Celebrating the high quality of Venezuelan cacao and its great potential as an export crop for the country, President Hugo Chavez inaugurated a new chocolate factory in the state of Miranda last Sunday during his weekly television broadcast, “Alo, Presidente”.
Chavez referred to the cacao, which has been grown in the coastal region for centuries, as being “the best in the world” and announced that it will soon be decreed as a National Strategic Product by the government.
“We’re talking about a strategic product for national production and for our new international economic policy”, the Venezuelan head of state said, explaining the export potential of cacao to ally countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Cacao in Venezuela
During the colonial period, cacao was one of the most desired agricultural products of the European market grown in Venezuela for consumption by wealthy elites. Large slave populations were brought from the Caribbean to the central coastal region to cultívate the trees, which produce the cocoa pods, the basis for the production of chocolate.
Many slaves rebelled against the brutality of the cacao plantations, fleeing from the inhumanity of bondage and forming free communities in the region now known as Barlovento in the state of Miranda. The fugitive slaves used the name “Cimarrones”, also the name given to the chocolate factory inaugurated by President Chavez on Sunday.
After independence, falling prices and the oil boom in Venezuela led to a decline in the crop’s economic importance as agricultural workers began to migrate to urban centers in search for a better quality of life.
Many Afro-descendent communities, however, have remained in the region and continue to grow high quality cacao, whose national and international economic potential the Chavez government is attempting to develop.
Over the past eleven years, national production of cacao per hectare has grown by 30%, Chavez said on Sunday, thanks to the policies of the current government that has provided credits to small producers and has stimulated the local manufacture of chocolate through the creation of various processing plants.
Venezuela currently produces 20 thousand tons of cacao a year, a number which the Venezeulan President is focused on increasing. “If we produce today 20 thousand tons of cacao a year, we can reach some 100 thousand tons [annually] in the next ten years”, he said.
In order to achieve this goal, President Chavez requested a study be carried out by Vice President Elias Jaua and recommended the government identify and recover all abandoned plantations that exist in the region. Funds from Venezuela’s Central Bank, amounting to 126 million bolivars ($29.3 million USD) will also be transferred to the nation’s Agricultural Bank for the disbursement of credits to small producers as part of the country’s National Cacao Plan.