San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Aluminum Plant To Remain Open

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez apparently changed his mind this week about closing the state-run aluminum plant CVG Aluminios Nacionales S.A. (ALUNASA) that employs 400 people in the Pacific-slope town of Esparza.

On his radio program Aló Presidente, the socialist President announced Monday that he will resume sending prime materials to the factory while he evaluates keeping it open, according to the daily La Nación. Later in the week, Jesús Paredes,Vice-Minister of Basic Industries, said in a statement that the plant will now have a “social focus,’’ with community outreach as part of a plan to “integrate the Latin American peoples.’’

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias applauded Chávez’s change of tone in a statement from Casa Presidencial.

Calling the decision “marvelous,” Arias said shutting down the plant would hurt not only the 400 people employed there, but also the approximately 2,500 people supported by these workers.

Arias also remarked on Chávez’s plans for a Venezuelan aluminum plant in Nicaragua. “God willing,” Chávez will build such a plant “to help a country as poor as Nicaragua, but not to the detriment of a community that needs this investment and needs ALUNASA to stay in the region,” Arias said.

According to the statement released Wednesday by the Venezuelan government, Chávez promised to keep the plant open after meeting with worried ALUNASA employees who’d traveled to Venezuela.

The Venezuelan President has denied rumors that his original decision to close the plant had anything to do with an ideological grudge against Arias, who earlier this month accused Chávez of “negating democracy” (TT, Feb. 23).

The possibility of the plant’s closure caused the National Liberation Party (PLN), which brought Arias to power, to lash out against union leaders for not criticizing Chávez’s decision.

“It’s inadmissible that union leaders respect a repressive policy that will leave 400 workers without a job and 2,400 people without sustenance,” Liberation legislator Jorge Méndez said in a statement.

The statement also contrasted unions’ mild reaction to Chávez with their “usual hostility” against Costa Rican government institutions, and raised questions about the presence of an ad for a Venezuelan government news agency on the Web site of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP).

On Tuesday, a group of union leaders including ANEP representative Albino Vargas presented a letter to Venezuelan Ambassador to Costa Rica Nora Uribe, directed at Chávez, in which they criticize Arias.

“We’re ashamed to have a President who sticks his nose in someone else’s home, when his own is completely divided,” the letter said, apparently referring to Arias’ criticism of his Venezuelan counterpart, and Costa Rican unions’ opposition to the Arias-endorsed free-trade pact with the United States (see separate article).


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