[top]History of coca and traditional cultural background
plant and its uses played and still plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture, notably Aymara and Quechua where the coca plant has a very special status linked to diverse ritual symbolism.
Traditional use of coca, and sometimes cultivation, was extended from Argentina as far as Nicaragua and the Caribbean Islands. Use of coca is thought to have originally been limited to the eastern Andes before it was introduced into Inca culture. The coca plant and leaves had a sacred status in pre-conquest cultures, playing a critical role in religious rituals and initiation ceremonies.
There is extensive archeological evidence of coca use and coca leaf "chewing" dating back at least to the sixth century A.D. (Moche period) and of course the subsequent Inca period. Coca leaves were notably buried with the dead, and are often found with Andean mummies. Pottery and votive statues often depict the characteristic cheek bulge of a coca chew, and other artifacts such as figurative coca leaf / lime pouches as well as spatulas for adding alkali to a coca chew were found, made from precious metals. There are also gold representations of coca leaves in special gardens of the Inca in Cuzco.
In the Inca empire, coca use is sometimes said to have been reserved for Inca nobility, as the plant was viewed as having a divine origin and symbolic power -though the existence of a prohibition of coca for the lesser people is not clear. Some evidence suggests that coca cultivation became subject to a state monopoly under the rule of the Topa Inca (1471-1493), and that its use was probably theoretically restricted to nobles and a few favored social classes (court orators, favoured public workers, couriers and messengers, and the army).
Yet this direct link with religious and hierarchical structures also partly explains the ceremonial status still associated with the coca plant today, a status which has survived the invasion of the Spanish conquistadores, prohibition and then social stigmatisation.
A lesser know and document ritual use of coca is the role it plays in Amazonian shamanistic contexts, where coca is used a tool / ally by the shaman healer in his travels to the world of spirits.
In modern Andine native culture, coca leaf offerings are very common, and the coca leaves are referred to as las hojas sagradas, "the sacred leaves." The coca plant’s spirit is anthropomorphized as female figure called Mama Coca. Coca leaves bundles, kintus in Quechua, are a crucial element of sacrificial bundles (along with candy, cigarettes, incense and other items) which are burnt as offerings to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) or Inti (the Sun God). Coca leaves are also read as a form of divination, somewhat similar to the practice of reading tea leaves in other cultures. Coca leaves are also given, and chewed in important social events and ceremonies such as weddings and mournings.
When the Spanish conquistadores seized power, coca was initially banned, as its ritual use and religious symbolism made coca both a symbol of paganism that the Catholic priests were fighting and a bonding element in the social structure that the new colonial rulers were dismantling.
In 1551 the Bishop of Cuzco outlawed coca use, which became punishable by death, because coca was said to be "an evil agent of the Devil". Many other testimonies of the 16th century
associate the coca plant, coca use and ritual, with backwards paganism or devil worship.
Yet the tides turned as the physical benefits of this stimulant coca plant were discovered by colonial powers.
As the natives were turned into slaves working in the mines and fields of the colonial landlords, the interest of coca as a stimulant became obvious. Coca allowed workers to work longer, harder, and to eat less due to hunger suppressant qualities. More physical stamina was needed for the slave workers of the silver mines, so coca use was encouraged despite the initial condemnation of the practice by the Catholic church. Spanish King Philip II finally issued a decree recognizing coca use as essential to the well-being of the Andean native workers, but clearly urging missionaries to end its religious use. The Spanish colonial powers are thus believed to have effectively encouraged coca use by an increasing majority of the working population to increase their productivity and resistance to slave-like working conditions, yet is not clear wether this was a deliberately planned effort. Coca came to be cultivated even by the Catholic Church itself, which played an important role in colonial society and commerce. Coca leaves, once a privilege of the ruling class, were thus distributed three or four times a day to the workers during brief rest-breaks.
Since then, coca has been stigmatised, and associated to low-class, rural, native-American culture ( as opposed to the urban higher-class Spaniard descendants or the emerging hybrid mestizo middle class).
Chewing coca was and is still often seen as an uncivilised survivance of a despised pagan / “backwards” native culture, a symbol of rurality or of urban proletarianism. This historical association with slave / low-class poverty and manual labour survives to this day, and is important in understanding the politics of coca.
Europe was first introduced to coca by the returning conquistadores, one of the wonders of the “new world”, in the 16th century, yet only became popular in the 19th century, as interest in coca and its active properties increased. Rather than the use of plain leaves, concentrated extracts were favoured by apothicaries and pharmacists, coca entering western pharmacopea, in the form of fluid extracts, elixirs, and wines, listed as tonics and antidepressants
. The most popular of these preparations were coca wines and syrups.
Full spectrum coca extracts were the first step, yet as science progressed and alkaloid
extraction developped, more and more people became interested in isolating the stimulant agents of coca, and from 1855 onwards European research focused on one of the dominant alkaloids, first named "Erythroxyline" by German chemist Friedrich Gaedcke, then “Cocaine
” by Albert Niemann. Since then, coca is mostly famous and associated, sometimes even confused with cocaine, even though the cocaine alkaloid, if predominant, is but one of the coca plant’s 18 alkaloids.
With the discovery of the extracted cocaine alkaloid, the late 19th and early 20th century saw the explosion of coca cultivation outside of its traditional Andean context, cultivation focusing on cocaine production. It was a coca and cocaine boom, with colonial powers focusing on coca cultivation for intensive cocaine production, trading leaves then transplanting Andean coca specimens in Africa (Cameroon) Asia ( India, Ceylon, Indonesia,Java, Taiwan) and Australia.
In parallel to the research and discovery of extracted cocaine, apothicary and pharmacist's coca wines and syrups had developped into a new trend first in Europe and then North America, coca enriched patent drinks, commercial derivatives of the medicinal coca wines. This new trend was fueled by the new advertising merchandising and techniques of the post-industrial revolution world, and became extremely popular. The two well known brands, one of which still thrives to this day, were french cocawine "Vin Coca Mariani" and the North American coca syrup "Coca-Cola".
Coca’s stimulant qualities became a powerful commercial item, first largely publicized by French businessman Mariani, who had launched “Vin Coca Mariani” with great success, by obtaining mediatic endorsement of the 19th century personalities.
One of Mariani’s American competitors, John Stith Pemberton launched another coca containing drink which finally dominated the market, and exists to this day under the name “Coca-Cola” ( which to this day imports coca leaves as a flavouring agent, but the coca leaves are now decocainised ) . To what extent are the coca leaves fully rid of all the alkaloids present in the leaves is not fully known, as the word “decocainised” implies only that cocaine and cocaine related alkaloids are eliminated. However descriptions of this “decocainisation” process used which can be found ( even though they are of questionable reliability due to the secrecy which surrounds such industrial processes) seems to indicate that all alkaloids might be eliminated. It is also quite unlikely that food and health control organisation would allow a soft drink rich in alkaloids to be sold openly without the cautions associated with “energy drinks” for instance. However, the presence of other coca leaf alkaloids in this soft drink still has to be investigated.
If all of the 19th century coca preparations did include macerated or distilled coca leaves, the descriptions of the relatively moderate quantities used per liter, and of the contrasting stimulating effects described indicate that these effects were either which exaggerated for advertising reasons or point out that these drinks also included a good quantity of the pure extracted alkaloid, cocaine hydrochloride, a practice not uncommon. This is clearly shown by the amounts of extracted cocaine produced and traded from the begining of the 20th century to the 2nd World War, which highlights the popularity of cocaine in western medecine, as an anesthetic, but also hints at the paramedical uses of cocaine, as a general tonic and "cure all". Cocaine containing preparations abounded ( though they were often marketed as "coca" products)
Cocaine hydrochloride, with its much more powerful effects, eventually came to replace coca leaves in most medicinal preparations, as it was more financially viable, and the powder could be easily added to many different supports, syrups of course, but also throat lozenges or suppositories…
In this light, it is very likely that actual "coca wine" vin mariani
contained extracted cocaine, not just a coca extract, as quite a few ( most) of the commercial "coca wines" and syrups ( Pemberton's....) notably did by the end of the 19th century.
This is strongly hinted at by the description of the wine's effects ( wine, and alcohol
, remains a depressant, and coca, even when concentrated, isn't that strong of a stimulant), and also by data such as the supposed "boosting of Vin Mariani's cocaine contents" to 7mg per fluid ounce in order to compete with north-american production-which hints at extracted cocaine, not coca extracts. If Mariani was indeed known to have imported coca leaves, it is also well known that actual extracted cocaine was used in drinks, and there is little reason to think that Mariani's coca wine was more of a cocaine wine than a coca drink, like many others commercial products of the time.
As previously mentioned, cocaine is but one of the alkaloids of coca’s pharmacology which also includes Methylecgonine cinnamate, Benzoylecgonine, Truxilline, Hydroxytropacocaine, Tropacocaine, Ecgonine, Cuscohygrine, Dihydrocuscohygrine, Nicotine
Yet the cocaine alkaloid, and it hydrochloride, then freebase salt, have taken so much importance that many confuse coca and cocaine.
Indeed, since the study and extraction of its alkaloids by European scientists in the 19th century, many see coca *only* as a source of cocaine, and thus as the origin of the medical, social and political issues linked with cocaine use.
It is intersting to note that when coca wines and extracts were part of western medical codexes, neither these drinks nor the tonic extracts were associated with the condition of “cocainism”, vague name given to newly discovered forms of cocaine addiction, which was reserved for cocaine hydrochloride use and users. The somewhat problematic cocaine alkaloid was to overtake and replace coca in western medecine, but also in the minds of the public, leading to a confusion of coca ( the plant, the leaves, the cultural traditions and medicinal application) and cocaine, the extracted alkaloid.
After its isolation and extraction in 1855, the newly discovered cocaine alkaloid played and still plays a role as an anaesthetic in western medicine ( Bonain solution etc), then cocaine replaced coca leaves as a tonic stimulant in diverse pharmaceutical and para-pharmaceutical preparations, cocaine was experimented with as possible anti-depressant in psychiatry, and cure for opiates
addiction, yet all the while also cocaine was quickly gaining fame as a recreational substance. With the recreational uses of cocaine, came the discovery of the substance’s potential health and mental issues, and legislations, followed by international prohibition, and a declared “war on cocaine”, which has focused not only on the problematic substance, cocaine, but also on the coca plant itself, on the leaves, with attempts to eradicate coca cultivation, notably through chemical spraying / fumigation.
The unilateral mode of thinking which associates coca and cocaine dominated until the late 1980’s, when the coca plant started to play a new role in coca-culture countries. As a counterbalance to the violence and political instability linked to illegal cocaine production and trade, coca use was finally promoted by producers, users and then politicians as a cultural tradition and an asset. Coca has become a symbol of native cultural identity, and of resistance to colonial and post-colonial oppression.
From the Peruvian government efforts to promote coca and coca products through the official ENACO, Empresa Nacional de la Coca , the Museum of Coca in La Paz, Bolivia, to the speech actions of political leaders such as Evo Morales, voices started explaining that coca is NOT cocaine, and that legal coca use and production are beneficial, should be encouraged. Coca promotion is a possible political alternative, offering a way out of economic, political and military crisis linked to illicit cocaine production in Latin American countries and tremendously lucrative demand for illicit cocaine in other parts of the world.
[top]International coca cultivation and trade from 1860 to the 1950's
The following section contains extracts and is a direct reference to a paper by Paul Gootenberg, on the geopolitics of the coca trade in the early 20th century :
"the rise and demise of coca
ine, as Licit Global ‘Commodity Chains’, 1860-1950" (Preliminary Paper for a conference on “Latin America and Global Trade” ,Social Science History Institute, Stanford University November 16-17 2001), which is one of the most comprehensive and brilliantly documented works on the subject, as well as the David F. Musto article "International traffic in coca through the early 20th century ( Drug
and Alcohol Dependence 49 (1998) 145–156, Elsevier), a work in progress based on these sources, which will involve an expansion of the data given in these articles. In the meantime, due to the ongoing collaborative wiki editing process work is given as is, including actual extracts.
The major coca cultivation, cocaine production and exportation sites were, from the late 19th to the mid 20th century were Peru, Bolivia, Java and Formosa
from the late 19th through the early 20th century. Up to the 2nd World War, coca was an important crop, legally produced and responsive to market demands.
[top]Peru and Bolivia
Coca bushes are indigenous to the Andean region of South America. A large supply of coca leaves has been produced there for centuries to meet the needs of local people who chew the leaves as a stimulant. In the latter half of the 19th century first leaves and then raw cocaine as well were exported to meet a new foreign demand. After Albert Niemann, a student working in the laboratory of the legendary German chemist Friedrich Wo¨ hler, isolated and named cocaine (1860), interest in the drug gradually accelerated. For example, Angelo Mariani, a Corsican pharmacist, promoted a popular series of coca-containing products. The most famous of these was Vin Mariani, a wine to which coca-leaf extract had been added. The wine was promoted as an all-purpose tonic, equally valuable for children and adults (Helfand, 1988). Similar products appeared: in 1885 J.S. Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, concocted what he called a French Wine Coca, then in 1886 he had the clever idea to use no alcohol, thus creating a temperance drink which he called Coca-Cola. Pure cocaine was available in small and expensive quantities in the early 1880s. Experimentation with cocaine led to new medical and tonic claims that in turn sparked a rising demand for the pure active ingredient. The most dramatic of these developments was Karl Koller’s announcement in 1884 that the drug acted as an excellent anesthetic to the surface of the eye; experimentation with the injection of cocaine near nerves to block pain conduction quickly followed. By 1890 cocaine had fallen in price and this further encouraged therapeutic and casual use (Musto, 1990). All these new uses and new customers for the coca leaf stimulated an international market in coca and Peru and Bolivia were the first sources. Peru’s export market during the period under discussion was never more than a fraction of its total production since traditional demands within the country remained large. For about two decades after the rapid increase in demand during the 1880s exports rose steadily. Problems with the effect of long voyages on the potency of coca leaves led the Merck company, a major producer of cocaine, to process the leaves into raw cocaine in South America and ship that to Germany where it would be purified (Hirschmu¨ ller, 1995). The supply of coca and cocaine from South America eventually declined sharply due to competition from a new source. The South American export market was undercut and almost swept away by a new source of higher grade coca from Java thanks to a highly sophisticated cadre of botanical experts in that Dutch colony.
The Dutch authorities at first refused to develop coca. J.K. Hasskarl, a leading botanical expert advising the colonial government, had urged the introduction of coca plants to Java as early as 1854. The suggestion was rejected both because profit appeared doubtful and because of concern that the indigenous population might take up coca use as had the Peruvians (van der Kemp and Berkhout, 1886). In the 1870s, however, the rise in world demand spurred experimentation with coca plants. Early production difficulties included a low cocaine content in the leaves, but a superior plant was eventually grown and in 1904, Java entered the international coca market with a shipment of 25 000 kg of leaves. Of great significance to the international market, Javanese leaves now contained about 1.5% cocaine, substantially more than the South American product. From Java the leaves were transported chiefly to Amsterdam for further distribution or processing into cocaine. By 1912 these shipments reached 1 000 000 kg, overtaking the Peruvian export market and, with the exception of the First World War years 1914–1918, continuing to surpass it throughout the 1920s. The World War profoundly affected all international trade, especially to and from European countries which had been major importers of coca:cocaine, and consequently Javanese exports tumbled during this period. Cocaine or coca paste does not appear to have been produced in Java for export.
The subject of cocaine and Japan is of interest beyond the history of the early 20th century because it has often been claimed that Japan’s current problem with stimulants is a phenomenon of the World War 2 era, one that the country had avoided prior to the War, (League of Nations, 1929a; Kato, 1990). Japan’s record regarding coca and cocaine is complex. In 1915 a new category was added to its vital statistics, that of illness and death from cocaine. The deaths from 1915 to 1935 recorded under this rubric ranged up to 13 persons annually, almost all of which were described as ‘intentional’ as opposed to ‘accidental’ or ‘forced’ (Naimu Daijin Kanbo Bunshokyoku, 1990).
Early in the century Japan imported cocaine, but after 1917 it was also manufactured domestically from imported coca leaves (League of Nations, 1925). Japan imported large amounts of coca leaves from 1918 until the mid-1920s with the peak in 1921, when 455 000 kg was received from Java alone (League of Nations, 1927). Then Japan began to grow coca in Formosa (Taiwan), an island Japan had obtained from China as a result of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895. In 1926, Formosa was reported to produce 50 000 kg of leaves, rising to 179 000 kg in 1930 and then rather rapidly falling to about 100 000 kg for the rest of the decade (League of Nations, 1928a; 1929b, 1932, 1936, 1942). It should be noted that these figures represent minimum estimates, as Japanese statistics from that period on cocaine production were especially noted for their unreliability. Independent contemporary reports concluded that production was higher (Peake, 1974).
If the deaths from cocaine recorded in Japanese vital statistics reflect domestic consumption, then the gap between medical use (the League estimated for Japan 700 kg annually (League of Nations, 1928b) and total cocaine production (officially reported as high as 4370 kg in 1921 (League of Nations, 1923) may be explained. The accusation that Japan secretly diverted its cocaine to China and other markets such as India was strongly denied by the Japanese government, although hearings held after the Second World War introduced evidence that such was the case (Karch, 1998). If some of the unaccounted-for cocaine was consumed in the nation, as reflected in the statistics of deaths from cocaine, then Japan’s domestic stimulant problem possibly long ante dates World War 2. Clarification of this issue awaits further study of Japanese archives.
[top]Other sites of coca growth
Other European powers also tried production in their colonies but these sites produced no large contributions to the international traffic. The British established plantations on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), but from 1906 to 1911 these produced only an average of 24 000 kg of leaves annually (Walger, 1917). Britain also planted coca in India (Busse, 1898), in Australia, and Germany tried to grow coca in its African colony, Cameroon (Anonymous, 1902), but no other colonial source could match the quality and reliability of the Javanese supply. Yet Japan’s experience with growing coca
on Formosa (Taiwan) is worth a special mention.
[top]Early control of coca and cocaine
Until late in the 19th century chewing coca or ingesting products such as pastilles, tea created from coca leaves and wine infused with coca extract did not cause much concern. At first cocaine seemed to be a wonder drug providing a new and effective local anesthesia as well as mental and physical stimulation. Drs William A. Hammond in America and Sigmund Freud in Europe typified professionals extolling cocaine as an almost totally safe and non-addicting drug. The distribution of pure cocaine that began in the 1880s, however, set off alarms. An increasing number of serious consequences followed widespread use. Fear of cocaine mounted until it was regarded as an extremely dangerous drug (Musto, 1992).
In most nations with a dominant central government, cocaine, like other powerful drugs
, was regulated by a pharmacy or poison law, even if only requiring that the purchaser be known to the pharmacist and perhaps sign a registry. In the USA, with a federal form of government that delegated police powers over medicine to states, legal opposition to cocaine arose first in localities and states. Only later did the federal government stretch the Constitution to its limit through a broad interpretation of Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, which prohibited access to cocaine without a prescription (Musto, 1987).
The US-inspired Hague Opium
Conference of 1911–1912 initiated international control of cocaine. Despite its title, the International Opium Convention (a type of treaty) targeted not only opium, but also morphine
and cocaine. Each signatory nation was required to establish laws that would monitor the domestic manufacture, distribution and sale of cocaine and to endeavor to create export controls so that cocaine would only go to authorized persons in other nations. The USA fulfilled its obligation in 1914 through the Harrison Narcotic Act, making it one of the few nations to put the Convention into effect before World War 1. The world war interfered with further ratification, but the Hague Opium Convention was ingeniously placed into the peace settlement of 1919–1920 upon British initiative. Each nation that ratified the Versailles Treaty (with Germany) and its three sister treaties (with Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, respectively), was required to put into effect the provisions of the Opium Convention. Herein, for example, lies the origin of the British Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. It is doubtful whether Germany, a major manufacturer of pharmaceutical products, would have ratified the Opium Convention had the Versailles Treaty not forced it to. German ratification also may have prompted other states, not party to the Versailles Treaty, to drop their objections to the Convention (Taylor, 1969). The League of Nations assumed responsibility for the Opium Convention in 1920 and continued to do so until handing over responsibility to the United Nations in 1945. In 1924–1925 two conferences on the international drug problem were held in Geneva under the auspices of the League. The USA did not attend the first and walked out of the second, but other nations fashioned a treaty that now included coca leaves as well as cocaine. Among other modifications to the Hague Opium Convention, an international board was established that would receive estimates of need for raw and manufactured products and attempt to persuade the nations to limit this traffic to that needed for medicinal and scientific purposes. The new Geneva Opium Conventions came into effect in September, 1928.
The League of Nations gathered statistics and information on the drug problem and, through publicity and persuasion, sought to affect the actions of member states. As late as 1936 the League was considering a conference on coca leaf production, but decided to postpone it to a future date (Taylor, 1969). In fact, no such conference ever met, perhaps due to the rise in international tensions in the late 1930s.
[top]A coca and cocaine international trade timeline
The years 1860-1910, saw the creation of world commodity networks around coca and cocaine.
Two distinctive commercial chains linked nascent Andean coca to overseas markets, the “Germanic”/European-Andean circuit and the U.S.-Andean circuit.
The second period, 1910-1950, saw mounting political and market constraints on coca and cocaine, in part related to international narcotics
Here, three commodity chains arose which worked to marginalize existing Andean coca/cocaine: a managed U.S. hemispheric network, a Dutch-European colonial network and an imperial Japanese pan-Asian network.
These commodity chains, which crumbled during World War II, were prelude to the illicit cocaine circuits which re-connected the Andes to the outer world by the 1970s.
[top]- - 1860-1910 : making golbal commodities of coca and cocaine - -
With deep roots in Andean culture history, coca did not become an exportable commodity until the
late-nineteenth-century. In the Incan realm, coca was largely a prestige or spiritual substance, with no
explicit exchange value; in the early colonial period, the Spanish partially commercialized coca (after
heated religious debates), establishing montaña (upper Amazonian) plantations for supplying and
stimulating upland mine-workers. By the end of the eighteenth century, coca-“chewing” (it’s not really
masticated) had become a widespread marker of degraded Indian caste. It remains an open question
why coca could not become, like tobacco
or chocolate, one of Europe’s coveted and profitable colonial
Nineteenth-century economic and scientific revolutions sparked renewed interest in and appreciation
for coca, and to its alkaloid cocaine, first isolated in 1860. Many of these signals emanated from abroad
but were met by active responses in the Andes. Much had to change for coca to become a world
commodity: its scientific, medical and ethnic prestige had to rise (in Peru, Bolivia and Europe and
North America), it needed “modern” uses and outlets, new spokesmen and the interest of merchants,
colonizing planters, not to mention labor recruitment, capitalists, shippers, consumers and governments.
To make a complex story short, these all came about quickly after 1850 as European botany and
medicine settled coca’s stimulant power (before debatable), as industrializing societies searched for new
health stimulants (famously developed in Vin Mariani and Coca-Cola) and modern medical marvels
(cocaine as local anesthesia/or panacea after 1885) and as Andean nations desperately sought new
modern export goods (as Peru and Bolivia recovered from the Pacific war).
[top]The Germanic-Andean Connection
Broadly speaking, the first impulse to Andean coca/cocaine production came from “Germanic”-
Europe (and to a lesser extent France and Britain) in the mid-nineteenth century and by 1900 Germany
was the lead scientific and producer interest in cocaine. These influences were felt deeply in Peru (the
largest exporter) and how it organized the initial coca trades.
Interest in coca as a modern stimulant was awakened by the development of German alkaloid
science. Reports of early nineteenth-century travelers Humboldt and later (Swiss) von Tschudi and
Poeppig sparked a race to discover coca’s active principle. Major German chemists (Wohler) requested
bulk samples of fresh coca (extremely rare in Europe) from the late 1850s Austrian Novara scientific
mission, which chemistry student Albert Niemann used in his isolation of “Kokain” in 1860. Austrian
medical-men, most famously Sigmund Freud, played a major early role researching and promoting
cocaine’s medical uses world-wide. Particularly galvanizing was Koller’s 1884 discovery of cocaine’s
local anesthetic properties, revolutionary in the progress of western surgery.5 All of them used scarce
medicinal cocaine hydrochloride made by E. Merck of Darmstadt, based on modest but now regularized
imports of dried Bolivian and Peruvian leaf. European interest in coca had steadily awakened since the
1850s: after 1885, a decade-long coca boom began.
Along with “scientific” alkaloid cocaine, medical, commercial and popular fascination grew with
herbal coca-leaf as well. Felt globally, “coca-mania” was particularly pronounced in France and Britain
(and later even more in the United States) and had distinctive cultural roots and associations (some with
imported Andean accents). In 1863, Angelo Mariani launched his remarkably successful Vin Mariani
coca-Bordeaux wine elixir, which took the world with its sophisticated and arty marketing campaigns.
Between 1863-1885, Mariani became the single largest user of Andean coca and French medical interest
filtered to Peru. British medical-men, both obscure and famous, also focused on coca as a health
stimulant (rather than on German cocaine) and would long defend coca tonics and medicine on their
own therapeutic terms. With the mid-1880s boom, Royal Kew Gardens, which had worked similar
tricks with Amazonian cinchona and rubber, began a crash program of coca research and colonial
botanical experiments in Indian, Ceylon and elsewhere (as did the Dutch, French and even Germans in
German interests, however, and the port of Hamburg, dominated the field.
Merck enjoyed the experience, best Andean connections and product prestige, if in modest quantities (less than
a kilo a year) before 1884. After adoption in surgery, production rose quickly to over 500 kilos annually
in 1890, 1,500 in 1898, and to more than 2,400 kilos by 1902. Merck made about a quarter of world
cocaine and for a decade; it was the firm’s most profitable single product line. Other German firms also
jumped into cocaine, among them, Gehe & Co., Knoll, Riedel, and C.H. Boehringer & Sohn, some with
American branches. The turning point for Merck was 1884-86 (i.e., the start of anesthesia and other
medical uses) when prices and output jumped five and twenty-times respectively. The spike caused a
much-discussed and alarming international “crisis” in coca supply. Merck’s strategy was to encourage
Peruvian suppliers of “crude cocaine” (and likely sent agents to Lima to this end), a semi-processed (80-
90% pure) jungle cocaine-sulfate cake. This shipped far easier and efficiently than dried leaf, and was
processed into medicinal grade cocaine in Germany for Merck’s global distribution network. It also fit
the German cultural-medical preference for “pure” scientific cocaine. By 1900, almost all German
imports—more than 6,000 kilos a year at peak in 1903-5, worth nearly 100,000£--arrived in this form,
superceding coca-leaf. German success in promoting crude cocaine was also a major reason that rival
colonial coca projects (British, Dutch, or the American Rusby coca mission for Parke-Davis) were
largely abandoned by the 1890s.7 Crude cocaine was also too successful: with world production
exceeding 15 metric tons by the early 1900s, medicinal markets became saturated (there was also
modest national cocaine output in England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Russia). Merck soon diversified
into many other lines. As profits and prospects fell, German firms quickly formed a cocaine “syndicate”
(1905--) with monopsonistic buying, cartel-pricing agreements and strong organizational ties with the
German state. By 1910, the European cocaine network was no longer predominantly market-driven.
A decisive factor defining this as a discrete “commodity chain” is how European (largely German)
interests infiltrated and shaped the Peruvian end of things. In the 1860s and 1870s, Peruvian medical and
cultural spokesmen, men such as M.A. Fuentes, Dr. Tomás Moreno y Maiz, Drs. J.C. Ulloa and José de
los Rios, overcame traditional elite prejudices and began to seriously re-evaluate native coca, as a good
and now marketable thing. The enlightened sway of French medicine was felt and indeed the major
post-Pacific war Peruvian worker in the field, the remarkable Alfredo Bignon, was a naturalized French
pharmacist in Lima. But commercial developments—which made Peru the monopoly supplier of world
coca and cocaine by 1900, followed German cues and connections (and some American coca trends). In
a burst of little- known 1884-87 pharmaceutical experiments on cocaine in Lima—a local version of
Freud’s famed “Coca Papers” of the same years—Bignon perfected an original simplified method for
distilling “crude cocaine,” soon promoted by Lima medical circles and by two official Peruvian “Coca
Commissions.” But it was German pharmacists in the capital—men like Meyer and Hafemann-who
quickly established themselves (by 1886) as the main cocaine processors, sending their product on via
German merchant houses (Pruis, Dammert and others) to Hamburg.8 Rumor has it that Boehringer sent
chemists to Lima as early as 1884 for these ends. But it was the dedicated Arnaldo Kitz, a migrant
German merchant to the capital, and commercial agent for Merck, who went further to the source of
supply: the eastern Andes, ancestral homeland of coca. Kitz marched off to isolated Pozuzo
(significantly home to the legendary “lost” Austrian peasant colony from the 1850s) and by 1890
established the region’s first working cocaine factory. Bignon’s became known as the “Kitz’”formula in
producing zones. By 1892, crude cocaine earnings surpassed Peru’s revenue from coca-leaf itself. By
the mid-1890s, Kitz had shifted operations to nearby Huánuco, with its rich montaña (Chinchao-
Derrepente zone) haciendas. For the next sixty years, this district would remain the Andean capital of
cocaine- grade coca, delivering most output to Germany until World War II. Much Peruvian
enthusiasm went into colonizing “industrializing” these montaña coca-lands from 1885-1910, with the
help of a few Croatian immigrant clans, and thousands of migrating peasant workers and sharecroppers.
By 1900, greater Huánuco province was home to about a dozen cocaine manufactories (of about 20
scattered nationally), with the industry soon concentrated and dominated by the flamboyant regional and
national political boss Augusto Durand. These complex local structures of production—particularly of
this central Huánuco region—were oriented and connected over thousands of miles, to German
Around 1901 (according to German consuls), Peru’s legal cocaine zenith, total production peaked at
10,700 kilos of crude cocaine, which required the use of some 160 (metric) tons of raw coca-leaf. Peru
still also exported 610 tons of coca-leaf (more than half of that northern Trujillo coca to the United
States) out of a guestimated national production of 2,100 tons. That is to say the export boom left some
two-thirds of Peruvian coca in traditional Indigenous circuits, much of that grown in the far Cuzqueño
south.9 Together, coca and cocaine were fleetingly Peru’s fifth-highest export earner and continued to
excite the developmental imagination of liberal national elites. Peru’s success here, guided by German
cues, was likely at neighboring Bolivia’s competitive expense, the only other known commercial coca
producer. By 1900, Bolivia had failed to industrialize any of its productive Yungas coca zone (which in
the 1880s had exported to France and the United States) and Bolivian coca exports to modern
commercial uses in the northern hemisphere faded away. But to grasp these Andean circuits roundly we
need to explore another coca commodity chain: the one between the United States and Peru.
[top]The U.S.-Andean Chain
North-American interest in coca and cocaine grew after 1860 (explosively after 1884) but in contrast
to Germany’s scientific cocaine, had a pronounced cultural and political-economic bias towards cocaleaf.
By 1900, Americans were the world’s largest and most avid consumers and boosters of both
substances—seemingly “domesticated” all-American goods. By 1910, however, American thinking and
policies dramatically shifted against both coca and cocaine, and the United States began its long global
campaign to banish both goods. Over the long-term, U.S. attitudes towards coca must be seen in the
larger optic of expanding informal (“core- periphery”?) influence in the Andean region.
North-American fascination with coca leaf, sparked by European curiosity, took on distinctively
American tones. By the 1870s American medical-men, pharmacists, entrepreneurs and hucksters were
actively discovering coca. It was soon among the most widespread additives in popular patent remedies
and tonics, prescribed for a vast range of conditions and ills, real and imagined. Most were related to
“neurasthenia,” the American condition of “nerve exhaustion
” linked to fast-paced modernity and
urbanization. Thus coca began as a “brain-workers” salve though by the 1880s use was spreading across
(or down) the social (and racial) spectrum, including products spiked with pure cocaine instead.10
Pioneering American drug firms, such as Detroit’s Parke-Davis Company, specialized in coca
medicines. Dozens of leading U.S. physicians experimented with, wrote on and debated the benefits of
coca (and later cocaine), though its appeal derived mainly from herbalist or “eclectic” healer tradition,
still a vibrant native alternative to European-style allopathic medicine. The American romance with
coca resounds in Dr. W. Golden Mortimer classic 1901 tome “History of Coca: The Divine Plant of the
Incas” (still a wonderful source on coca) and of course lives on in our national ‘soft-drink” Coca-Cola,
launched in 1886 as a “dry” southern imitation of Mariani’s popular health beverage. By the early
1900s, the United States imported 600-1,000 metric tons of coca annually, mainly for this popular
The United States actively promoted initial Andean coca trades. In 1877, Peru only exported 8,000
kilograms of coca; Bolivia was an early modest supplier too. During the 1884-87 coca scarcity/price
crisis, coca supply debates (including domestic growing schemes) raged in American pharmacy journals.
Parke-Davis sent pioneer ethno-botanist Henry Hurd Rusby—a towering figuring in American
pharmacy—on a legendary coca mission to Bolivia, to scout out new supplies, processing methods and
native coca therapies. The U.S. Navy and Andean Consuls in La Paz and Lima worked to identify and
secure coca supply routes. In the 1890s, U.S. Commercial Attachés in Lima developed contacts with
local cocaine-makers (even Germanic Kitz) and aided Peruvians to upgrade their shipping and leafdrying
practices. Peruvian coca producers responded well to these and to market signals, more than
doubling coca exports during the 1890s. Bolivia, saddled with more tortuous transport and other costs,
gradually dropped out of overseas sales, by 1910 focusing on regional commerce to migrant “chewers”
in Bolivia, Northern Argentina, Chile and even southern Peru.
American pharmaceutical companies and physicians reacted enthusiastically to the 1884 discovery of
cocaine’s anesthetic powers and expanded its gamut of “modern” medical uses (though realizing soon
enough cocaine’s dangers and illicit lures). By the mid-1890s, major firms—among them Parke-Davis,
Schlieffelin, Mallinkrodt, New Jersey Merck—competed vigorously with German suppliers.11 By 1900,
they refined 5-6 metric tons of cocaine, about a third of world supply; total U.S. consumption (i.e.,
including Euro-imports) peaked around 9 tons in 1903, or some two-thirds of total global usage of some
Even tariff politics played their part: high effective tariffs on cocaine, with herbal coca entering free,
strongly favored home production of cocaine from imported leaf.
Peruvian cocaine processors themselves saw this bias. Combined with the American consumer taste for coca, still
expanding with Coca-Cola’s (and countless imitators) spectacular successes after 1900, and proximity
to the Andes (which meant fresher cheaper leaf) the United States never made the German switch to
large-scale imports of Peruvian crude cocaine. Indeed after 1900, U.S. buyers focused increasingly on a
distinctive northern coca-leaf circuit in Peru, of western La Libertad, instead of Huánuco’s Amazonian
cocaine lands or Cuzco’s Indian-leaf zones. Grown under drier conditions, Trujillo-branded leaf was
deemed more flavorful, less alkaloid, best for tonics. La Libertad’s Sacamanca and Otuzco districts
evolved into the long-term supply shed of leaf (after 1903 specially de-cocainized) for Coca-Cola,
organized by regional merchant clans such as the Goicochea’s and Pinillos.12 In short, German and
North-American “chains” developed around different cultural, business and political principles and even
articulated to distinguishable zones and networks within the Andes.
Finally, one should note the first impact of American anti-cocainism. A long story itself—told
elsewhere—growing American fear and loathing of cocaine (and less rationally coca) was the flip-side to
early enthusiasm, the ambivalent love-hate “American disease” (David Musto’s term) of drugs as cureall
and scourge. By 1900, dominant medical and governmental opinion began to turn against licit
coca/cocaine (along with alcohol and narcotics) and spreading “fiend,” racialized or underclass illicit
use.13 By 1915, the United States was the lonely crusader in world anti-cocainism, portraying to begin
with Germany as an evil drug empire. U.S. coca/cocaine controls, legally erected between 1906-1922,
worked many paradoxical effects, some still with us today, such as the prohibition of harmless consumer
coca-leaf. As cocaine demand became regulated and reduced, and an intricate system of coca controls
introduced, the outcome was a high-degree of state-pharmaceuticals cooperation in defining the trade—
and U.S. interests in or against it. Indeed, by the 1920s only two New Jersey firms (nationalized Merck
and Coca-Cola partner Maywood Chemical Works) dealt with coca and cocaine, and the business
assumed a monopoly character. For another thing, U.S. legislation systematized (for control purposes)
the longer American penchant for leaf imports.14 The effect was a cartelized and state-governed coca
chain—in that sense, not so different from the cartelized European chain of cocaine.
[top]Circa 1905-10 : Global Coca Under Pressure
By 1905-10, licit cocaine’s apogee, two coca distinctive commodity chains articulated the Andes, and
increasingly to two differing products and zones within Peru. A pair of revealing documents
of the era
speak eloquently to the far global reach of cocaine after two decades of expansion, and to political
tensions already emerging along its chains. One, from 1909/10, was a detailed memorandum on cocaine
of the British Foreign Office (and official Imperial Institute). It was created at behest of Chinese
officials to inform them about this strange and “pernicious” western drug (which they feared would
swiftly replace their nineteenth-century opium scourge). The memo surveyed the “bodily effects” of the
drug and Peruvian sources of commercial supplies of coca-leaf (and interestingly now Java) as well as
abandoned colonial growing experiments. It laid out Peru’s trade routes: export series of leaf to the
United States (in 1905-6 2,650,141 lbs worth $488,545) and of crude-cocaine to European Hamburg
(6,313 kilos for 108,600£ in 1906). The Imperial Institute version still vaunted the prospects of coca in
colonial Ceylon, strictly for English coca preparations (quickly achieved, for about 24,000 kilos year).
The Foreign Office memo considered the habits of “cocainists” (in American English, “fiends”), its
formal ban in China, the new home “Poisons” Acts and their ramifications in the Colonies (Britain
already had a cocaine problem of sorts in India). To the British, this was a global drug with an
ambiguous future.15 The second documents are serial reports of the Peruvian Consul-General in New
York, Eduardo Higginson, as he observed coca trades shift in its principal port of entry over the critical
juncture 1904-12. Besides statistics and business advice for Peruvian suppliers, Higginson gloated in
1904 about the remarkable growth of “refreshing and invigorating soda beverages” in the United States
(offsetting the decried tariff bias against Peru’s cocaine-makers). The coca-leaf business, Peru’s alone,
should continue up. Mid-way in his tenure in 1907 (the same year Finance Minister Garland lauded
cocaine as “the essentially Peruvian industry”) Higginson’s coca reports suddenly turn sour. He notes
mounting new U.S. anti-cocaine sentiment and laws, the sharp drop in New York imports (by some
50%), and calls for Peruvians to form a “trust” to handle this volatile market (something cocaine
magnate Durand was trying to do). By 1912, Higginson’s reports read more like coca’s post-mortem:
relating the bad news of new Asian competition that swiftly dampened Peruvian prospects; Peru’s sole
salvation in this business was to shift itself into fine-grade “elaborated cocaine.” As such documents
tell, not only was cocaine by 1910 a truly global commodity—it was rife with global contradictions.
[top]- - 1910-1950 : divvying-up global coca - -
1910-50 represents cocaine’s declining middle age between the drug’s licit peak and its global post-
1950 (source and end-market) prohibition. From production of more than 15 tons or more in 1905, total
use likely halved by 1930; by 1950 the U.N. set legal world medicinal needs at under 4 metric tons.
Three factors drove this steady fall: a narrowing of medical usage (anesthesia) by substitutes and by
medical opinion; anti-cocaine laws and campaigns by states and international organizations (efforts most
focused on narcotics); and market withdrawal
and diversification of vulnerable producers and coca
planters. As yet, illicit cocaine barely compensated, after a fleeting emergence (from surplus
pharmaceutical stocks) from the teens to early 1920s. The United States, the largest consumer-market,
initiated national restrictions in the 1906 FDA Acts followed by a federal ban (in the 1914 Harrison Act)
and a full import- control system by 1922.16 Less successfully, they also pushed global cocaine controls
at the Hague (Opiates) Conventions of 1912-14 and at successive League-of-Nations’ sponsored Geneva
anti-narcotics Conventions starting in 1924-25.
Rather than vanish, cocaine divided into a trio of more politically-constructed and geographicallydefined
global commodity chains. The first was an unexpected Dutch colonial- mercantilist Java-
European chain, which by 1915 swiftly displaced Peruvian producers. The second was Japan’s statepromoted
and shadowy pan-Asian circuit, launched in the 1920s-30s in response to League and
industrial imperatives. The third chain was the surviving U.S.-Andean nexus: increasingly tied to
corporate privilege (mainly Coca-Cola’s) and drug control (under Harry Anslinger’s FBN), and on the
Peruvian end, dividing into coca and cocaine circuits and nationalist hopes of rescue. This market
encrustation is hardly unexpected for such a now politicized and declining commodity. A global market
of coca and cocaine, built in the prior period, ceased to exist.
[top]1905-1930 : The Dutch Colonial Coca Boom
The speed of the Dutch rise to predominance in world coca and cocaine trades took the world by
surprise, especially the Peruvians, who in 1900 still felt they enjoyed a natural (Incan) birthright to the
global coca market. In 1904 Dutch Java (now of Indonesia) exported only 26 tons of coca leaf; this
soared to 800 in 1912 and a mass industrial supply of 1,700 tons in 1920, to a glutted world market. The
Dutch built an especially productive and integrated industrial cocaine regime, yet it was also dismantled
by decree almost as quickly as it arose.
Dutch scientific-commercial interest in coca dates to the 1850s, but plantings began in the mid-1880s
when such botanical experiments spread among the European colonial powers. One advantage was
accidental: the abnormally high-alkaloid coca-bush Javan planters got from the colonial botanical
gardens at Buitenzorg descended from one strand of Peruvian Erythroxylon novogranatense, originally
from Kew. It contained twice (up to 1.5%) the cocaine content of quality Huánuco leaf but in a tricky to
refine ecgonine crystallized form, practically useless for herbal coca products. Given Peru’s rapid move
into crude cocaine in the 1885-1900 era, not much interest was evinced in Javan coca, though small lots
reached European markets.
After 1900, several factors suddenly focused Dutch interest in coca/cocaine, spurred on by national
botanical specialists like de Jong and Reens. One was establishment in 1900 of Amsterdam’s large
state-bank subsidized “Nederlandsch Cocainefabrieck (NCF), based on copying advanced German
patents for ecgonine-cocaine extraction. The second were steady investments in plantation productivity
and quality. Cheap Chinese field labor, four-crops yearly, economies of scale and technical
rationalization, inter-cropping with colonial rubber and tea projects, all made Javan plantation efficiency
dwarf the haphazard peasant-style coca culture of the Andes. By 1911 they captured a quarter of the
world market, filtered through Amsterdam into a high-margin fully-integrated cocaine industry.
World War I spurred further European reliance on this coca corridor. Dutch industrialgrade
coca also made it to Japan, Belgium, France and even to the United States; in the 1920s,
impressed by its reliable quality, New Jersey Merck acquired its own Javan plantation, which performed
well into the 1930s. Three world “cores”of cocaine now existed: Darmstadt, northern New Jersey and
Amsterdam, with an enlarged NCF the biggest single producer. Together, they dramatically reduced
prospects for Peruvian coca (wiped off of European markets from 1908-15) and crude cocaine (confined
to a now struggling German sector). Peruvian coca/cocaine export values dropped by some 95% by the
1920s. Peruvians watched these developments helplessly, without the time, capital or technical
expertise to respond.
Paradoxically, almost as quickly as it arose the Dutch cocaine network receded. By 1920, Java coca
could basically satisfy full world cocaine demand of 12 tons; prices plummeted and profits zigzagged
throughout the 1920s. The NCF even began making Novocain, cocaine’s latest synthetic substitute.
Price controls emerged to manage the surplus. Assisted by the League of Nations itself (interested
mainly in drug-control formulas) a new formal European cocaine syndicate (no puns on Colombian
“cartels”) was formed in 1924 with eight firms: “The European Convention of Cocaine Producers.” It
included the NCF and the three largest German makers (only domestic French, British, German and
Russian firms stayed apart). At first, this meant more directed purchases from Java but also steadily
declining cocaine quotas. A Dutch national “Association of Coca Producers” also formed, which soon
worked to downsize itself and diversify into alternative crops. In the late 1920s, Dutch production
From 1929-31, the Netherlands, in contradictory political moves, opted to comply fully with the
coca-cocaine export controls of the League’s Geneva Manufacturing limitation agreements
(despite disagreements with U.S. anti-drug strategies and with a
fiscal favoritism for colonial opium farmers). With a tiny home market, NCF output withered to 250-
300 kilos annually.19 Japan’s World War II invasion of Java mortally disrupted the corridor and the
subsequent U.S. occupation led to the (mandated) destruction of remaining coca plantings in Java. It
had been a brief but spectacular political marriage of colonialist state, industry and planter. (And a
reminder today that coca could easily escape the Andes for other tropical realms if enough pressure is
[top]Japanese Imperial Cocaine
The Japanese cocaine network of the 1920s and 1930s is even less known and may have been
spurred by the dramatic Dutch example, as well as a number of intriguing chain-crossings. By the
1930s, Japan was one of the largest producers and purveyors of cocaine to east and south Asia, though
the statistics (and licitness) of this state-sanctioned trade remain clouded in mystery and controversy.
The first Japanese involvements with coca and cocaine were responses to Western initiatives. Jokichi
Takamine, a brilliant Japanese chemist (still know for Adrenaline
) had worked for Parke-Davis in the
1890s, at height of their cocaine age, and brought this expertise back to Japan’s growing Sankyo
Pharmaceuticals, before becoming its vice-president in the late teens. Colonial sugar interests in
Formosa (Taiwan) began investing in coca around the same time, though processors began by
purchasing Java and Peruvian coca (and crude cocaine) until self- sufficiency was achieved in the 1930s.
In 1917, Hoshi Pharmaceuticals actually acquired a major coca tract smack in the middle of Peru’s
Huallaga valley, the Tulumayo property; this was not only a source of coca but likely of knowledge
about the larger business. Other firms obtained Java plantations.20 Another influence were a number of
German pharmaceutical firms, which after 1912 export-controls on cocaine and opiates, began using
Japanese companies for transshipments (especially to forbidden China) from the teens through 1920s.
Given the European cocaine surplus, these transfers became substantial: some years
saw more than 4,000 pounds of cocaine pass through Japan in this semi-licit trade.
Japan’s role, in narcotics in general, has been read in two contrary ways, and international warnings
sounded from the start. In one sense, it fit Japan’s Asian-oriented industrialization process and
expansive trade sphere. Starting during World War I, Japan sought self-sufficiency in the face of trade
disruptions and a close relation of state and large firms was a basic feature of Japanese business.
Pharmaceuticals constituted an important sign of scientific “modernization.” So to Japan, drug exports
were a normal business. Japan—which experienced no domestic drug scare—did not share in novel
western ideals of demarcating “illicit” and “licit” substances (and later of course dropped from the
League). A second view—rooted in U.S. and League concerns of the 1920s and in testimony at the
Tokyo War Crimes trials—considers Japan’s involvement extraordinary or nefarious. It was based on
deliberate deception (to western drug-control bodies) and on militarist or imperialist profiteering in
illicit sales across Asia.21 Without subscribing to conspiracy or Japan-bashing, we can at least conceive
of the Japanese chain as emerging from the shadows of growing League jurisdictions over cocaine. An
increasing autonomous Asian coca-cocaine network appeared from 1920-45.
By 1920, Japan itself produced more than 4,000 lbs. of cocaine, which then doubled to 8,000 by
1922. Officials figures for the 1930s shrunk to just under 2,000 lbs., if considered by
some historians and contemporary League officials as doctored for international consumption. (This is a
hard charge to prove, though Karch has tried by putative estimates of coca-alkaloid capacity.) Exports
across Asia officially dropped to negligible levels, though complaints registered about Japanese firms
and reporting, as well as cases of deliberate smuggling (such as the “Fujitsuru” and “Taiwan Governor”
brand vials in India). Other specialists have noted growing diplomatic cooperation between Japan and
international drug officials, at least until the invasions of Manchuria and China, when opiates became a
major issue. The firms making cocaine and morphine were among Japan’s largest: Hoshi, Sankyo, Koto
and Shiongo Pharmaceuticals, and enjoyed growing links to major trading trusts (such as Mitsui and
Mitsubishi) and to interlocking governmental, colonial and military officials. In 1934, we know that
Taiwan’s Kagi district kept 694 acres under intensive coca cultivation (by Taiwan Shoyaku and Hoshi);
earlier plots on Iowa Jima and Okinawa fall off the record. About 300,000 pounds of Formosan leaf
were harvested annually in the late 1930s. Peruvian imports were officially discontinued in 1938 (in
fact, Peru nationalized Tulumayo, which had a colorful subsequent history of its own).22 By World War
II, the whole pharmaceutical industry, self- sufficient in imperial Japan, came under war-government
jurisdiction. In that sense, if cocaine was indeed marketed for non-medical purposes across occupied
Asia—and the evidence mainly concerns opiates—the state bore responsibility. In any case, Taiwanese
coca was demolished by war and the entire pharmaceutical industry reorganized (without cocaine) under
the U.S. Occupation of Japan in 1945 (its previous practices an explicit charge of U.S. tribunals). A
two- decade autonomous coca sphere abruptly ended.
[top]1910-1950: The U.S.-Andean Chain
Though not self-evident, I maintain that despite such competitors and its relative quantitative decline,
the U.S.-Andean (Peruvian) chain proved the most resilient and significant in the long- term histories of
coca and cocaine. Modern coca/cocaine commodity trades germinated in 1890’s Peru, with the United
States the defining core consumer market; modern U.S. anti- cocaine policies incubated (1910-50s) in
this particular relationship. And in the 1960s-70s, when illicit cocaine took off, the chain that reinvented
itself in this novel form began in eastern Peru and made its way famously to Miami and Hollywood. It is
the historically-loaded chain, even if marked by shrinking licit exchange during most of the twentieth
The aggregate statistics of decline (as seen from Peru) show that coca trades (which went mainly to
the United States) fell from on average 584,000 kilos (over a million lbs) from 1909- 1913 to 242,000
(1919-23) to 128,000 (1929-33), before climbing to the 300-400,000 lb range during World War II (for
emergency Coca-Cola and war uses). Crude cocaine exports, mainly from greater Huánuco, fell from
over 10 metric tons in its peak (1905-6, mainly to Germany) to one ton (i.e., 1000 kilos) in 1927 and a
fluctuating 200-900 kilos throughout the 1930s. By the 1920s, no crude cocaine entered the United
States (strictly prohibited by law) though Peruvians had diversified a bit with a surge of new buyers
from Japan and France. However by the mid- 1930s, a politically-risky Germany was Peru’s sole
remaining cocaine mart. Combined export revenues slumped below 200,000 soles for most of the 1930s.
Because of wobbling downward prices as well, the full fall of coca/cocaine export values from its early
twentieth-century peak was on the order of 95%. It was a painful collapse, especially given the early
national hopes for cocaine. Economically, coca and cocaine remained significant for Peru only in
Looking at those regions provides a sense of the reconfiguration of Peruvian coca/cocaine circuits
(Bolivia’s now were confined entirely to traditional users). The notable fact is that as Peruvian cocaine
came under market and legal adversity it neither “modernized” itself (as some called, into a fullyintegrated
or technologically-upgraded sector) nor converted into illicit trades from the source areas
(which did not appear anywhere until the 1950s).
A major shift was the move of coca-leaf back into the “home market” of traditional users. During the
late 1890s boom, as much as a third of Peruvian coca went into export channels (though I still wonder
about that figure), but by the 1930s-1940s the tradeable was a far smaller share, by most estimates
around 3%. In part, this market involution reflected the steady multiplication of Peru’s rural folk
(Indians) during the twentieth century. Coca for traditional uses went from under 4.8 (thousand) metric
tons in the mid-1920s (i.e., 4.8 million kilos) to 5.4 by 1930 to over 6 by 1940, and onto 8-11 million
kilos by the 1950s. Regionally, this reflected an advancing coca frontier, heralded by national
agronomists, mostly to the newer southern tropical regions (especially Cuzco’s La Convención valley)
close to the indigenous “Mancha India,” which had once taken in Bolivian coca. In the early 1940s, in a
crude guess, one U.S. expert estimated Peru entire leaf crop at 6,840,000 pounds with 6,000,000 used by
the nation’s two million male chewers (females, who certainly did use it, somehow didn’t count). Peru’s
three coca circuits would have been defined as: Northern (La Libertad, largely for export-cola
flavorings) 1,600,000 lbs or 16.5%; Central Area (i.e., greater Huánuco, for crude cocaine and central
regional leaf trades) at 2,240,000 lbs or 33%; and Southern (mostly Cuzco) at 3 million or 47%.
Even the specialists evidently jumbled coca numbers, for example here pounds and kilos 23
In terms of regional networks, northern leaf growers (in Otuzco or Sacamanca districts) remained tied
into the powerful Pinillos export clan, who worked exclusively for Maywood Chemical Company
(Coca-Cola’s agent in the trade), for about two- thirds of all local coca. A few took occasional forays
here into crude cocaine-making. Huánuco’s economic hub remained crude cocaine, however depressed
and technologically backward. Local Chinese merchants plied provincial coca trades to upland Junín
and peasant- driven coca frontiers were opening in Monzón and downstream Tingo María. About 6-10
crude- cocaine workshops, still using Kitz’s 1890s techniques, worked the industry, mainly part-time,
largely on demand. They were led by a new regional magnet, merchant Andrés Avelino Soberón, who
kept close ties to German consigners and lenders but who was always trying to diversify (especially into
the closed U.S. market for cocaine). The southern hot zone of colonizing haciendas was deemed less
strategic, with its low-alkaloid non-export leaf, though here registered the only campaigns to upgrade
coca agricultural practices.
Peruvian politics of coca/cocaine after 1910, treated in detail elsewhere, also connected to
developments at the other end of the chain. Growing world anti-cocainism filtered to Peru, in a great
turnabout around 1905-25, via science, politics and markets. In medical science, the idea of cocaine as a
poisonous or addictive narcotic paradoxically mutated in Peru into growing anti- coca sentiments, coca
as backwards and harmful to development. Combined with prejudice against the country’s Indian
majority, this fueled novel anti-coca hygienics movements by the 1930s; cocaine, paradoxically, was
still considered a modern western good with no local abusers. U.S. and League pressures to restrict
cocaine and coca after 1920 were actively ignored by Peruvian officials, whose main strategy was to
avoid (or drag their feet on) international drug fora.24 In part defending Huánuco interests, officials
sincerely felt that anti-drug campaigns discriminated against Peru. By the mid-1920s, Peruvian health
officials embraced a few modern (i.e., U.S.-style) narcotics controls; only in the mid-1940s did such
regulation turn into police functions, prelude to criminalizing of legal cocaine-making in 1947-49.
Meantime in the 1930s a vociferous counter-movement arose—led by Dr. Carlos Enrique Paz Soldán—to
nationalize and modernize the entire coca/cocaine industry, in a large state monopoly, in outright
resistance to encroaching global constraints on cocaine. One of Peru’s most outspoken national medical
figures, Paz Soldán was appalled by cocaine’s falling fortunes as well as spreading Indian coca use.
The idea, which gathered some support, was for Peru to face the world as the sole
sanctioned exporter of this medicinal necessity. In short, external market and political pressures led to a
schizophrenic and increasingly statist discourse on coca and cocaine. Commodity segmentation worked
in strange ways.
The United States still managed the far end of this hemispheric chain (save for the modest Hamburg
entrepot until the eve of World War II) with controls increasingly sealed around coca and cocaine. The
chief characteristics of the U.S. cocaine network were: specialization in coca chains (and de-cocainized
coca syrup); state-assisted monopolies in cocaine processing; a total (and largely working) prohibition in
the domestic market; and the intensification of global of campaigns against still-licit coca and cocaine
elsewhere. Prohibitions only bore fruit after World War II with the destruction of the three extant chains
(Dutch, Japanese, German) and Peru’s entry into the Allied sphere.
The United States had been the undisputed world capital of coca/cocaine use, and a pioneer in its
popular abuse, and after 1910 worked passionately to reverse that equation. And there is little doubt that
illicit (as well as medicinal) use of cocaine largely dried up in the United States after 1920, though the
reasons remain unclear. Popular coca products became entirely banned and eliminated, with the notable
exception of booming and cocaine-free Coca-Cola. One factor was a “political economy” of cocaine
control that emerged out of the prior North American penchant for coca-leaf and (by 1920) the
concentration of coca handling in two firms, New Jersey Merck and nearby Maywood Chemical.25
Rather than regulate thousands of pharmacists, dentists or physicians at the retail level, the United States
pinched cocaine at the top. By 1920, these two firms had become close intermediaries of the emerging
federal anti-drug bureaucracy (FBN), exchanging intelligence and favors and ensuring that only bulky
supervised coca-leaf entered the port of New York. Every detail of the distillation process—of
“Merchandise No. 5” (Coca- Cola’s secret de-cocainized extract, made by Maywood from Trujillo leaf)
and of Merck’s high- grade medicinal cocaine—were religiously regulated by the FBN. For a time this
system functioned well, hastening the disappearance of illicit cocaine in the 1920s as well as helping to
ensure the monopoly successes of Coca-Cola against competitors (and its monopsony with coca sellers
in Peru). Coke
/Maywood focused exclusively on northern Peru, forging a closed corporate-family
commodity chain with the Pinillos clan; they even won its own Congressional legal status, as “Specialleaf
imports.” As legal and illegal cocaine shrank, and consumer Coca- Cola addiction
special or non-medicinal imports grew to a larger and larger portion of Peruvian shipments (see TABLE
6). By World War II, the United States consumed twice as much coca in beverages (more than 200,000
kilos annually) than was used in making residual medicinal cocaine (less than 1,000 kilos a year). By the
mid-1920s, a diversified Merck, the monopoly U.S. cocaine maker, turned to imported leaf from its own
plantations (in Tjitembong, Java) in effect, building its own in-house state-governed coca-cocaine
commodity chain. Merck looked to Peru only during and after the war; by the mid-1950s, they gave up
making cocaine and simply bought and distributed Maywood’s Coca-Cola cocaine residue. In effect, all
legal American cocaine became a byproduct of the Coca-Cola empire.
American cocaine politics abroad were partly a side-show of more general “anti-Narcotics
diplomacy,” where the United States (with few colonial interests) became the major force behind
erecting and extending a world system of cocaine prohibitions, via ongoing Geneva Conventions of the
League of Nations. The first target were the Germans, then the Japanese and finally an errant Peru and
Bolivia. To some extent this campaign slowly worked, by defining and reducing “legitimate” cocaine
spheres after 1920; it also backfired, for example by spurring the expansive shadow Japanese chain.
Overall, the inter-war era presents a major paradox in drug control: while a multiplicity of global
cocaine chains existed, the United States experienced an idyllic era in terms of cocaine as an active
domestic social problem. Moreover, the United States still exerted little or no limiting control at the
periphery—coca-growing areas—which as early as 1915 American diplomats had voiced as their ultimate
solution. In the 1920s and 1930s, partly to pressure Peru, and partly to back Coca-Cola, U.S. officials
began taking a deep interest in Peruvian coca and cocaine. Their biggest achievement was establishing a
FBN-State Department drug-intelligence web in Peru, facilitated by Maywood and Coca-Cola Company
executives and contacts. Slowly, more North-American notions of modern drug control filtered to Peru,
though (in the forms just noted) the Peruvians (and more so Bolivians) resisted imported anti-coca
strategies.26 Poring over DEA records, one finds scant evidence of direct American meddling in Andean
drug policies prior to World War II (though a lot after). However, in the largest sense the United States
increasingly structured the options available for Peru in this realm (by its ban on cocaine imports, by
slashing world markets and by obstructing national schemes of drug control).
World War II was the definitive turning point here. During the war itself—ever significant for
commodity chains—the United States closed Peruvian participation in the Japanese and German outlets
and Java (occupied by Japan) fell off the map. The American focus fell on Peru just as state-to-state
(Good-Neighbor) ties intensified through the course of the conflict, and afterwards with the advent of
the Cold war. Cocaine became defined strategically along with broader war- time meanings of “licit”
and “contraband” trades, with now collaborating U.S.-Peruvian agents watching all facets of the
network.27 By 1945, even many Peruvian officials saw the need for coca and cocaine restrictions and
commercial prospects for the dying Huánuco industry became unmistakably constricted by post-war
U.S. hegemony. As an anti-coca consensus gathered at the new American-inspired U.N. drug agencies,
exemplified by the well-known 1947 U.N. “Commission of Enquiry into the Problem of Coca-Leaf,”
Peru rushed dramatically in 1947-49 to outlaw cocaine-making and even begin on paper regulating the
Indian coca bush, under the auspices of a new national coca monopoly. Thus in 1950, a commodity
chain born almost a century before, ended—at least in its licit market phase.
[top]Circa 1940 : Global Cocaine Under Pressure
A rich set of documents epitomizes both the global character and Peruvian vector of declining
commercial coca by the 1940s. In 1943 New Jersey Merck sent chemist Emile Pilli on a mission to
scope out the decrepit Peruvian industry, as the war cut off Merck’s Asian leaf supply. His 50- page
monograph “The Coca Industry of Peru” surveys all three of Peru’s coca-growing and cocaine-making
zones—Central, Northern, Southern—in firsthand detail. It was industrial espionage at its best. The firm
coveted at least some of Peru’s 6.6 million pound crop, which Pilli fleshes out in terms of cultivation
culture, uses (coca-chewing an official worry now), exports, labor costs, climate, harvests, drying, sales
and distribution networks. Virtually every leading merchant, hacendado or cocaine-maker is accounted
for, in each regional cluster. If willing to tread on competitor Maywood’s northern territory, Pilli as a
cocaine-maker focused on the rapidly changing situation and post-war prospects in greater Huánuco—
with its severed German and Japanese connections, primitive factories, rising Chinese entrepreneurs and
nascent jungle coca frontier. What would happen after a temporary war-boom? Pilli vied for
“modernization” of commercial links to coca zones and even the U.S.-sanctioned local production of
“pure salts”of cocaine-hydrochlorides.28 (The one thing he did not foresee was illicit cocaine). This
report exudes a businessman’s distance and pragmatism—unlike the suspicion-laden official intelligence
reports of U.S. Commercial attaché William Burdett (who inspected Huánuco’s industry in 1931), the
missionary new Embassy (anti-)“Coca Reports” on the Andes, or the classic romantic coca “boosterism”
of William Reid’s “Commodity of Commerce” pamphlet “Coca: A Plant of the Andes”—which saw its
last printing for “the average reader” in 1938.
This U.S. optic on Peru, rather than on distinctive global coca chains, was indicative of the dramatic
shifts at work during World War II. The last world-wide accounting of coca/cocaine had registered in
the mid-1930s, when the League of Nation’s (with State-Department prodding) attempted to assess the
then-globalized final production of all legal “narcotic drugs.” For cocaine per se, they counted 10 small
export “crude” factories across Peru; Merck and Maywood, naturally, in the depressed U.S. home
market; Amsterdam’s centralized NCF factory (with its gamut of products); 6 diversified German plants
(Boerhinger, Hoffman-La Roche, Knoll, E. Merck, Riedel, Chininfabrik, for Nazis at home and abroad);
4 reported authorized firms in Imperial Japan (domestic and export) plus the Shinei plant of the “Taiwan
Drug Manufacturing Co. Ltd.” making crude and refined cocaine. And internal-market coca alkaloid
lines still existed in such scattered nations as Argentina, Belgium, France (two), Britain, Brazil (for coca
extracts), Poland, Russia, Switzerland (some export) and Czechoslovakia.29 The dream was to build a
formal international regime around all drug “Manufacturing”—managing from these heights the
progressive extinction of medicinal cocaine before eradicating the coca-fields at the other end of the
chains in the Andes, Java and Taiwan. It never happened: the dislocation and destruction of these
commodity chains in the war, and the rise of a novel illicit one in the decade to follow, doomed hopes
for ending cocaine.
[top]- - 1950-2000: illicit cocaine chains - -
Demise as a modern global drug between 1860 and 1950. These were not just inter- connected
markets of supply and demand, but institutionalized channels for the flow of science and medicine,
political ideas and influences, and varied attempts at monopoly and drug control. They were segmented
by changing cultural tastes for coca-cocaine and by shifting colonial and neo-colonial spheres. They
reflected varied levels and forms of (often core-periphery) power as well, between motley unequal
actors and relationships involved in the growing, processing, marketing, regulation and use and misuse
of these substances.30 In many ways, over the long run these commodity chains (and the tensions along
and between them) helped construct the initial nineteenth-century “legitimacy” of coca and cocaine, and
in reverse, structured their progressive criminality over the twentieth century.
Since 1950, in some sense, commodity chains of coca and cocaine have become both a more and less
“market”-driven phenomena, and may indeed reflect, as some cynics have suggested, the “revenge” of
the coca periphery. This era is the transnational stuff of covert police records and drug-culture legends
(most recently in Hollywood’s Traffic and Blow). After 1950, Andean cocaine, outlawed by authorities
everywhere, escaped all state regulation and carved out its own underground niches and chains, invoking
a cast of now criminalized actors. Clearly (except to politically-blinded DEA types) it was government
and international prohibitions that pushed cocaine so radically into “free” and illicit markets. One
intriguing plot of the story is that once illegal, Cold-war circuits of illicit cocaine basically reverted to
their original geographic spaces in the eastern Amazon and to their long links with the United States.
One clue is that 1970s jungle “pasta básica” of cocaine was still basically Kitz’s 1890s “crude cocaine”
sulfates, now forwarded to outside criminal refiners in Colombia rather than onto Merck in Darmstadt.
A few of the experienced specialists of the Huánuco industry became pioneers in illicit cocaine, which
had barely existed before. Through newly-declassified DEA/FBN archives, one can trace such
developments back to 1950, to precisely where legal cocaine ends.31 Cocaine then follows a sinuous
path between 1950s-1960s Peru and Bolivia, marked by intensifying struggles between U.S. drug agents
and Andean peasants and would-be entrepreneurs, the pioneering and regularizing of smuggling and
transshipment routes through Chile, Cuba, Panama and Mexico, and the taste-testing of incipient coke
markets in Havana and New York. An underground culture and chain of illicit cocaine was constructed
between 1950 and 1970, well before the deluge of the 1970s. It becomes a visible historical chain
through intelligence records and via mounting quantities of Peruvian “coke” seized at U.S. borders
starting in the late 1950s. It was pushed into being by the repressive policies of the United States itself.
After 1970, cocaine flooded in to replace the market niches carved out by speed, heroin and
marihuana, products of the 1960s “drug culture,” all under pressure in Nixon’s novel war on drugs.
“Coke” arises here with elite (Hollywood, rock-star) connoisseurs, who broadly publicized their new
gourmet “soft” drug. New Colombians of Medellín (well-located seasoned entrepreneurs with a weak
state) soon emerged as the best-placed middlemen in this trade, refining and passing on with spectacular
mark-ups Peruvian and Bolivian product to a diaspora of far-flung Colombians in Miami and New York.
As American cocaine suppression heated up after 1980, huge new retail markets were discovered
(“middle America,” ghetto “crack
,” Dominican gangs) and coca frontiers for illicit export spread
massively into the deep jungle recesses of the Huallaga and Bolivia’s Chaparé. By the early 1990s,
illicit cocaine enveloped a productive capacity estimated in the range of 1,000 metric tons (with literally
hundreds of thousands of employees, workers, peasants, guards, money launderers, corrupted officials,
smugglers and street dealers along the chain, and revenues ranging from $50-100 billion annually). This
was some 100-times greater than Peru’s peak legal output around 1900.32 Further crackdowns by the
United States (the Reagan-Bush “drug wars”) led to spirals of illicit production and violence, and further
price drops, exactly the opposite of U.S. aims. The chains shifted too: the famed mid-1980s rerouting
from Medellín-Miami to Cali-northern Mexico, obeyed some basic laws of drug repression and
commodity chains. The latest stage, which has pushed coca largely out of eastern Peru and Bolivia into
southern Columbia itself, and transshipment from Mexico to fresh Caribbean sites, has not yet played
itself out, especially given the concentrating U.S. war on Colombian coca (and now) heroin. New links
are being forged as we write through Brazil and Africa and onto Europe and fragments of the ex-Soviet
empire. Let’s hope cocaine—goaded on by foolhardy drug policies—doesn’t end up replicating the
geography of early twentieth-century commodity coca, globalized to exotic places like Indonesia,
Taiwan, West Africa—indeed, anywhere the helicopters and herbicides can’t yet reach.
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