What does Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez want this time? And why has Coca-Cola become his favorite whipping boy?
For the third time in three years, the Venezuelan government has unloaded on the company, this time banning Coke Zero due to unspecified "dangers to health." The soft drink, produced by Coca-Cola Femsa, uses aspartame and acesulfame-K as sweeteners.
In 2003, national guard troops took over local Coke plants after Chavez complained that the company was helping forment a public strike when workers walked off the job in support of the opposition.
In 2006, more than 10,000 former employees of Femsa's Venezuelan operations blockaded 75 plants and warehouses demanding $2.3 million in pension payments they believed the company owned them. Current employees also joined the action to protest further job cuts.
The protests followed after Chavez's government backing the pension claim and threatening to nationalize the company's operations in Venezuela.
In March, the mayor of Caracas announced that Coca-Cola had agreed (been forced to?) to relocate a distribution center to free up land on which the government will build new housing as part of "the new socialist communities and establishment of communes." Chavez had publicly announced that the company had two weeks to vacate the premises. There are many who claim the sweeteners in Coke Zero have negative health consequences, but whenever the Venezuelan government pops the cap off of the company's business, it's political. Follow the politics behind this action and ask yourself "What does Hugo want now?" Perhaps he's following Kim Jong Il's lead in testing Obama's resolve.