Cacao is the common link between the social program of the federal government, businessman Hugo Chávez Ayala and the farm owned by the President’s children, says this report sponsored by CONNECTAS / Plataforma Periodística para las Américas and published by various media in Mexico .
July 29, 2018, the then-president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), announced the creation of Sembrando Vida, one of the priority programs of his government and which seeks to address poverty through reforestation of a million hectares with fruit and timber trees in farmers’ plots. In his message, AMLO spoke of cocoa production, which would be promoted with this agrarian initiative.
“Cocoa takes three years to produce. What I want is that before my government ends, we already leave one million hectares in production. Let cocoa be produced, ”AMLO declared that day.
At that time, the only visionary on agrarian issues was not AMLO. Almost four months after the announcement, his son Andrés Manuel López Beltrán applied for the registration of the Rocío trademark. Name with which he would begin his stage as a premium chocolate entrepreneur.
In Sembrando Vida, producers in each state had to decide by consensus which crops would be prioritized by the program in their region, but it was already clear that this grain would be one of the president’s preferred bets. In that same act in the Lacandon Jungle, in Chiapas, he also introduced a man whom he already knew well before: the businessman and cocoa exporter Hugo Chávez Ayala, whom he appointed technical director of the program and who was also already part of the Advisory Council of Sembrando Vida, which was made up of a score of experts in agroecology, value chains, and community development.
Hugo Chávez Ayala, businessman and former member of the Sembrando Vida Advisory Council.
Chávez, 35, is a native of Tabasco, where the President of Mexico is also from. Their families have known each other for a long time. They were neighbors at least until 1997, when AMLO and his family lived in the Galaxia Tabasco 2000 subdivision, in the Centro municipality. They lived on Jupiter Street, according to documents from the Public Property Registry and addresses used by Agrofloresta Mesoamericana, a company owned by Hugo Chávez Ayala. The agronomist and Andrés López Beltrán, the second son from AMLO’s first marriage, were schoolmates in preschool and primary school, according to the agronomist’s own statements.
But the relationship between Hugo Chávez and the president’s children has gone further, because – according to what he told this investigation – he has advised since 2014 the cocoa production of Finca El Rocío, located in Teapa, Tabasco, and owned by the eldest sons of the president, who received it as an inheritance from their mother, Rocío Beltrán Medina, in 2003, who left them 16.35 hectares, to which is added the donation of 32.5 hectares from their uncles Gonzalo Alfonso and Fernando Beltrán Medina.
In that 48.85-hectare farm, cocoa is produced for Rocío Chocolate, the chocolate brand that Andrés Manuel López Beltrán processed in July 2019 under “ Rocío Chocolate ” with the description of “commercial business management”, although since February of that year I already made posts on Instagram using the name.
When Chávez Ayala joined the federal government’s flagship program, he was already a relevant player in the international cocoa market, as one of the main exporters of fine aroma cocoa considered gourmet. With this gain, 15 chocolate brands were already marketed in 12 countries in Europe and America, through his company Agrofloresta Mesoamericana.
This research carried out by Tania Gómez and Sergio Rincón for CONNECTAS, Aristegui Noticias, Emeequis, Meganoticias, Notes Without Guide and Process found that, with Hugo Chávez Ayala participating in the design of Sembrando Vida, the cultivation of cocoa was promoted in Tabasco, despite that the community did not choose this crop in the consensus stage, where another 25 products were prioritized. In the documents on which Sembrando Vida was based for its implementation – obtained via the transparency law by citizens – no technical study is detailed to support such decision.
Despite the relationship with Sembrando Vida and the closeness with the presidential family, Hugo Chávez Ayala would benefit from transactions with cocoa. In the context of the pandemic, he sold two million seeds to program technicians from Papantla, Veracruz.
In the future, small producers in the Sierra de Tabasco assured that they felt committed to selling the product of the Sembrando Vida trees, which are expected to yield crops between 2022 and 2025, to this company, since it offers them a better price – 20 pesos per kilo ( 0.96 cents) compared to 18 pesos (0.87 dollars) or less, offered by other companies—; In addition, he gave them training in agroecological systems and paid them their organic certificate, a document that costs between 80 and 100 thousand pesos (between 3,900 and 4,900 dollars), and must be renewed annually.
“Agrofloresta strengthens us as producers, as its partners, but we can only sell to Hugo,” said one of the producers, who is currently a beneficiary of Sembrando Vida, who asked not to reveal his name to avoid being removed from the Program.
Chávez Ayala did not deny the expectation of future benefit. In an interview for this research, he assured: “our market is small, currently around 100 to 200 tons (of fine aroma cocoa) per year. We plan to grow but we do not plan to enter the conventional cocoa trade. The projected cocoa of the program is thousands of tons, most of which will go to the conventional market since ours is small to contemplate those volumes. It does not depend only on the place, but if it meets the market requirements it will surely serve us, I simply cannot assure that it will meet it and also note that currently we do not buy all the cocoa from those communities, so I do not know if we will be buying in the future. the additional cocoa ”.
He added that “the increase in cocoa production is very beneficial for the entire chain from producers, fermenters, and industrialists.”
Hugo Chávez with cacao trees from Cerro Blanco, in Tacotalpa, Tabasco. Photo: Agrofloresta Mesoamericana.
Chávez Ayala also justified that cocoa was not the only crop that he proposed to include in the program. Also coffee, cinnamon, rubber, and palm oil. He also confirmed that he is currently one of the main exporters of fine aroma cocoa, with his company Agrofloresta Mesoamericana.
“When we started, there was practically no export of fine cocoa in Mexico, and it is still very small, it does not exceed 200 tons a year. We have proudly managed to open the way and we believe that Mexico can export more fine cocoa to the world and we would like to grow more rapidly, ”said Chávez.
The new cocoa farms
Before Sembrando Vida in Tabasco, there were abandoned cacao plantations, with pests or simply with old trees. The renewal of these crops required a millionaire investment, which almost no cocoa businessman had made. In almost a decade, only 82 hectares of cocoa plantations were increased, going from 40 thousand 783 hectares in 2013 to 40 thousand 865 hectares in May 2021, according to data requested by citizens via the transparency law (folio 0819900008021) to the Information Service Agroalimentaria y Pesquera (SIAP). These antecedents have made the area have both defenders and detractors of cocoa.
Beneficiaries in Tabasco complain that they came Sembrando Vida projects to plant this plant without prior consultation, and they did not know of their care, well as that there were high and shade conditions on the ground. But they felt obliged to plant these trees because in articles 3.7.2 and 3.7.3 of the Program Operating Rules it is established that they must follow a work plan and, if they do not respect the activities, they can be sanctioned until they are approved.
The ignorance on the part of the sowers and the lack of conditions on the ground caused cocoa plants to die. This was confirmed in an interview by members of 10 Campesino Learning Communities (CAC), which represent at least 250 beneficiaries of Sembrando Vida from the Tabasco municipalities of Comalcalco, Teapa, and Tacotalpa, and which as of March 2021 had almost nine thousand beneficiaries.
“My question was, why was cocoa planted? Why wasn’t coffee, pepper, or cinnamon planted, or what do I know, other species? And it could be a double purpose: to be fruitful and at the same time vegetation, oxygen, air, provide shade, but they (the technicians of the program) closed in on cocoa ”, recalls Aristarco López, 61, a former beneficiary of Sembrando Vida and who He was the leader of his group of sowers in the hot municipality of Teapa, Tabasco.
In front of thousands of plants of macuilis, achiote, rambutan, among other species in the nursery called San Luis, located in the municipality of Tacotalpa, the planter Lucía Castellano explained that the cocoa did not give them good results, because their planting area is located on low ground, which was not taken into account by the technicians. He said that to enter Sembrando Vida he cut down the trees that he had already had on his plot for years before, without knowing that they could have functioned as a “mother” and shade for the cacao. He also indicated that he had not received training in caring for the plant.
Paulino Cano, 65, originally from the Pochitocal La Palma ranch in Tacotalpa, says that he was moved when the Sembrando Vida technicians told him that he should plant cocoa on his plot because his grandparents were cocoa farmers and he wanted to continue that heritage. In total, he grew 600 plants of this grain, but only 20 survived.
The peasant takes off his hat to wipe off the sweat caused by the sun’s rays, and with his head down he regrets that the cacao could not be grown on his plot. And it is that the rains and floods of October and November 2020 in the entity left the crop under more than a meter of water, which made it impossible for the cocoa to survive. Given this, he opted for the cultivation of rice and achiote.
Beneficiary of Sembrando Vida. Due to rains and floods, he lost almost 100% of his cocoa crop.
In the jungle of El Ejido Pochitocal in Tabasco, is the plot of Amado Palomeque, who narrates that although technicians from the program asked to cut down trees already had disobeyed the instructions and left the trees huge ceiba, which They have served as shade for the cocoa plants of Sembrando Vida and where saraguato monkeys and birds live. In the plots where there was logging, the cocoa plants dried up.
Although it is not detailed how many plants or hectares of cocoa were planted, data from the Ministry of Welfare published in the National Transparency Platform (folio 0002000215219) refer that in 2019 there were cocoa crops in at least 16 municipalities of Tabasco: Balancán, Cardenas, Centla, Centro, Comalcalco, Cunduacán, Emiliano Zapata, Jalapa, Jonuta, Huimanguillo, Macuspana, Nacajuca, Paraíso, Tacotalpa, Tenosique, and Teapa.
The position of the Ministry of Welfare was requested, but at press time there was no response.
From Teapa, Tabasco, where his company Agrofloresta Mesoamericana is established, Hugo Chávez has become in just under five years one of the main exporters of fine aroma cocoa in Mexico.
Chávez Ayala is an agricultural engineer who graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, has postgraduate studies from the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, and from the College of Agriculture of Montpellier, France. He took cocoa and chocolate courses in Belgium and has taught others internationally.
He was head of the Directorate of Agricultural Engineering at the Higher Institute of the Sierra de Tabasco Region, a position he resigned in 2016 to start making the first cocoa exports.
With the cocoa that Agrofloresta Mesoamericana exports, chocolate bars of 70 grams are made, which in Europe cost more than 5 euros.
In conferences, he has stated that in that year a client in Holland asked him to export the grain, but Chávez Ayala did not have the money to open Agrofloresta Mesoamericana or to export, so he asked to borrow money from a friend.
“I went with my uncles and a friend, a friend supported me a lot, a friend who has done very well and well, I have already managed to raise the necessary capital to start,” said engineer Chávez in a conference entitled Yo Emprendiendo en Red de Innovation and Entrepreneurship of Tabasco, on April 24, 2018.
The agronomist assured that the person who lent him money was the Dutch Anders Prien Saxbol, whom he met during his master’s degree in Copenhagen and who has supported him in the distribution of Agrofloresta’s production in Europe.
After its first export in mid-2017, which was 10 tons at a cost of more than 50 thousand dollars, according to data from the Internet Tariff Information System (SIAVI) of the Ministry of Economy, Chávez constituted Agrofloresta Mesoamericana on 10 November 2017, with a capital stock of 50 thousand pesos ($ 2,410). The engineer was the majority partner with 20 percent of the shares, followed by his father and his brothers, who each had a 10 percent stake, as detailed in the articles of incorporation.
According to statements by Chávez, President López Obrador knew of the interests he had in the cocoa market when his government invited him to be the technical director of the program, a position that he did not officially assume, but he was part of the Consultative Council that Sembrando designed Life.
“We have had some contact (with AMLO). He has known my professional development, he knows my career and the project that I carry in the Sierra de Tabasco, which is a project to position Tabasco cocoa in the world, ”he declared in August 2018, during an interview on a Tabasco television station.
Aerial view of the Finca El Rocío, 48.85 hectares, owned by the López Beltrán family.
Furthermore, since 2014 Chávez has been a consultant in the cocoa production of the El Rocío farm, owned by the eldest sons of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and acknowledges that this cocoa goes to the production of Rocío Chocolate.
The engineer denies that he has a business relationship with the president’s children. However, the links between your company and Finca El Rocío are striking.
On September 2, Chávez Ayala himself made a video call to introduce the Agrofloresta Mesoamericana team. There, the first person who stood out “due to seniority rights” was the agronomist Isabelo, for having been with the company for 7 years. When he took the floor, the first thing he said was: “I am in charge of Finca El Rocío, I dedicate myself to the plantation, from sowing the plant, managing the plant, harvesting, delivering the cocoa beans when it already happens to the fermenter ”. After telling how he came to the world of cocoa from the hand of Chávez Ayala, he said: ” 7 years ago we started at Finca El Rocío . “
In addition, within the El Rocío farm, cocoa was produced that was awarded at the International Chocolate Awards 2018 and that the Agrofloresta Mesoamericana website presumes as its own.
This recognition also made it visible that Agrofloresta Mesoamericana employees are part of the production of these cacao plantations. In addition, both Agrofloresta Mesoamericana and Rocío Chocolate share the same photographs and videos, both on their website and on social networks.
When asked about these events, Hugo Chávez justified himself by saying that he has only advised the production of cocoa plantations on the El Rocío farm and argued: ” They are very beautiful images and we have permission to use them .”
Also on the page of the Fine Chocolatiers Association it refers that Agrofloresta Mesoamericana uses cocoa from Finca El Rocío and some restaurateurs say they have bought cocoa from Finca Rocío, from Agrofloresta Mesoamericana. Hugo Chávez insists that it is the people who get confused.
Another element of the relationship between the business of Andrés Manuel López Beltrán and Hugo Chávez Ayala is that both used the same contact person in the request for the organic certificate. Certificate number CMX-LOOAA-830-2021-2, whose holder is Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, left Fabiola López Fócil, an employee of Agrofloresta , as a contact reference , who also appears as a contact for certificate number CMX-LOOAA-831-2021 -1 from Agrofloresta Mesoamericana. When speaking with López Fócil, he said that he works for Aglofloresta, which is in charge of all the certifications, including that of López Beltrán.
To contrast this information, Andrés Manuel López Beltrán was sought through the Rocío Chocolate page, through her personal email, her brother José Ramón, Hugo Chávez Ayala and Fabiola López Fócil; but at press time there was no response. President López Obrador was sought through Jesús Ramírez, spokesman for the Presidency, and there was no response.
Andrés Manuel, AMLO’s second son, who turned 35 on August 21, jumped into the business world in 2019 with Rocío Chocolate, which is part of the “tree to bar” movement, in which the chocolate process is cared for from the tree to the bar, and of which in Mexico, according to Hugo Chávez, there are about 50 producers, and in the world it represents a maximum of two percent of production.
Gourmet chocolate bars, frappé, and hot chocolate are sold at the Finca Rocío Chocolate store, a small establishment that opened in September 2020 within the exclusive Círculo Mexicano hotel, located in the historic center of Mexico City.
In five purchases made between May and November of this year, invoices for the products were requested and the store workers said they would send them, but during that period they delayed and so far they have not been delivered. They only sent by email a purchase ticket with the Federal Register of Taxpayers of Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, but no information about any company. Experts consulted assure that it is unusual not to issue an invoice immediately and that it could be evidence of an irregular tax record.
Despite the fact that the packaging of the Rocío Chocolate bar contravenes the NOM-051-SCFI / SSA1-2010 standard, by not presenting the company name or tax address of the producer, this chocolate has been sold in stores such as La Europea or in gourmet restaurants from Mexico City such as Parian Condesa, Rosetta Bakery or the Limantour bar.
Chocolate spray. Its packaging does not have a business name or fiscal address.
Rocío Chocolate does not appear in the commercial records of the Ministry of Economy. However, on October 6, 2020, a company called Finca Rocio Chocolate Corporation was registered in New York, by an agent named Jesús Héctor Gutiérrez. The partners of the company are kept in reserve. The company’s address is a residential building in Albany County, but its main office is in Wilmington, Delaware.
The name of Andrés Manuel López Beltrán does not appear in the National Registry of Professionals, nor in commercial registries, nor in databases of chambers of commerce, and in commercial registries it only appears as a partner of a company called Vinos Cósmicos, created last month October. However, on November 8, 2018, efforts began to register the Rocío brand. And eight months later, in June 2019, it also registered the Rocío Chocolate trademark; a month later Finca Rocío.
Another isolated but striking fact is that Finca El Rocío is guarded by state police. At the beginning of his government, AMLO disappeared the protection of the Presidential General Staff’s bodyguards, arguing that: “the president is cared for by the people and whoever fights for justice has nothing to fear.” But according to what could be verified in four field trips, the 73663 patrol guards the property of the president’s children.
Through the Federal Transparency Law, the patrol’s logs and the reason for guarding that property were requested, but the Tabasco Police reserved the information for five years.
Patrol 73663 guards Finca El Rocío.
Despite his good relationship with the El Rocío farm, since 2017 Hugo Chávez Ayala had to turn to small producers from the Sierra de Tabasco, because according to three sources who have been inside the cacao plantation, the farm of AMLO’s children, Being in the middle of banana plantations, it was exposed to agrochemicals, which complicates the certification of organic cocoa, which is what the main cocoa importers in Europe are currently seeking.
Some of Hugo Chávez’s suppliers live in Cerro Blanco, located in the Zoque jungle of the Sierra de Tabasco.
For this reason, in 2018 Hugo Chávez convinced small producers to make them their suppliers and processed his first certificate for organic cocoa, which included the plots of at least 80 farmers. Thus, it has certified organic parcels until 2021, in accordance with the copies of the organic certificates obtained through the Federal Transparency Law.
This same scheme was implemented in the community of Cerro Blanco, municipality of Tacotalpa, nestled in the Zoque jungle of the southern highlands of the state of Tabasco, where there are at least 40 cocoa producers who since 2018 have been suppliers of Agrofloresta Mesoamericana. This journalistic investigation found that at least seven of these cocoa trees appear in the Unique Registry of Beneficiaries of Sembrando Vida since 2019.
In an interview, three farmers from Cerro Blanco acknowledge that there are more cocoa farmers who are suppliers of Agrofloresta Mesoamericana and at the same time beneficiaries of the program, who planted cocoa in 100 percent of their 2.5-hectare plots.
Arnulfo, whose name was changed to avoid problems within the program, is Hugo Chávez’s supplier of organic cocoa, and details that with Sembrando Vida he increased his cocoa plantations with a thousand plants. He hopes that when the current government ends it will have 2,800 criollo cacao trees.
However, he assures that “ the engineer (Chávez) is the one who takes the best part (of the profits), he does all the work of taking it (exporting it), we only sell him, we are partners of the raw material, but not from the company. For now, that is the only option, there is no other way out. It would be better if we had a company or a fermenter, but now there is no other option ”.
These small producers assure that now with Sembrando Vida they will have new cocoa plantations between 2022 and 2025, and since the program forces them to use agroecological techniques, they will seek to extend the organic cocoa certificate to their crops, and thus sell all the production to the company that paid. the certification: Agrofloresta Mesoamericana, by Hugo Chávez, who argued that their suppliers have the right to be in Sembrando Vida.
Tania Gómez and Sergio Rincón
Editorial and multimedia support:
CONNECTAS Team Video production
Francisco Estrada Naranjo, Arturo Santillán, Arturo Rodríguez and Notes Sin Pauta Films