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Chavez Tightens Control Over Food Sector

FABIOLA SANCHEZ

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ¿ President Hugo Chavez's government has nationalized two coffee processors and is planning to purchase a majority stake in a third as it moves to assert greater control over Venezuela's strictly regulated food sector.

Presidential decrees published in the Official Gazette on Wednesday ordered the takeover of Fama de America and Cafea. Government officials have said they also hope to purchase a majority stake in a third company, Cafe Madrid ¿ guaranteeing Chavez's government control over more than half of Venezuela's coffee industry.

Company executives have not been available to comment on the announcements, and it was not clear whether they would be compensated.

In addition to nationalizations in the electricity, cement and oil sectors, Chavez's government has nationalized some 2.5 million hectares of land considered to be idle or whose titles were in doubt. In the past two years, the government has also purchased a major dairy company and expropriated a rice processing plant owned by U.S. food giant Cargill Inc.

It is now asserting control over coffee companies it accuses of acting as monopolies and flouting price controls by smuggling coffee into Colombia ¿ allegations the companies deny.

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