History of Cacao

The early civilizations from Central America began to grown cacao trees to prepare potions. The Olmecas were specifically the first ones to obtain a nutritious substance from the seeds of this fruit. When this civilization disappears, the Mayas who settled in an extended region of Southern Mexico, continued with this custom since cacao trees grown well in their tropical woods. European palaeontologists have found numerous evidences about Maya belief that this plant belonged to the Gods and its pods were a gift to humans.

The Aztecas used it as a drink mixed with corn meal, vanilla and other species. The writer of the Hernán Cortés Chronicles, Díaz del Castillo, recognized its high nutritional value. He wrote that after drinking cocoa it is possible to travel all day long without fatigue or any need to eat.

Several experts affirmed that these wild plants originated in the basins of the Amazon and the Orinoco. Other specialists agreed to locate its original place at the top of the Amazon basins reaching Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

Introduction of Cacao in Cuba

Cacao crops were one of the first to be introduced by the Spaniards in Cuba during the beginning of colonization. Despite of its minor economic importance in comparison to sugar cane and tobacco, it occupied a main place in Cuban traditional food until the 19th century. It was people preference along with coffee, being displaced by this one. Its influence is undeniable in national history and culture.

Cacao entered in Cuba through Cabaiguan at the centre of the Island in 1540, but its boom start in 1771, with the arrival of French colonist who came from Haiti and settle around the Eastern Region of Cuba.

During the three first centuries of colonization, cacao crops were extended to the subsistence agriculture in small land areas just by a modest number of farmers.

In documents dating from the remote endings of the 16th century and even the half of the 17th century, it appeared request for permission to develop cacao crops in some places. During this very century numerous cacao sown were reported in Bayamo and Santiago de Cuba.

By that time, the internal production did not satisfy the high consumption demands. Cocoa was the main drink for breakfast and other occasions. It also appeared among the imports from Caracas, Honduras, Portobelo, Cartegena y Cumará.

The cacao boom

We can frame the cacao and coffee boom from the half of the 18th century until the 30’s of the 19th century that was caused due to efforts to vary the Cuban Commercial Agriculture, receiving exemption of taxes and special rights. This was of no importance in Havana surroundings because of the extension of sugar cane.

In the central zone Remedios was traditionally the main cacao producer, and the eastern region cacao crops prospered along with the coffee of French men who emigrated from Haiti since the ending of 18th century.

The census of 1827 reported the existence of 60 cacao plantations, with a total harvest of more than 23 000@. On the other hand, the census of 1896 registered 69 cacao plantations. Within the following years, cacao augmented progressively and, in 1861 its production was 96 000@.

By then such cultivations were still concentrated in the central region, in the jurisdiction of San Juan de los Remedios and Sancti Spiritus, and in the eastern region of Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, Holguin and Baracoa.

Around the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th centuries, French emigration was an important factor to the development of cacao in the eastern zone.

Abundant references from literature assert that, until the 19th century was a preferable drink for Cubans. Most of the travellers that visited the island left evidences about the “most favoured” coffee shops in different times when they served chocolate or coffee like those of “La Paloma”and “El Comercio” in 1819, “La Longa” and “La Dominica” in 1838.

In 1868 start the Ten Years War, even from that period we have information about the consumption of cocoa by the mambises. Between 1879 and 1894 the Cuban Magazine of Agriculture is published, by this mean we know about the inauguration of the chocolate factory “Mestre and Martinica” in 1883. By this year other chocolate factories were inaugurated in Santa Clara and Baracoa.

The second independence war from 1895 to 1898 knows as The Smallest War devastated the Cuban agriculture. The greatest part of the cacao plantations on the eastern zone were destroyed by the insurgents. From that moment the lands occupied by sugar plantations pushed cacao crops to mountainous areas of the eastern region. There was preserved a more diverse agriculture with cultivations of coconut, plane trees, and cacao that improved a little by the first half of the 20th century. Besides, cacao and chocolate were included among the products that enjoyed freedom of rights to its import through the Reciprocal Treaty with United States signed in 1902, cacao from the Cuban side, and chocolates from the north-American side.

The Cuban census of 1919 announces the establishment of a new chocolate factory in Santa Clara, complaining about the fact that sugar and tobacco had absorbed a considerable part of the Cuban capital. Cacao and Coffee had greatly deteriorated after being an important source of enrichment for Cuba.

However during the first half of the 20th century, cacao continues among the main crops of Cuba, but almost restricted in the Oriente province including Palma Soriano, Alto Songo, El Cobre, El Caney, Baracoa, Guantanamo, San Luis, Yateras, Jiguani and Bayamo. It was also reported in Santa Clara and Moron (Camaguey by then).

During The War World II cacao reappeared temporarily before falling again. In 1952, its production recuperated a little to satisfy inner consumption, but mainly destined to chocolate, ice-cream and cookies industry. Nevertheless, domestic consumption of chocolate was distributed between the 30% of national production and a 70% of imports.

The cacao, after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the agriculture has a noticeable impulse to diversification that had been planned since former centuries. Cacao counted with new plants of development as those cultivations of greater importance for Cuban Agriculture. Its production is geographically focused in Baracoa, Guantanamo (main producer), Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Holguin. Its development has also initiated in Sancti Spiritus and Pinar del Rio.

The most suitable conditions are found in the eastern provinces, into the main mountain range of Cuba Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa with great diversity concerning ecology, height and temperature for the development of this tree. This region is still considered the greatest cacao producer area of Cuba, mainly Guantanamo, to the eastern extreme of the country. The best fruit is grown in Baracoa, Guantanamo. We can also find a factory there, such factory processes chocolate and has undergone several modernization process.