SAN JOSE DE BARLOVENTO, Venezuela (Reuters) by Luc Cohen – Venezuela cocoa trader Freddy Galindo has battled highway robberies, kidnappings of family members and declining quality in his 19 years exporting the nation’s legendary beans. This year’s harvest brought a new worry: meddling by the socialist government. He said trucks filled with beans leaving his warehouse in central Venezuela were stopped by soldiers at checkpoints and held for days; drivers were forced to unload some cargos at government warehouses. Galindo claims that some 87 tonnes of his cocoa, worth about $130,000, were missing when the trucks were finally released. Other traders here in Miranda state, Venezuela’s No. 2 producing region, have reported similar delays and confiscations in recent months. Government officials say the checkpoints are meant to nab cocoa thieves, and that some beans have been seized by the state to settle owners’ delinquent tax bills. But the confrontations have unnerved growers and traders who fear their industry is being targeted for a government takeover. Officials are “putting pressure on private businesses to deliver them goods at no cost,” said Galindo, owner of Comercializadora Freyra in the hamlet of San Jose de Barlovento, as workers around him packed dry, reddish… continue reading
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