Pre-Colombia Era of Drug Trafficking in the Americas: Andean Cocaine, 1947-1973

This forum was aimed at addressing the issue of drugs trafficking in the United States and how this trend has been evolving over the years. The speaker Paul Gootenburg is a lecturer in the State University of New York and a former Rhode’s scholar. He is a specialist in Latin American history and sociology ad in addition to this, he is also recognized globally for his contribution in the development of the Peruvian history especially in relation to drugs. In his speech, he addressed the relationship between U.S and the republic of Andean.

He classified the historical drug expansion eras into three arcs which include; “the transition period from coca to cocaine (1860 – 1910), the retreat in cocaine period (1910 – 1940) and the transition from global prohibition to Illicit cocaine (1940 – 1970)” (Gootenburg 13).

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In the first age which saw the transformation of coca into cocaine, this plant was being grow in the Andean highlands as a herbal plant valued for its medicinal properties. Over this period however, many other countries discovered this crop and started to grow it, as it was considered to be one of the most profitable cash crops of that time. Cocaine is a product of the crystallization of the coca leaves.

This product was primarily used as an alkaloid, and the United States was the largest consumer in the 1900’s. People who used to do a lot of brain work were always encouraged to use coca as it had been scientifically proven to reduce pressure in the brain. This product was even used in the production of coca cola, a soft drink that gained popularity all over the world.

Cocaine was also highly valued by surgeons as an anesthesia, and it was mainly used in the “delicate and painful operations such as the eye surgery” (Gootenburg 16). This product was however misused, and its transformation from the useful drug to illicit drug began between 1910 and 1920.

In the second era, a great storm came up which involved a debate on the useful and recreational uses of cocaine against the criminal misuse of the same. This is the period when anti cocaine movements came up in the United States, and this was brought about by the increase in the awareness of the physical and emotional dangers caused by the product.

Gootenburg blamed this also “to the rise of revolutionary markets and deviant cultures of pleasure seeking nonmedical cocaine use” (Gootenburg 20). Besides this, most people started relating it to racism an example of this being whereby the blacks were believed to be destructive under the influence of cocaine. People who had been using cocaine before realized that they has development a dependency on the commodity and to prevent more addicts from coming up, statutes were passed against the use of cocaine.

Coca growing was also prohibited and an individual was required to have a license if they were to grow this plant, and still the quantity would be restricted. This led to the period where cocaine was considered as an illicit drug in most parts of the world.

This was the third era in the history of cocaine where this commodity was considered as an illicit drug. The United States utilized its popularity to spread the word over the continents on the dangers of cocaine and as a result of this, being in possession of cocaine became a criminal offense.

During and after the Second World War, cocaine exportation and importation became a bit difficult owing to the high security details in the entry points introduced in most of the countries. The United Nations established an antidrug organization based in New York and which was aimed at spreading and enforcing laws governing the utilization of the illicit drugs.

These laws were not so welcomed in cocaine producing countries such as the Andean republic of Peru but owing to their underdeveloped nature, they were unable to control the super power, United States.

These campaigns did not yield an end the use of cocaine. In fact, they increased its value as an illicit drug and the producing countries started smuggling the commodity to the other parts of the world. It is still unclear as to whether this war on drugs will be won but as per the current developments, the quantity of drugs being smuggled each year is increasing at a very high rate.

Works cited

Gootenburg, Paul. “Between Coca and Cocaine: A century or more of US – Peruvian Drug Paradoxes, 1860 – 1980”, HAHR, 19 (5), pp. 12 – 30


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