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?
Coca and Cocaine in Latin American History
Alcohol and Drugs in Brazil
Henrique S. Carneiro
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.
The Drug Wars in Colombia
From Hollywood movies to binge-worthy TV shows, stories of Colombian narcotraficantes waging war against state agents and civilians are profitable narrative devices of our times. But beyond the screen, the history is not as clear-cut or simple. The drug wars in Colombia began years before the cocaine lords launched a crusade against extradition in the mid-1980s. Building upon a long history of military and intelligence cooperation against communism during the Cold War, the US and Colombian governments engaged in a series of diplomatic exchanges during the 1970s to define the best approach to the growing traffic in marijuana and cocaine between the two countries. By the end of the decade, this long process of political accommodation led to the first drug war in the South American nation. Since then, antinarcotics campaigns against producers of illicit crops and the criminal structures that controlled exportation and distribution to the United States and European markets have constituted essential components in the relationship between the two countries. For the last forty years, prohibitionist drug policies and militarized antinarcotics campaigns have systematically interacted with traffickers’ efforts at survival and their ruthless competition for the accumulation of capital, power, and status. As a result of this dynamic, warfare has become the norm in the functioning of the illicit business as well as in the state’s efforts at drug control and repression, making Colombia one of the main theaters of the drug wars in the world.
The Coca Leaf in Bolivian History
Coca is deeply interwoven into the political, economic, and social history of Bolivia from the Inca Empire to the 21st-century rise of President Evo Morales Ayma. As such, generations of Bolivians, from powerful hacendados to peasant farmers, have resisted efforts to destroy the coca leaf. Coca is a mild herbal stimulant cultivated and consumed by indigenous Andeans for centuries, and the primary material for making the potent drug cocaine. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish colonizers promoted coca production on large haciendas to supply mining towns, giving rise to a powerful class of coca hacendados that formed part of Bolivia’s ruling oligarchy after independence. In the early 20th century, the coca hacendados shielded coca from international drug control. Following the 1952 Revolution, agrarian unions replaced hacendados as guardians of the coca leaf. The unions formed a powerful social movement led by Evo Morales Ayma, an indigenous leader and coca farmer, against US-led efforts to forcibly eradicate coca. During the 1990s, Morales and his allies created a political party called the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). In late 2005, Morales was elected president of Bolivia and his new government deployed state power to protect the coca leaf.
Digital Resources: Piedra Rodante (Mexico’s Rolling Stone Magazine)
Luis González-Reimann and Eric Zolov
The short-lived Mexican countercultural magazine, Piedra Rodante (Rolling Stone), is a unique and invaluable primary source for researchers interested in the global sixties from a Latin American perspective. From December 1970 to January 1972, Piedra Rodante reproduced translated articles and interviews from Rolling Stone magazine, together with original reporting by Mexican music critics and writers on a vast array of topics relevant to youth in the context of late 1960s and early 1970s Mexico. Piedra Rodante was launched by a young advertising executive, Manuel Aceves, a follower of the US and British countercultural and rock scene. In 1971, Mexico’s own countercultural movement, known as La Onda, was bursting with artistic creativity as well as marketing potential, especially in the music industry. In the wake of the 1968 student movement, however, Mexico’s government was wary of the untethered political potential mobilized by La Onda (epitomized by the outdoor rock festival, Avándaro, held in September 1971). With little warning, the government shuttered Piedra Rodante as part of a broader suppression of La Onda throughout the culture industry. Absent a missing issue 0, this fully digitized collection of issues 1–8 is the only complete set available to the public.
The Drug Trade in Mexico
The drug trade in Mexico and efforts by the Mexican government—often with United States assistance—to control the cultivation, sale, and use of narcotics are largely 20th-century phenomena. Over time, U.S. drug control policies have played a large role in the scope and longevity of Mexico’s drug trade. Many argue that these policies—guided by the U.S.-led global war on drugs—have been fruitless in Mexico, and are at least partially responsible for the violence and instability seen there in the early twentieth century. A producer of Cannabis sativa and the opium poppy, Mexico emerged as a critical place of drug supply following World War II, even though domestic drug use in Mexico has remained low. Since the 1960s and 1970s, the drug trade in Mexico has reached epic proportions due to drug demand emanating from the United States. Mexico’s cultivation of psychoactive raw materials and its prime location—connecting North America with Central America and the Caribbean and sharing a 2,000-mile-long border with the United States—have made it an ideal transit point for narcotics originating from other parts of the Western Hemisphere and the world. Although Mexico implemented a smaller, less organized antidrug campaign in the late 1940s, the inauguration of the global war on drugs in 1971 represents a distinctive shift in its drug control and enforcement policies. The government began utilizing U.S. supply-control models, advice, and aid to decrease the cultivation of drugs inside the country. America’s fight against drug trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s shifted the geographic locus of the drug trade to Mexico by the early 2000s. Mexico’s powerful drug cartels proved more than capable of eluding (sometimes colluding with) the Mexican government’s efforts against them in the first decade of the 21st century during the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006–2012). Calderón’s fight against the cartels brought about a drug war in Mexico, characterized by widespread violence, instability, and an estimated death toll of more than 70,000 people.
Digital Resources: Massacres and the Evolution of the Colombian War
Since 1982 there have been at least 2,000 massacres in Colombia committed by different illegal groups and by members of the Colombian army and police. The development of the conflict in Colombia has a direct relation with the causes and consequences of these crimes, perpetrated in most cases by paramilitary armies, associated to varying degrees with the cocaine trade. Paramilitary groups were a counterinsurgency force organized by the State, or independent, and supported economically by drug cartels and some landowners and businessmen. Although guerrilla armies, insurgency, and communist groups created mostly in the 1960s perpetrated several massacres, these crimes were systematically used primarily by paramilitary groups to terrorize people in places where they had a particular interest, such as drug trafficking or vying for political power. In its book ¡Basta ya!, the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica has documented that 59% of the massacres were committed by paramilitary groups and 17% by guerrillas. Rutas del Conflicto is a project created by journalists that marks the evolution of these groups through more than 30 years of war. Using mapping and timeline tools developed especially for the project, it has documented more than 700 of these crimes, displaying the degree to which the tragedy has affected the lives of millions of people in Colombia.