CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is backing workers in a labor dispute with Coca-Cola's bottler in the country, saying Friday that Venezuelans can live without the American soft drink.
The leftist leader raised the issue during a televised speech to supporters when he spotted a sign in the crowd denouncing "exploitation" by Coca-Cola.
"If Coca-Cola doesn't want to comply with the constitution and laws, well, one can live without Coca-Cola," Chavez said during the outdoor speech in the central city of Valencia.
Local bottler Coca-Cola Femsa de Venezuela SA said last week that shortages of soft drinks have been increasing due to a strike at a key plant in Valencia. About 1,000 workers at the plant have been striking since Jan. 14, demanding pay raises and other benefits.
Chavez said workers must be supported "in their fight against capitalism."
"Coca-Cola isn't essential. Who said Coca-Cola is needed to live?" Chavez said.
He suggested natural options like guava juice or lemonade with sugar cane juice. "Passion fruit juice is very good," Chavez said.