Coca leaf (“chewed” by indigenous Andean peoples) and cocaine (the notorious modern illicit drug trafficked from the Andes) are deeply emblematic of South America, but neither has attracted the in-depth archival research they deserve. Their two modern histories are closely linked. Coca leaf, a part of Andean indigenous lifeways for thousands of years, is the raw ingredient for the alkaloid drug cocaine, discovered in 1860, and illicit peasant coca plots in the western Amazon of Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia have been the source for the infamous illicit cocaine “cartels” since the 1970s. The two drugs’ fates have both had surprisingly shifting trajectories and meanings across the colonial, national, and modern eras. They have also distinctively linked the Andes to the outside world and national political cultures of the three chief Andean states. Bolivia has the most continuous history with coca, related to the highland geography of its indigenous majority, though coca leaf only became a “nationalist” symbol over the past fifty years or so. Peru was home to the world’s first legal cocaine industries, starting in the 1880s, and coca and illicit cocaine have interacted in complex ways ever since. Colombia had the least coca traditions, and was the last nation to develop illicit cocaine exports in the 1970s and 1980s, although with a dramatic impact on Colombia and the world. This largely unknown and changeable history underlies the present-day crossroads of coca and cocaine: will the US-abetted Andean “drug wars” against cocaine continue, despite their long failures, and will coca’s place as a symbol of cultural and national pride in the Andes be fully restored?
The Dutch Atlantic is often ignored because for much of its history it was quite small and seemingly insignificant compared to other European colonies in the Americas. However, it began with extraordinarily ambitious conquests and colonizing schemes. The present-day Dutch Caribbean—St. Martin, Saba, Eustatius, Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire—is but the remnants of what was, in the first half of the 17th century, an empire that claimed large portions of Brazil, the Caribbean, North America, and Africa. Forged during the decades-long Dutch Revolt against Spain, this budding empire collapsed soon after the Dutch gained Independence in 1648. European powers that had been allies against the Spanish turned against the Dutch to dismantle their Atlantic empire and its valuable trade. A series of wars in the second half of the 17th century reduced the Dutch colonies to a handful of smaller outposts, some of which in the Caribbean remain Dutch to this day.
A recent wave of scholarship has emphasized the dynamism, ambition, and profitability of the Dutch Atlantic, whose fate reflected its origins in the small but dynamic Dutch Republic. Like the Republic, it was acutely sensitive to changes in international diplomacy: neither was ever strong enough to go entirely on its own. Also like the Republic, it was very decentralized. While most all of it was technically under the authority of the West India Company, a variety of arrangements in different colonies meant there was no consistent, centralized colonial policy. Moreover, like the Republic, it was never a purely “Dutch” affair. The native Dutch population was too small and too well employed by the Republic’s industrious economy to build an empire alone. As the Dutch Atlantic depended heavily on the labor, capital, and energy of many people who were not Dutch—other Europeans, some Americans, and, by the 18th century, a majority of Africans—colonial Dutch language and culture were overshadowed by those of other peoples. Finally, the Dutch Atlantic also depended heavily on trade with the other European colonies, from British North America to the Spanish Main.
The Dutch were expert merchants, sailors, manufacturers, and capitalists. They created Europe’s first modern financial and banking infrastructure. These factors gave them a competitive edge even as the rise of mercantilist laws in the second half of the 17th century tried to exclude them from other countries’ colonies. They also displayed a talent for a variety of colonial enterprises. New Netherland, covering the territory from present-day New York to Pennsylvania and Delaware, began as a fur-trading outpost in the 1620s. However, by the time it was captured by the English in 1664 it was rapidly becoming a “settler colonial society.” Suriname and Guyana developed profitable plantations and cruel slave societies. In Africa and the Caribbean, small Dutch outposts specialized in trade of all sorts, legitimate and not, including slaves, textiles, sugar, manufactures, and guns.
Although their territorial expansion ceased after 1670, the Dutch played an important role in expanding the sugar plantation complex of other empires, partly through their involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Until the Age of Revolutions, the Dutch Atlantic remained a profitable endeavor, keeping the Dutch involved with Latin America from Brazil to Mexico. Venezuela in particular benefitted from easy access to Dutch traders based in Curaçao. Religion played a smaller, but still important role, legitimating the Dutch state and enterprises like the slave trade, but also opening up windows of toleration that allowed Jews in particular to gain a foothold in the Americas that was otherwise denied them. Although the surviving traces of the Dutch Atlantic are small, its historical impact was tremendous. The Dutch weakened the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic Empires, opening up a path to Imperial power that would subsequently be seized by the French and British.
Machu Picchu is an Inca royal estate constructed in the mid-15th century in Peru’s picturesque high jungle. As a seasonal retreat for celebrations, religious rituals, and administrative affairs when the Incas traveled beyond Cuzco, Machu Picchu was abandoned soon after Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Andes in 1531. The site was largely lost to the Western world until 1911, when a Yale University expedition led by Hiram Bingham lay claim to the scientific and historical “discovery” of the impressive complex of white-granite buildings and agricultural terraces. Contentious debates over cultural patrimony, conservation, indigenous rights, and neoliberal exploitation have enhanced Machu Picchu’s allure as one of the most famous archaeological remains in the Western Hemisphere.
The history of Colombian national parks started in 1948 with the establishment of a reserve for scientific research, which stood alone until the 1960s, when various state agencies created a few parks with quite different goals in mind, including preserving imposing landscapes and conserving water. This rather casual development changed after the growing international concern for the environment led to the creation of an environmental agency in 1968 and the enactment of an environmental code in 1974, which served as institutional platform for the planned expansion of a system of national parks based largely on ecological criteria.
Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the Office of National Parks has confronted its weakness by establishing parks which confer legal protection on areas whose natural attributes were deemed valuable. Such a strategy has led to confrontations with local populations living in and around parks, whose rights to resource use have been hampered. The office’s incapacity to properly enforce rules and its attempts to work with rural communities, especially indigenous groups, have to some extent mitigated such tensions. It has further sought to enlist the support of the middle classes and been forced to deal with illegal armed groups on the left and the right, as well as the national army, vying for territorial control. Although parks have not fulfilled their ideal, they have fostered the notion that the nation has a natural patrimony and have contributed decisively to its conservation.