- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Shares of Venezuela’s CA Nacional de Telefonos, or CANTV, plunged in New York trading yesterday after President Hugo Chavez said he wants an immediate state takeover of the telephone company and will not pay shareholders the market value.

CANTV’s U.S. shares fell 16.8 percent to close at $11.22 on the New York Stock Exchange. CANTV, privatized in 1991, is controlled by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc., which holds the largest minority share.

Speaking during a Sunday broadcast, Mr. Chavez said the price for CANTV would take into account debts to workers, pensions and other obligations, including a “technological debt” to the state.

“I’ll pay when the law dictates and in the form the government decides. I’m going to tell them that CANTV was given away, and that they shouldn’t come here saying it must be paid for at the international price,” he said.

He announced the plans for the nationalization this month, and on Sunday he said it should happen right away.

“Have we taken over CANTV yet? … Call its bosses and start to name a new board of directors,” Mr. Chavez told Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon during his TV and radio program, “Hello President.” “You have to act, I’ve already given the instructions.”

He said the nationalization would be hastened by the passage of the “enabling law,” which would grant Mr. Chavez authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period. The National Assembly, controlled by the president’s political allies, is expected to give the measure final approval this week.

During the six-hour program, he also pledged to tap the central bank’s reserves and use the funds to pay for social programs in the event of a budget shortfall. Last week, he vowed to eliminate the central bank’s autonomy from a new constitution this year, calling bank independence “perverse.”

Mr. Chavez also has said he plans to nationalize the electricity sector and to take state control of four lucrative oil projects and the natural-gas sector.

The takeover jeopardizes an agreement by Verizon to sell its 28.5 percent stake in CANTV to a joint venture of America Movil and Telefonos de Mexico SA, controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. The sale had been awaiting Venezuelan government regulatory approval.

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