Set on the plains of Natá de los Caballeros, Province of Coclé, in the fertile lands bathed by the Rio Chico and Rio Grande, and having the Cerro Vigía as a faithful witness of its birth and advance, is located La Estrella Sugar Company. Its founder was the illustrious patrician and statesman Don Rodolfo Chiari Robles, from Aguadulce, who at the beginning of last century acquired the Finca called El Corozo, and later bought from General Esteban Huertas the lands that belonged to him after the separation of Gran Colombia.
The Finca El Corozo comprised an extension of thousands of hectares of plains plots, and on the other hand the Finca of General Huertas, located on the slopes of Cerro Vigía, was a smaller set of hectares of flat lands crossed by gullies; And both Farms united constituted for their new owner a promise of prosperity and progress.
It is known by us that the conditions of the Republic of Panama were difficult, immediately after it was separated from the Great Colombia. Although the construction of the interoceanic canal had great hopes of an economic boom for the cities of Panama and Colón, the lack of communication channels meant that the development prospects in the interior of the country were very limited; However, the vision and tenacity of Don Rodolfo Chiari made him believe in the potential of the land as a source of sustenance for those who love and use it. While others were engaged in the importation of products from other countries, Don Rodolfo’s origin led him to focus on agricultural production. Thus, by 1912 begins with the cultivation of cane for its sale as raw material to a small alembic.
Azucarera La Estrella, SA, known by its acronym as “CALESA”, begins operations as a sugar mill, on January 15, 1918. At that time it had two hundred hectares of sugarcane cultivated and in its first harvest season (zafra) it milled a thousand tons of cane, of which three hundred came from third party farmers, and also produced two thousand quintals of sugar. The grinding equipment was rudimentary and the transport of the cane from the field to the facilities of the mill was made with more than eighty carts loaded by oxen. A small percentage of the sugar production was sold in the interior and most of it was sent by ship, from the Port of Aguadulce to Panama City, to the company Brandon Brothers of the Herbruger family, importer and distributor of products in Panama, which was in charge of distribution to businesses and small industries that existed at the beginning of the Republic. With the virtues that distinguished him as a man in the public as well as the private spheres, Don Rodolfo Chiari Robles managed to lay the foundations of one of the most distinguished companies in Panama.
Driven by the dedication, effort and sacrifice of its manager, Ingenio Ofelina, named in honor of Mrs. Ofelina Remón de Chiari, wife of Don Rodolfo, continued its growth in the sugar industry. First, when Rodolfo Chiari Robles occupied the Presidency of the Republic in 1924, his sons Rodolfo, Roberto and Ricardo, worked closely with his father, and then, upon his death in 1937, assumed the leadership of the company. As the business consolidated, more land was incorporated into sugarcane production and at the same time the manufacturing facilities were expanded. In the decade of the 1920’s the production of sugar was more than thirty thousand quintals per year, in the 1930’s it reached one hundred thousand quintals, and by the 1940’s already obtained two hundred thousand quintals, while collaterally the activity was expanded to a small scale Livestock and alcohol production.
The establishment of other industries, the expansion of commercial activity around the canal and the US military bases during the Second World War, led the Chiari Remón brothers to expand the cane growing area and improve factory facilities for the obtaining of sugar. Thus, in the late 1940s, the installation of new mills, a boiler room, the refinery and the construction of new warehouses began. Around the middle of last century the production was already half a million quintals of sugar, the product began to be exported to the United States. In addition, by that time there was already a significant cattle activity, along with the production of meat and milk, which gave rise to another company called Cia. Ganadera de Coclé, S.A. in 1951, and Industrias de Natá, S.A. In 1959, the latter dedicated to the production of feed for cattle. Until the end of the fifties, the well-known brands Ron Dalys, Ron Tres Estrellas, Seco Tamborito and Seco Mejorana were sold in the liquor market.
At the beginning of the sixties the demand for sugar increased drastically because of the economic blockade of Cuba, the main producer of the area, which allows CALESA to acquire other agricultural farms in the northern area of Natá and to build new warehouses. The expansion of the market due to the increase in exports, the constant growth of the population, the construction of the Pan American Highway, and the creation of more industries due to the granting of government incentives, led to the production of sugar of one Million quintals by 1969, coming from five hundred thousand tons of cane, of which 60% were owned and the remaining 40% were purchased from third party farmers.
In the most recent stage, having been cemented from the last century to the beginning of the new millennium, CALESA positioned in the national market as a solid company, achieving a full stability, begins a process of diversification towards other agricultural items, with the incorporation of new activities that allow it to carry out a combination of its resources and activities. In 1986, Central de Granos de Coclé, S.A., was created, dedicated to the production and processing of rice; In 1990 the Camaronera de Coclé, S.A., began operations, which produce shrimp larvae and farmed shrimp; In 1993 Semillas de Coclé, S.A., producer and processor of rice seed; And in 1995 enters Central de Abastos, S.A., distributor of inputs and agroindustrial equipment. Industrias de Natá, S.A., in addition to producing food for cattle, pigs and horses, increased its production substantially by making feed for shrimp; additionally, Cia. Ganadera de Coclé, S.A., implemented breeding of pork. Today, these companies, leaders in their respective branches, constitute the CALESA Group, the most important agroindustrial group in the central provinces of Panamá.