GM Halts Venezuela Operations Following Plant Seizure

General Motors has ended its operations in Venezuela after authorities in the strife-torn country seized the company’s plant there on Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday, General Motors said that assets, including vehicles, were also seized from the plant as it was taken over by Venezuelan officials while demonstrations surged throughout the country. The company said in a statement that the facility was taken without due process and that it intends to defend its interests.

General Motors has about 2,700 workers and 79 dealers employ 3,900 in Venezuela, according to the Detroit News, which added that “GM’s Venezuelan operations have been a drag on earnings for several years.” Last year the company lost $400 million before taxes in South America, which accounted for roughly 6% of global sales at 583,000 vehicles. GM also took a $720 million charge in the second quarter of 2015 for currency devaluation and asset valuation write-downs as Venezuela’s economy crumbled.

Losses such as the plant and possibly even including the currency hits may or may not be covered by political risk insurance. The challenge in securing such coverage is in accurately predicting when and where it might be needed—companies cannot wait until a threat emerges before securing cover, which is likened to attempting to buy home insurance after your house has caught fire. GM did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking whether the plant was insured for misappropriation.

In its statement, GM said workers at the seized plant would get separation benefits if the government allows such. The statement added that dealers in Venezuela will continue to service vehicles and provide parts.

In its “Credit and Political Risk Insurance Report & Market Update, January 2017,” insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher ranked Venezuela as one of the world’s riskiest nations, describing the county’s risk potential as “very high,” ranking it just above Libya.

Indeed, this is not the first instance of Venezuela’s government appropriating private assets amid rising nationalist sentiments and domestic unrest. “It fits a broader pattern, in the sense that the government’s response to surges in opposition activity tends to be the deepening of the revolution,” Phil Gunson, a Venezuela-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, told The Washington Post.

Opposition forces on Thursday called for further mass protests against the government. Venezuela has been in crises as forces opposing the government of President Nicolas Maduro accuse the hand-picked successor of populist leader Hugo Chavez of running a dictatorship. Runaway inflation and shortages of food, fuel and goods have stoked nationwide protests that killed three on Wednesday, including a 17-year-old male and a National Guard sergeant.

The fuel shortages are especially ironic given that Venezuela holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves with 298.4 billion barrels, topping Saudi Arabia’s 268.3 billion barrels of reserves, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

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