caged Polar Bear

Lorenzo Mendoza has been Maduro's punching bag for a while, but as Polar's final beer factory closes in San Joaquin, in Carabobo State, can Empresas Polar take the beating much longer?

Ay Chigüire, ¿qué haríamos sin ti?

For the past 75 years, Empresas Polar has been a mainstay in Venezuelans’ daily lives. From the occasional birrita to the ever popular arepa, Polar is ubiquitous. But ever since the government identified Polar as a political and ideological adversary, it has slowly but surely weakened it to its current state.

From accusing it of being a main driver of the guerra económica to threatening to close down or take over factories just a few days ago, Maduro and his cronies have tried to trip up Polar’s operations by sending tax and health inspectors to its plants daily to find even the smallest smidge of a mistake or violation.

In reality, the government controls every aspect of Polar’s distribution in minute detail through SADA (Superintendencia Nacional de Silos, Depositos y Almacenes Agricolas); its hyper-regulatory agency for Food Distribution.

“Superintendency” makes it sound like an oversight body, but really it’s more than that: SADA allows the government to directly control what food goes where and when, throughtout Venezuela’s territory, in real time.

For example, if there is a shortage of Harina Pan in Santa Fe and let’s say Polar would like to dispatch a certain amount to a local supermarket, it has to go through SADA’s famously detailed forms to register the exact route, quantity, times, everything. 

The concern is that government is now going in for the kill. The emblematic company has been put in a stranglehold where it’s neither allowed to import raw materials to produce food nor does it get access  to the foreign exchange it needs to operate as they normally would. Cherry on top, Polar’s executives have accused the government of assigning these dollars to Polar’s main competitors. For empirical evidence, just look at the difference between the street supply of Regional and Polar beer .

The move destroys Polar’s ability to operate at any level. Out of four major breweries, three had already shut down: Los Cortijos in Caracas, Planta Oriente in Anzoaregui and Modelo in Maracaibo.

Today, the final blow: San Joaquin, in Carabobo State was shut down, leaving some 10,000 employees out of a job, and putting in jeopardy 250,000 more jobs that indirectly depend on the plant. 

And that’s just from breweries…

The question now is whether the government is so enthralled with destroying Lorenzo Mendoza and his company that it’s ready to take the inevitable political blow that  adding to supply problems will imply in today’s powder keg of a country.

It’s not just food and electricity that are in short supply these days, but of basic good judgment and the ability to govern a country and make constructive decisions to bring it back from the abyss.