CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened yesterday to nationalize the country's banks and largest steel producer, accusing them of unscrupulous practices.
"Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost," Chavez said.
"If banks don't agree with this, it's better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and not to speculate and produce huge profits," he said.
It was not clear if Chavez was referring only to Venezuelan banks such as Mercantil Servicios Financieros C.A., or if he was aiming the threat at major international banks that do business in the country, such as Banco Santander Central Hispano S.A. and Citigroup Inc. Banco Santander owns about 25 percent of Sovereign Bancorp Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa.
Chavez also warned the government could take over the steel producer Sidor, which is majority-controlled by Luxembourg-based Ternium S.A.
Sidor "has created a monopoly" and sold the bulk of its production overseas, forcing local producers to import tubes and other products from China and elsewhere, Chavez said.
"If the company Sidor . . . does not immediately agree to change this process, they will oblige me to nationalize it," Chavez said.
"I prefer not to," Chavez added, as he ordered Mining Minister Jose Khan to depart immediately for the company's headquarters and return with a recommendation within 24 hours.
"Sidor has to produce and give priority to our national industries . . . and at low cost," he said.
Chavez's government already has begun nationalizing the country's largest telecommunications company and the electricity sector.
It also took control of Venezuela's most promising oil fields and refineries from foreign oil companies processing crude in the Orinoco River basin on Tuesday.