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From Colombus to Fortunato--Part 8

From Colombus to Fortunato--Part 8

Hello and good day!

When I left off in this series, a left leaning military dictator named Juan Velasco Alvarado had taken land from long time landowning families of Spanish descent and given it to landowning families of indigenous descent.

 He did this mostly through a construct called campesino communities, which were cooperatives with a democratically elected board of directors. These campesino communities redistributed huge amounts of territory. Some of the land, working farms and industrial concerns, called “haciendas”, were already highly productive and fully functional.

 I had a long conversation with my wife’s uncle yesterday. My wife’s father and all his siblings grew up on a sugar hacienda. The uncle still remembers when land reform was carried out. Soldiers came onto the property and escorted the owners and everybody of pure Spanish heritage off the land.

 The campesino community took over and set up a structure whereby the workers owned the company. Workers ran the operation, hired management, and shared in the profits.

 According to my uncle, this worked moderately well, better than when the hacienda was run by the aristocratic family.  However, there came to be heavy price competition in sugar and over time the hacienda’s profitability started to fade.

 Eventually, under President Alberto Fujimori, a lot of the haciendas were privatized, and the workers sold off the haciendas to private concerns and walked away with a big one time cash payout.

 As I stated in the previous installment of this series, campesino communities were also given control over vast amounts of virgin land. This was all land that was considered sub optimal, mostly because of its remoteness.

 For example, where we buy cacao is not well suited for a big plantation or industrial concern. It is too far off the beaten path. The road infrastructure is too spotty. It is very rugged even today. More than 50 years ago, it would have been impossible to navigate on a large scale.

 There were thousands of places like this all over Peru that came be homesteaded. This led to a modern-day frontier movement in Peru as land previously unsettled by organized farming was inhabited. Much of the land already had native tribes roaming on it, living hunter gatherer lifestyles.

 Now there was a confrontation between two sets of people. On one side, there were Peruvians of indigenous descent whose ancestors had been working on haciendas as laborers for the last several hundred years. On the other side, there were native roaming tribes who had been driven into the bush by Spanish occupation.

 History is full of very difficult questions like this.

 Strictly speaking, the land probably should have belonged to the native tribes, given that they’d been living on that land for a very long time. However, it is prohibitively difficult to assign land ownership to hunter gatherer tribe members. They are constantly on the move, never settling in one place, and using certain parts of different pieces of land as circumstances dictate.

 All that being the case, campesino communities started granting land titles, in the form of 100-year leases, to folks willing to come settle on unfarmed land.

 In time, native tribes were pushed even deeper into the bush by settlers from other parts of the country. Thankfully, there wasn’t much fighting or bloodshed when these settlements occurred. Native tribes mostly wanted to be left alone and continue with their nomadic lifestyle, and they peacefully retreated.

 40 years or so after all this happened, my brother Brian and my dad Dan had just exited a business distributing replacement parts to the maintenance department of the world's biggest gold mine. The mine was located just outside the northern mountain city of Cajamarca, Peru, which you’ll recall was the same town where the Spanish captured the last Incan emperor.

 How we got into that business is a whole long crazy story of its own. My dad and brother decided to exit the business mostly because they hated the way the American mining company operated in the community.

 Also, we were competing against the national Caterpillar distributor and that company used a lot of graft and bribes to buy loyalty, even though our prices were much better for the exact same products.

 My brother Brian had just gotten married and had a new baby daughter. He needed a source of income now that the previous business had terminated. He and my dad started looking around for another opportunity.

 One of the projects they considered was buying fruits and vegetables to sell to the French company who ran the mine’s cafeteria. The French company, Sodexo, wanted to source as many ingredients as possible from within the department where the mine was located.

 In Peru, departments are the same as states. The principal place to buy fruits and vegetables within the same department that housed the mine was in the city of Jaen.

 You’ll recall that this was previously the home of the Jivaro tribe, which called themselves the Braca Moros. In Jaen, a government official took Brian and Dan to a local association meeting of the region’s cacao farmers.

 A particularly outgoing farmer named Noe Vasquez invited Dan and Brian to visit the district of Huarango, about two hours northeast of Jaen. Noe’s parents were part of the first generation of settlers who had received a land grant from a campesino community.

 Noe had become a specialist in growing cacao, and he felt positive that the cacao growing natively in the district of Huarango was special and unique.

 Based on Noe’s persuasiveness, and market conditions that seemed to indicate a potentially good business, my dad and brother decided to start buying and processing cacao.

 A couple years into the business, my dad called the USDA genetics lab in Maryland on a whim and talked his way into having cacao in the district of Huarango genetically tested.

 When the results came back, we were floored.

There was a genetic variety of cacao growing in the district of Huarango that was thought to have gone extinct more than 100 years earlier. It was a fine flavored cacao that was previously only known to grow in Ecuador.

 Through the twists and turns of history there was a remnant population of this excellent and rare cacao growing in an isolated canyon outside of Jaen. This is what we’ve been using in our chocolate for the last 15 years and what we’ll continue to use as long as we are in business.

 Thank you so much for your time today. 

 I hope that you have a truly blessed day!