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Costa Rica’s government has accused Venezuela of closing down an aluminium plant and relocating it elsewhere because of a political spat between the two country’s leaders.

Rodrigo Arias, the chief of staff and brother of Óscar Arias, Costa Rica’s president, said of the decision: “It seems to us that there is a political motivation.” The comments late on Wednesday night followed Venezuela’s decision to close the plant and move it elsewhere in the region.

The Alunasa aluminium plant has been operating for more than 25 years and was bought by Venezuela’s state-owned heavy industries conglomerate, the Corporación Venezolana de Guyana, or CVG, in 1990. Bienvenido Venegas, a Costa Rican lawmaker, claimed on Thursday that the decision by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to close the plant, which produces about 10,000 tonnes a year and employs 400 people, could not be economically motivated.

“It’s a completely crazy idea to remove the company from Costa Rica. Last year it had record production,” Mr Venegas said.

Marco Vinicio Ruiz, Costa Rica’s trade minister, stress-ed that the company had increa-sed exports to $47m (€36m) last year, compared with $26m in 2000, although aluminium prices have roughly doubled in the same period. Luis Guillermo Solís, a professor at the University of Costa Rica and a former foreign secretary, supported the view that the decision had not been taken for financial reasons. “The company is not only profitable, it is very profitable,” he said. “It has an excellent reputation in Costa Rica. It has improved its financial position in recent years and it is producing efficiently.”

But Prof Solís also criticised Mr Arias’s approach. “A head of state has to be much more careful. Costa Rica does not gain a thing by criticising Hugo Chávez. It only loses.”

The 66-year-old Costa Rican leader, who won a Nobel peace prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the civil wars in central America, is firmly in the free-market camp. He recently lambasted the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba, comparing it with the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

The diplomatic spat be-tween Caracas and San José has been simmering since the start of February, when Mr Arias implied Venezuela’s leader was “a dictator” after he was granted extraordinary powers to rule by decree for 18 months.

This week Mr Chávez rejected the Costa Rican government’s accusations, in-sisting the decision to close its plant was the result of “economic considerations”.

“They say I’m angry and that is why I gave the decision to remove the plant,” he said. “No, it’s just that there are geopolitical reasons as well as economic and technical reasons.”

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