Brazilian native communities already knew various drugs, such as tobacco, ayahuasca, mate, or guaraná, but after the arrival of Portuguese colonizers, sugarcane became the main economic activity for production of sugar and brandy (cachaça), with tobacco ranking second. Ayahuasca became, in the 20th century, the sacrament of syncretic and mixed religions. Pharmaceutical regulations since the late 19th century, especially of painkillers and cocaine, as well as the prohibition of folk healers, tightened state controls that particularly stigmatized cannabis as an expression of an African heritage to be extirpated. Adherence to international treaties and the establishment of bodies that centralized drug policy, such as the National Commission for the Inspection of Narcotic Drugs (CNFE), in 1938 were accompanied by repressive legislation, with a large increase in criminal indictment and incarceration. Brazil’s 20th-century drug history, encompassing the sphere of pharmaceuticals and illicit and licit substances such as alcoholic, stimulants, and tobacco, reflects shifting socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts.
Henrique S. Carneiro
David Carey Jr.
Dating from the earliest times in Latin America, alcohol has played a crucial social, economic, political, and cultural role. Often reserved for politico-religious leaders, alcohol was a conduit through which power flowed in many pre-contact indigenous societies; indigenous drinkways (production, commerce, and consumption habits) were associated with communal ritual events and social prestige. Introduced to the Americas by Europeans, distillation profoundly altered the potency of alcoholic drinks for people who were accustomed to fermentation. Even as the social and cultural practices of alcohol consumption changed over time, alcohol continued to have political and economic implications in the colonial and national periods in Latin America. Fearing that inebriation bred disorder and recognizing that moonshining undercut their own revenues, colonial and national governments alike sought to regulate, if not control, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol. In nations as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and Guatemala, indigenous women came to play integral roles in the (oftentimes illicit) sale and production of alcohol. A cash nexus for moving labor and land and a crucial component of the economic system by which (often unscrupulous) labor brokers recruited workers, alcohol was a currency of local economies. As a commodity of local, national, and international significance, alcohol shaped the fate of nation-states. People’s class, ethnic, race, and gender identities all played into their access to alcohol. Although a person’s choice of libation could define their position, some of the more fascinating histories of alcohol are punctuated with women and men who used alcohol to disrupt social conventions. Through the consumption of alcohol, rituals and ceremonies created and reconstituted community both within and across ethnic groups. Imbibing could also divide people. Even while they sipped their cognacs and brandies, elites portrayed indigenous people, the poor, and other marginalized people getting drunk on moonshine to discount and denigrate them. Often associated with (particularly violent) crime, alcohol was seen as a vice by many and excoriated during temperance movements. Yet defendants across Latin America took advantage of judicial systems that considered alcohol a mitigating circumstance in many crimes. As 20th-century evangelical sects that preached abstinence as the route to wealth and marital bliss grew to unprecedented numbers, traditional healers and biomedical practitioners continued to tout alcohol’s medicinal value. In short, alcohol was a marker of social position and cultural identity, a crucial component in community and state building, and a commodity around which different cultural traditions, healing practices, and policing policies developed and evolved.