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From Colombus to Fortunato- Part 7

From Colombus to Fortunato- Part 7

Hello and good day!

When I left off yesterday, Peruvians of native descent were fighting for the right to own the land their families had been working and living on for centuries. The struggle went on for decades and finally came to fruition under the left leaning military dictatorship of Juan Velasco Alvarado.

 Starting in 1969 and continuing for almost a decade, land was taken from aristocratic families of Spanish descent and redistributed to ethnically indigenous Peruvians.

 A new type of political entity was created for the task of redistribution, campesino communities. “Campo” means “the countryside” and campesinos are country folks. Campesino communities are collectives controlled by a democratically elected board of directors.

 Vast amounts of land were put under the control of these new collectives and the campesino communities began granting titles of land ownership to the families who lived on the land. The nature of the titles granted by most campesino communities are interesting.

 Instead of outright ownership, landowners are granted a renewable 100-year lease. The lease can be bought and sold like a title, but in reality, it is a lease. The idea behind this construct is that the land should always belong to the community, not a single individual.

 However, for all intents and purposes, the owner of the lease has property rights in their land and can do as they please with their possession. Of course, this was a great victory for the indigenous people of Peru, and it was also a big win for those who believe in a just society.

Beyond the solid ethics of redistribution, there were meaningful economic benefits as well. The wealthy land-owning families had left a lot of their property unused. 


Plantations and industrial concerns tended to be established near well-developed transportation hubs. This was logical, because you can’t make money on the produce of your land unless you can get it into the hands of a buyer.

 When the redistribution occurred, huge swaths of virgin territory were brought under the control of campesino communities. And the campesino communities began to grant titles to land previously unsettled by organized farming.

 One such place was the canyon where we buy cacao. 

 You’ll recall from a previous article in this series that the Pakamuros, or Bracamoros, tribe was a fiercely independent civilization whom the Incas were never able to conquer.

 Their society formed and flourished in northern Peru, in the city that is now Jaen. The Spanish were able to accomplish what the Incas weren’t. They pushed the Pakamuros deep into the countryside and took over the city of Jaen.

 Conquistadores and favorites of the Spanish court became the new owners, and their descendants inherited the land in and around Jaen generation after generation. The Pakamuros kept drifting out into the jungle until they’d gone so deep that nobody would bother them anymore.

 Once they found peace and solitude, they settled into a hunter gatherer lifestyle, living off the abundant and varied produce available in that part of the jungle. One of the plants that grew wild in that zone was cacao with yellow pods.

 We buy cacao in a canyon east of a thick river called the Chinchipe. The canyon is enclosed by tall mountains that, along with the Chinchipe River, form a triangle. the triangle shaped canyon is pictured to the right.

 When agrarian reform occurred, a campesino community gained control of the canyon and started offering cheap titles to the land.

 Adventurous families from throughout northern Peru, mostly families who lived in high-altitude mountain cities with unproductive farmland, bought titles and started migrating out to the canyon.

 The Chinchipe didn’t have a bridge over it until just 6 years ago, and the first families who arrived to take possession of their land had to figure out how to cross the roaring Chinchipe. 

Most strung together rudimentary rafts and tried to float across. This was dangerous and many died in their attempt to cross the Chinchipe. Through trial and error, techniques for crossing the river were worked out and families started settling on their claims.

 These families were modern day frontiersmen. The land was virgin and there was zero infrastructure. Everything had to be built up from scratch.  Those first families only had the land to sustain themselves.

 They fought off wild animals. They cut down trees to build houses. And little by little, they started forming communities, building roads, laying in public sewage, and stringing in electricity lines. The Pakamuros were once again pushed off their land, and again had to retreat deeper into the jungle.

Deep in the bush, remnants of the Pakamuros are still hunting and gathering to this very day. The cacao farmers who sell us cacao are just one or two generations removed from the original homesteaders.

 As time went on, the farmers started naming their little communities, mostly after the plants that grew naturally in their parts of the canyon. In all, roughly 80 villages were formally organized and named.

 The cash crops came to be rice, coffee, and cacao.

These crops were determined by market demand. Of those three, only cacao was native to the region and the farmers started to domesticate the native variety of cacao.

 There was no reason for these farmers to assume that the cacao growing in the region was anything special. The buyers who made their way out to the canyon were buyers for industrial concerns. They were looking to buy cheap ingredients for mass produced food.

 For 45 years farmers in the canyon transported the produce of their land across the Chinchipe River on floating platforms and motorized canoes.

 We’re almost to the end of this story. But I am running out of space for now.

 The final installment will be coming your way tomorrow.

 Thank you so much for your time today.  

 I hope that you have a truly blessed day!