Sucre, the City of Chocolate
Historically, Sucre has been known by 4 names: La Plata, Chuquisaca, Sucre and the White City. Actually, a fifth name can be added to this list: City of Chocolate, as Sucre is famous inside and also outside Bolivia for its production of chocolates and bonbons. Someone could ask: How can Sucre, in the middle of arid mountains, have developed an industry based on cocoa, which cannot be produced within a radius of at least 500 kms? A simple reaction: well, look at Switzerland, also a famous chocolate producing country without any reference to the basic raw material.
In the case of Sucre, recently an interesting book was published: “Sucre, la Ciudad del Chocolate” by Gaston Solares, one of the most active promoters of the chocolate industry and co-owner of the ‘Para Ti’ (‘For you’) company. It gives one clear reason and another nice hypothesis about the linkage between Sucre and chocolate: In the colonial times, from the 18th century, the cultivation of cocoa in Bolivia was introduced and promoted in the Moxos and Chiquitos region in the current Santa Cruz and Beni departments by the Jesuits. Sucre was the administrative centre of what nowadays is Bolivia and the route for the trade of cocoa from the Moxos and Chiquitos region had to pass by Sucre to be sold in the cities of Tarija and Potosí. Don’t forget that thanks to the mining, especially silver, the latter city in the 17th century had more population than London and Paris, so it was an important market with purchasing power. Quality control was done, taxes were paid and cocoa auctions were held in Sucre. The use of chocolate drink was popular and widespread in the criollo population, influenced by their European ancestors and relatives. The book includes an anecdote about the protagonist of the first Scream for Liberty in Latin America, Jaime de Zudañez, who was drinking a cup of chocolate in his house in Sucre at the moment that the realist soldiers took him to prison the 25th of May of 1809.
Only from 1890 the consumption habit of (solid) chocolate and bonbons came up, again influenced by developments in Europe, and this induced to the first investments in industrial production with Sucre as the pioneer place within Bolivia.
Another, hypothetic reason, although in my opinion quite possible, is that the founder of Sucre, Pedro de Anzures de Campo Redondo, is the same person who “discovered” native Bolivian cocoa plants. Cocoa exploitation has its origin in Mexico, where the nuts even were used as money, and in the colonial times spread from there to Europe and then over the rest of the world. Nowadays, main cocoa production countries are Ivory Coast and Ghana in West Africa and Brazil in South America, but that was only after colonizers introduced the plantations. Apparently, one of those colonizers in Bolivia discovered a local variety and encouraged the interest of exploitation, where Sucre became a dynamic stage within the chain: promoting harvesting, trade and processing of the cocoa.
In the 21st century, the chocolate industry in Sucre received a new impulse, mainly led by the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce, CAINCO. Several new small enterprises have been set up thanks to the enthusiasm created by a value chain analysis and a resulting training program, which led to new products, variety and (perhaps) better quality (although others might say that in older times everything was better). Currently, most of the raw material comes from the northern area of La Paz and Beni.
Tourism and the chocolate industry complement very well, as the chocolates and bonbons are an attraction for visitors to Sucre, the packages of the chocolate bars include beautiful images of the city and on the other hand the national and international tourists are an important market for the local production. A more integrated collaboration could also include the organisation of tours for tourists that visit one of the hotels in Sucre to get to know the history and the industrial and artisanal ways of chocolate and bonbon making.
The important relationship between tourism and chocolate is the reason that Hotel Villa Antigua promotes this chocolate identity of Sucre.