MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) — The Kellogg Company is closing operations in Venezuela at a time of widespread hunger in the crisis-wracked South American nation.
Workers arriving Tuesday for the early shift at Kellogg’s factory in the central city of Maracay were surprised to find a notice taped to an iron gate informing them that the company had been forced to shutter its operations in the country. As news of the layoffs spread, Venezuela’s labor minister showed up to speak with the workers.
The Battle Creek, Michigan-based company said in a statement Tuesday that it was prompted to cease operations as a result of the “current economic and social deterioration in the country.” The closure comes just five days before Venezuelans head to the polls to decide whether to re-elect President Nicolas Maduro.
Kellogg’s factory in Maracay, with a giant figure of Tony the Tiger lording over the entrance, employs around 550 people and produces 75 percent of the breakfast cereals Venezuelans consume, according to the company’s website.
Omar Rodriguez, who has spent 26 years working at Kellogg’s, said he doesn’t know how he’ll feed his three children without his job.
“It’s going to be a tough blow,” said Rodriguez, expressing anger that the company had decided to let go of its workforce in such an impersonal manner. “What am I going to bring home? Nothing.”
The company said it looks forward to resuming operations once conditions improve. The company has been producing cereal in Venezuela since 1961 and the market had at one point been its biggest in Latin America after Mexico although in 2016 it deconsolidated its Venezuela business from the company’s overall earnings results.
Kellogg’s joins multinationals including Bridgestone, Kimberly-Clark and General Mills that have closed or reduced operations in Venezuela amid hyperinflation, shortages and a recession deeper than the Great Depression of the 1930s.