Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug

Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug

Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug

Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug


Illuminating a hidden and fascinating chapter in the history of globalization, Paul Gootenberg chronicles the rise of one of the most spectacular and now illegal Latin American exports: cocaine.

Gootenberg traces cocaine's history from its origins as a medical commodity in the nineteenth century to its repression during the early twentieth century and its dramatic reemergence as an illicit good after World War II. Connecting the story of the drug's transformations is a host of people, products, and processes: Sigmund Freud, Coca-Cola, and Pablo Escobar all make appearances, exemplifying the global influences that have shaped the history of cocaine. But Gootenberg decenters the familiar story to uncover the roles played by hitherto obscure but vital Andean actors as well- for example, the Peruvian pharmacist who developed the techniques for refining cocaine on an industrial scale and the creators of the original drug-smuggling networks that decades later would be taken over by Colombian traffickers.

Andean Cocaine proves indispensable to understanding one of the most vexing social dilemmas of the late twentieth-century Americas: the American cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and, in its wake, the seemingly endless U. S. drug war in the Andes.


Pharmacist Alfredo Bignon was burning the midnight oil in the backroom laboratory of his Droguería y Botica Francesa, just around the corner from Lima's main Plaza de Armas. Once more, he went over in his head his hardwon new formula for making cocaine. Tomorrow, the thirteenth of March 1885, he would present his findings at the Academia Libre de Medicina de Lima, where a distinguished panel of Peruvian doctors and chemists would judge his innovation in a ten-page official informe. Bignon felt satisfied. Using simple precipitation methods and local ingredients — fresh-grown Andean coca leaf, kerosene, soda ash — he was able to produce a chemically active “crude” cocaine in “an easy and economic preparation in the same place as coca cultivation”: at home in Peru. This would surely bring him scientific glory, if not riches — a dream he shared with the young Sigmund Freud, who was working on his own “cocaine papers” in far-off Vienna at precisely the same time. It would help his adopted country meet the skyrocketing world demand for cocaine exports, satisfying the commercial interest recently unleashed by news of the drug's miraculous power as a local anesthetic. It was precisely what respected European drug firms like Merck of Darmstadt wanted. For Bignon, this was just the first of a dozen original experiments with the new drug he would report in prestigious Lima, Parisian, and New York medical journals over the next few years. Turning the humble Indian coca leaf into modern cocaine was to be, Bignon imagined, one of Peru's heroic national endeavors.

Exactly seventy-four years later, on the streets of New York City, another enterprising Peruvian named Eduardo Balarezo was making cocaine history . . .

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