Twenty to thirty families own 70% of the assets in Peru. Many are the same ones awarded royal land grants from the Spanish crown in the 1500s. To Americans, that’s old money. To Spaniards sitting back in Seville, they’re just young relatives who bought a ticket to the New World & won the lottery.

No longer any gang wars between them, these families settled their public wars a while ago. Maybe a few are at odds with one another but most interweave their interests to dine in perfect civility to split the pie evenly. This qualifies them for an oligarchy.

Dan’s keeping his head down. He wants to know as little as possible of their activities. Perhaps clever naïveté affords the only way to go about one’s business. And get a good night’s sleep. The alternative – omniscience — can batter & beat the mind down. Look at Dick Holbrooke… a casualty of the AfPak conflict as any soldier in uniform.

Katerina understands the simple math: 80+% of the cocoa grown in Peru stays in Peru. This ain’t Vegas, it’s just for domestic market consumption. Virtually all the rest passes thru the oligarchs’ hands. Goods & material are exported largely with their approval.

Their cooperation renders a very tangible service benefit that proves vital to moving commerce.

Any single misstep &, BAM!, something’s clamping down harder than an elephant on an ant… hijackings / missing limbs & cargo containers… thwarts anything & everything, including body parts, from leaving. No one necessarily directs it, right? Just coincidence or bad timing. Shiz happens.

It takes her 4 months to arrange The Meeting.

Once the Marañón Nacional was genetically verified, word reached the families via an informant or otherwise. They summon Pearson to Lima for a first hand briefing. He readies himself. A boardroom affair in the nation’s capital, jacket & tie required.

The location, in the same neighborhood where the state police apprehended Shining Path leader Albimael Guzmán, appears unassuming from the outside. Step inside however & the interior elegance richly appointed in sculptures & paintings beckons. Too formal to be a home, too fraternizing to be an official govt hall, it’s an ultra-exclusive social club. Not clapboard John Gotti-style but seriously toned. Perason is escorted into the dining quarters centered by a long refectory table milled from heavy hardwood surrounded by armchairs with deep cushions upholstered in library leather. It reeks old money. Dan sits at one end.

A few anxious minutes later & a senior member of some standing in the hierarchy enters. Any doubts Pearson may have had about this gentleman’s authority are erased. The Don wears the visage & sagacity of a heritage going all the way back to Pizarro himself — the conquistadore who took down the Inca Empire.

Dan squirms in his chair some (the definitional hot seat), wondering / hoping if it could be the very one that Peranzures de Campo Redondo sat in to receive orders from Pizarro in 1538. Those were to explore the land of the Chunchos in forests southeast of the Andes. There, Redondo’s expedition came upon a river valley filled with cacáo trees – the first accounting of Theobroma cacao in the Amazon.

Marañón needs permission to proceed & The Don can grant or deny the request. Initially it’s unclear based on appearances alone which way he leans.

The meeting begins politely enough if somewhat cold. Dan’s Spanish contains no icebreakers. He forgoes the attempt & switches back to English.

The Don snaps his fingers for a translator.

He listens intently to the Ecuador angle which historically engenders rivalry & animosity over competing oil resources close to the border & the lucrative drug trade. His interest piques on Ecuador crowing about Nacional cacáo for 400 years & here Peru has been sitting on it all this while without even knowing so. Plus, Peru may possess the better side of Nacional.

‘Hmmms’, ‘huhs’ & ‘ahs’ punctuate his reactions. Nothing definitive, though cordial.

The whole tenor changes when Dan relates that both his sons have married Peruvian wives with bilingual children.

The Don thumbs a txt on his mobile.

Pearson carries on.

Less than 10 minutes & a woman hands The Don some affidavits verifying the birth certificates of Dan’s grandchildren as well as the family background of his daughter-in-laws. The Don is now visibly electric & ecstatic.

This is great news, a most fortunate development.

Whatever the ultimate verdict on ‘La Leyenda Negra y Blanco’ (the Good vs. Evil agenda of Spanish history), in many respects the Spanish were indeed the most sensuous of European colonizers. Accepting of & to a large degree wedded to miscegenation, they were quite unlike the Dutch, English & French, at least during the latter stages of those colonial adventures when they became Social Darwinists in their sexual appetites. (Indeed, the great-grandson of Moctezuma II, Pedro Tesifón, was titled Count Moctezuma de Tultengo in 1627 to become part of Spanish nobility.)

Hernan Cortés very early on ‘went native’… & had an affair with La Malinche / Doña Marina & a son too (Don Martin Cortés – “El Mestizo”, the first known Mestizaje, mixing Amerind with European blood).

Peruvians embrace the tradition, for Mestizaje creates conditions for partnerships that travel in arrays, with memes flying back & forth across cultures.

Out of nowhere… well, obviously somewhere… more family members take up seats around the table. All of them men, joined by a stenographer to take down notes. Some staff pours brandy & clips several cigar heads with a wedge cut. The oligarchs seemingly have been corralled into a single executive session. Only thing missing to complete the pairings is some hi-test chocolate.

The Don wants Dan to recount the whole saga for his associates. Pearson repeats the headlines, this time the sons, the Peruvian wives & the grandchildren in the lead. Dan speaks just above the light tapping of the stenographer recording his story.

The others in the room never say a word.

Spellbound. They’re absolutely thrilled & filled with “Nacional” pride.

Pearson’s clearly hitting his stride, sounding the right notes & kissing all the rings. He parries their fears: ‘Naturally we want you to be in the loop… of course we’re not raping the natives… no, we’ve no intention of getting too big’ (otherwise the families seek remuneration).

That their esteemed Nacional cacáo will be crafted into a premium chocolate for a niche at the top of the market pyramid equally massages them.

They give their blessings & applause thru several rounds of belly laughter.

The fact that USDA certified the test results seals the deal. The now-common refrain Dan heard at the embassy: the U.S. thru this agency sprinkles cash all over the landscape in an attempt to build an agricultural sector that, at least officially, builds development, increases farmer livelihoods, & acts as a retardant to the drug crops.

Timing the moment, Dan volleys the point-blank closer: “I’m here to request your authorization for exporting this to high-end markets in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The Don takes the measure of everyone seated at the table. Nary a word spoken; just a visual check. One-by-one each excuses himself, including the translator & stenographer, leaving only The Don & The Dan seated across a long table from each other, hombre-a-hombre.

The room cleared, The Don now addresses The Dan in perfect English: “Mr. Pearson, you’ve done well to present your qualifications. As per your request, it is granted on one pre-condition…”

His pause catches a lump in The Dan’s throat.

“… as long as you send me some of this special chocolate.”

“And enough for my colleagues too.”

Pearson valiantly tries to suppress a grin that involuntarily creases his face, which brings a smile to the Don’s. Both men share a knowing look, keenly alert to the deceptive incongruity of it: the back channel diplomacy, the august setting, the high stakes… all for a piece of chocolate. Of course in this situation, like so many others, chocolate is simply the transactional currency for what really matters: the binding connections it envelops within a community.

That is, phrased in another way, ‘people power’.

Cacáo has served this role for millennia from the Olmec & Maya to European aristocracy & American school kids.

The Don confides “you found it; if not for you we might have never known we had this. I appreciate your calling on us. It shows you’re a man of character & savvy. Exactly the kind of person we value in our relationships.”

Deal done. Any follow-on would be strictly at The Don’s discretion. So the chocolate best be good.

The same pilgrimage had to be repeated in Ecuador for a face-to-face with its Vatican-style consigliere where Pearson is on firmer ground knowing the Peruvians have his back. Short of waging war, a ridiculously distinct possibility, what can Ecuador really do?

Additional backup in the form of hush money from the USDA to fund their own research should quell any misgivings that Ecuadorians will surely have.

Ecuador, understanding the threat of this discovery to its Nacional, immediately established a Germplasm Release Policy to protect it. The policy restricts the removal, what little is left, of any Nacional from the country.

It specifies “the research under this agreement will involve 2 different kinds of genetic resources:

“A. The Nacional Types research will be managed under the strict discretion of the Ecuadorian Agricultural Research Center (INIAP) as these materials possess particular national value.”

“B. The Non-Nacional Types: Only those derived from Non-Nacional Types will remain in the public domain.”

All Nacional is for research purposes only & not in the public domain to be used for making chocolate.”

What’s the upshot for that country?

By banking off Nacional’s faded glory in Ecuador, farmers there can still command good prices despite under-fermented & insufficiently dried nuts, so they’ve little incentive to improve techniques. Add to all this, the degraded environment at the hands of oil exploitation, in a land that was Darwin’s playground. Drilling by Texaco/Chevron during the 1970s spoiled large tracts of once-pristine Amazon jungle in the country’s northeast; leaching pollutants into the soil, groundwater, & streams before protections & safeguards were in place. Nonetheless, chocolate industry groups continue to believe that Ecuador harvests about a third of the world’s fine-flavor cacáo – a metric of just how the industrial candy giants lag behind the curve.

These dirty little secrets, which until recently Ecuador didn’t know it wasn’t keeping, have forced many to come to terms with the ‘Nacional Brand’, lest they saw off the very branch on which they sit & from which they profit. They’re starting to acknowledge the limits & downside, for instance, of CCN-51.

The central government now recognizes the national importance of this matter. Thru its agricultural arm – INIAP — it now prohibits, at least officially, blending CCN-51 with the indigenous cacáo. It’ll take years before the measure becomes effective enough to notice improvement. Trends favoring select EET – an extensive clonal series numbering in the hundreds, some of stronger Nacional germplasm & better characteristics, such as EET-454 crossbred with SCA-6 for its disease-resistance & high yield – represent a beginning towards improved cacáo deployment for quality & purity. As do farm cooperatives such as Concacao whose members understand the economics of the issue & have banded together to share in the financial rewards & technical assistance coming from clonal nurseries working to preserve their heritage.

Ecuador’s legacy as the melting pot for several of cacáo’s principle sources of germplasm remains secure. Its future as a great producer may depend on tapping back into it… ripe conditions permitting.

For the 1960s/70s saw socio-political changes & land reform to complicate cacáo’s fortunes there. During that period, opportunity costs favored banana trees over cacáo trees. Large landholders, or haciendas, ‘officially’ were broken up. Some central haciendas however remain intact – thanks to power & money – growing bananas-for-export at the center of a community, with a periphery of small growers tending to cacáo. While the small growers’ main income derives from picking bananas for someone else on some else’s hacienda, their social pride stands firmly rooted as Bromans / cacáoteros – owners of the land on which they can grow cacáo. It generates supplemental income that can make the difference in sending their children to school & on to professional careers elsewhere, but nowhere near enough to encourage them to return home with those higher education degrees & help put all the knowledge & expertise to work in expanding the family business because cacáo at its current market rate & social status just isn’t worth it. Unless… the consuming world responds with an action-plan beyond a cheap commodity for Wall St. brokerage houses to bake up “grandma’s homemade” chocolate-chip cookies & cupcakes in posh cafés around Paris, London, LA, & Shanghai.

Ironically, perhaps Marañón Canyon Cacao will be the driver that shifts Ecuador into higher gear.

Whatever transpires, this should be viewed for what it is: successful chocolate diplomacy (outlandish as that sounds). The diplomatic mission required to bring it to fruition imbues the project with a gripping tale, if not importance. It involves 3 governments (including the US State Dept), the USDA attaché for both Ecuador & Peru, the Peruvian Dept of Ag Management, a couple of national oligarchies for face-to-face stare-downs, plus other mediation due to the sensitive nature of the subject & the area. Press releases & development proceedings have been, continue to be, & will be properly vetted by those impacted & involved (this document included).

All of which lends new credence to the phrase ‘a chocolate to die for’.

Except in this case, no one’s kidding.

GO TO PART XIV –> Auctionable & Collectible



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