San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Chocolate watch

Health Ministry shuts down Chocolate Festival

A large crowd gathered at Hot Rocks bar in Puerto Viejo Friday for the opening ceremonies of the third annual Chocolate Festival, only to have the event shut down by the Health Ministry.

The community festival was planned to celebrate Puerto Viejo’s re-emerging chocolate scene, which for decades had all but dissapeared after a fungus wiped out most of the area’s cacao crops in the 1970s and ’80s.

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Police and Ministry officials arrived around 7 p.m. when the event was already in full swing. A crowd of more than 100 people had gathered for performances and to sample chocolate from chocolatiers from around the country. The ministry ordered the vendors off the premises and told organizers the festival violated the country’s health code because the event was too large and the food was from unknown origins.

“Since we called it a festival they classified it as a massive event. We could have called it anything else and it may have gone differently,” said Hot Rocks owner Charlie Gregory.

Festival organizers specifically chose a private venue for the event in order to avoid permit issues with the ministry. Though the festival had been advertised for months, Gregory said he never received a warning that the event would cause a problem.

“It’s as if this was designed to break in the eleventh hour after we couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Are they just shutting down an event this large to make an example of us? Maybe.”

This morning, the festival’s shocked and disappointed participants met to discuss a plan for the festival’s remaining events, but many vendors left disappointed.

“It cost a lot for us to come out here to do this,” said Juan Luis Salazar, owner of Iguana Chocolate Farm near the country’s Pacific Coast. He and farm volunteers had traveled eight hours to sell their chocolates at the festival.

Despite the setback, many of the events and workshops will still take place at venues throughout Puerto Viejo. Those still wishing to attend the festival can go to Hot Rocks for a list of new locations and times.

“I still believe we can pull this off,” said Paul Johnson, owner of Caribeans Chocolate and one of the festival’s founders. “We are fighting to come back from a cacao natural disaster that destroyed many people’s livelihoods. This [setback] isn’t much by comparison.”

Health Ministry officials will not be available for comment until Monday.

Contact Lindsay Fendt at

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Mean Old Pothead

My sympathies to the vendors who suffered from their unrealized expectations. But I Thank the health department for doing its job!. The health department and permitting process are there to protect our health and well being. Festivals can get out of control, think … WOODSTOCK! There can be organized thieves and inadequate police protection if the government does not have a chance to ask questions. The permit process asks if there is enough emergency personnel and law enforcement for crowd control. The process asks about available water and waste water handling equipment. (porta potties?) This process asks who are the vendors of food and what is the process that the food vendors use to make sure that if something goes wrong they can be found. This festival was organized by mostly Gringo expats. We have been warned that large gatherings of US Expats may offer a target to many. I regret the setback and hope the festivals of chocolate can continue with all necessary permits and safety considerations satisfied.

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Don’t be so damn lazy. Get your permits, next thing you know some American tourist will sue you and your due diligence will be out the window.

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Colin Brownlee

Follow up?

One only has to look a few miles north at Limon dock union leaders to see what can happen when you are a target of local government employees who want to show and flex their muscle. It is very clear as to why local business is terrified of some of these institutions. They should be. Note the ministry of health has the law and luxury of how they apply it on their side. They do not have to resort to hiring criminal elements to do their dirty work.

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Fed up

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Kees Hessels

Very sad to see these kind of very positive events in a poor region of Costa Rica being struck down with some excuse of a missing permission. The real question is what is the central government going to do about this, will they tolerate this kind of behaviour just like the previous government? Or are they finally going to act for once to put a stop to this kind of legislative corruption and/or abuse of power …maybe even hold the person(s) responsable, accountable for their actions and fire them.

Together we build a better Costa Rica…

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Aleen Smith

I have nothing nice to say, so I better not say anything…

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I was at the festival on Friday night. It was so positive, happy families, small business people, multicultural – everything I want to see in more events in the south caribbean and to see it shut down like this was outrageous. There was no need for this – the Ministry could have worked with the event organizers proactively to avoid this and why they didn’t is beyond me. PV needs more positive events and community gatherings like this and this sends the signal there should be less. I hope there will be f/u with the Ministry about why they chose to target and raid this event like they did…

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