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Chavez threatens Spanish-Venezuela bank’s takeover

President Hugo Chavez threatened Wednesday to nationalize Spanish-Venezuelan bank BBVA-Provincial, saying it had a violated the constitution by refusing to grant housing loans.

“If Provincial refuses to respect the constitution and presidential decrees, I will nationalize the bank,” Chavez warned at a forum of citizens seeking housing, adding: “I have no problem doing it. I will pay what it’s worth.”

With two million customers, the bank is the country’s third largest behind Banesco and Banco Mercantil. Since 1997, 55 percent of it has been controlled by Spanish banking group BBVA.

Chavez, a populist leader who has carried out major nationalization drives in recent years, relayed to the forum a conversation he had with bank president Pedro Rodriguez: “He told me the bank was not for sale — but I said you know I can nationalize it, if it’s in this country’s interests! Be careful what you say!”

The Venezuelan government already controls more than 25 percent of the country’s banking sector, since the state’s nationalization of the major Banco de Venezuela in 2009 along with other firms.

BBVA-Provincial responded, in a statement, saying it has reaffirmed its “commitment to financing housing for Venezuelan families” and its “total commitment to respect the laws” of Venezuela.

The bank said it has a 50-year track record of providing financial support to Venezuelan families looking to buy homes.

The bank president also guaranteed that he will look for “satisfactory alternatives for all those concerned” by reaching out to government officials and families.

Chavez said he wants the private bank to provide half of the $6.8 billion (5 billion euro) that he says he needs in loans for housing.

The Venezuelan constitution assures the right to housing. In addition, a recent presidential decree promotes access to housing with the help of the public and private sectors, especially for the 130,000 victims of torrential rains that killed 38 people at the end of last year.

There is a shortage of two million homes in this South American country of nearly 29 million people, according to the Venezuelan Builders’ Association.