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Hispanic American Historical Review 83.1 (2003) 119-150

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Between Coca and Cocaine:
A Century or More of U.S.-Peruvian Drug Paradoxes, 1860-1980

Paul Gootenberg

Cocaine has a long and mostly forgotten history, which more often than not over the past century has revolved around relationships between the United States and the Andean republic of Peru. 1 This essay examines that U.S.-Peruvian axis, through three long historical arcs or processes that preceded—and in some sense inform—the hemispheric "drug wars" of the past twenty years. For each stage, I will focus on the changing U.S. influences, signals, or designs around Andean coca and cocaine, the global contexts and competing cocaine circuits that mediated those transnational forces and flows, and the notably dynamic Peruvian responses to North American drug challenges. Each period left its legacies, and paradoxes, for cocaine's progressive definition as a global, illicit, and menacing drug.

This is mainly a synthetic essay, trying to make sense of a vast body of new research in international archives—but the history of drugs also makes fertile [End Page 119] ground for trying new methods or approaches from the historical social sciences. Two approaches are worth mentioning here. First, this essay draws on the "new international history," which is working to overcome traditional academic dichotomies between domestic and foreign actors, dominant and dependent geographies of power, and between cultural and economic dimensions of transnational events and relationships. I thus hope to go behind and beyond standard diplomatic history narratives of "drug control." Second, this essay shares broadly in what can be termed a political or social "constructionist" view of drug regimes, an approach with long roots in the field of drug studies. Not only official drug policies but our basic attitudes towards drugs (friend or foe, legal or illicit, domesticated or foreign), their variable social uses and bodily effects, and shifting patterns of supply and demand, are to a good degree historically created, conditioned, and changeable. Drug history, including that of cocaine, is about our protean social relationships to mind-altering substances, more than any rigid dictates of biochemistry or current morality. 2

The three phases explored in this cocaine genealogy are: (1) 1860-1910, an initial period that saw the promotion of hemispheric coca and cocaine networks and cooperation between the United States and Peru in making cocaine into a modern and global medical commodity; (2) 1910-40, which constituted an era of transition in which the United States reversed itself and launched a domestic and worldwide crusade to banish the drug, while Peru exhibited greater autonomy, ambivalence, and cultural crisis towards its national coca and cocaine; and (3) 1940-80, when contemporary cocaine "prohibitions" came to fruition and a global reach, accompanied by a high degree of U.S.-Peruvian collaboration. But this final period and process also witnessed the creation of illicit international networks of the drug; with them, as we also see, were born the persisting and paradox-laden North American drug dilemmas of the late twentieth century. [End Page 120]

From Coca to Commodity Cocaine

The half-century from 1860 to 1910 witnessed the erection of legal coca and cocaine networks linking the Andes to the United States and Europe. This era saw coca transformed from an exotic botanical rarity (in the West) and traditional indigenous herb (in the Andean highlands) into a modern global commodity and a staple of late-nineteenth-century medicine and culture. Yet by 1910, both cocaine and coca had become controversial and contested commodities, and the U.S.-Peruvian coca connection was riven with contradictions.

Cocaine, first crystallized from Peruvian coca leaf by 1860, was widely regarded as the modern miracle alkaloid of the late nineteenth century. By 1900, the United States had emerged as the world's largest consumer and promoter of coca and cocaine for a range of medical and popular uses. Coca leaf spread first, inspired by luxurious French wine tonics (such as Vin Mariani) and a growing public and scientific confidence...


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pp. 119-150
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Archived 2004
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