Points Interview—Helena Barop, Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979

Editor’s Note: Today, we’re pleased to interview Dr. Helena Barop about her new book , Mohnblumenkriege. Die globale Drogenpolitik der USA 1950-1979—or Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979. Dr. Barop recently received her PhD from the University of Freiburg.

Please tell readers a little but about yourself:

My name is Helena Barop, and in 2020 I received my PhD in history from the University of Freiburg. I am living in Freiburg with my husband and two little kids and working as a freelance publicist. Just a few weeks ago I published my dissertation as a book, titled Mohnblumenkriege. Die globale Drogenpolitik der USA 1950-1979—which roughly translates to Poppy Wars: US Global Drug Policies, 1950–1979. My book is based on research conducted in Washington, DC, New York City, and at the United Nations Archives in Vienna. As a student of American drug policy, I have been watching the field from the side lines with some intensity. Now that my book is out, I would like to introduce it to the drug history community—even though it’s in German.

Barop Title Card

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“Blah Blah Blah”: The Fallacy of United Nations Drug Summits

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Blah Blah Blah” was the conclusion of environmental activist Greta Thunberg after the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As Thunberg’s response indicates, thirty years of constructive climate dialogue has resulted in few changes—just the kicking of the status-quo can down the road—even though twenty eight climate summits since 1995 have spent billions of dollars on travel, salaries, marketing, public relations, lobbying and other resources. All of this with little to show. Dreams drowned in “empty words and promises” and no concrete results, as Thunberg said.

The same lack of progress could be said about the United Nations and its conferences about drug control. Instead of using children and young adults for their propaganda machine, though, they exploit the victims of the illicit drug trade in developing countries to advance their anti-drug rhetoric and empty promises.

UN 1965 opium tracking
At the laboratory of the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Secretariat, located in Geneva, Dr. Olav Braenden (Norway), Chief of the Laboratory (left), and Mrs. Jane Beck (United Kingdom), indicate the regions where opium is produced in 1965. Image courtesy of the United Nations. UN Photo/PP, (Unique identifier: UN7632427).

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Personal Reflection about a World on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Cocaineweb
Cocaine. Image courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr.

Growing up in Colombia during the 1970s and early 1980s was an eye-opening experience. As a teenager living through the daily tensions of a country in constant social turmoil and violence, the thought of worrying or even thinking about marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, and their impact on the world was irrelevant. Illicit drugs and awareness campaigns were not part of the country’s social, health, or educational policies. The internal use of drugs, from my perspective at the time, was almost nonexistent. This was a problem of the marginalized and the homeless—at least that is what my Grandmother used to say. The real problems were poverty, political violence, and corruption. I quickly learned in the mid-1980s, though, when I started to travel to the United States in order to live with my Dad in Brownsville, Texas, that Colombia’s internal social, political, and economic problems (not to mention environmental problems, which I did not think about back then) were mostly repercussions of the US War on Drugs.

I vividly remember a trip to the United States when I was just 14-years old. Soon after landing at the Miami airport, I was asked by the immigration officer to step aside and follow the other officers who, out of nowhere, appeared next to me to accompany me to another section of the baggage claim area where they opened my suitcase, searched me, and questioned me about bringing in drugs into the country. The stigma of having a US passport that says that I was born in Colombia still haunts me today—and perhaps will for the rest of my life. Since then, I have been stripped and deep-searched by US customs and Colombian customs officers on so many occasions that I have built some sort of travel paranoia.

The recurring experiences of being targeted and psychologically abused while traveling inspired me to constantly reflect on the local and global impacts of illicit drugs and, more particularly, on the social, cultural, economic, and political constructs that have resulted from the American War on Drugs. My overarching conclusion when it comes to illicit drugs is that American and other Western societies are hypocritical when facing the impacts of their own addictions and relationships to drugs. With the blessing of their governments, Western societies have lived, continue to live, and will live under a social construct that advances the idea that the problem with drugs is foreign and external. When in reality, the problem is deeply rooted in Western culture itself.

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SHAD Interview: “The Monopoly Option: Obsolescent or a ‘Best Buy’ in Alcohol and Other Drug Control?” with Robin Room

Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Robin Room, Distinguished Professor at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia). You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Dr. Robin Room

I’m an Australian, now back in Australia for 15 years, but I spent more than 30 years in the US and 7 years each in Canada and Sweden along the way. I still work—primarily at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Melbourne. But I also have a fractional appointment at the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at Stockholm University. 

I’m a sociologist by trade, who has mostly worked on alcohol, drugs, and gambling, using both quantitative data (population surveys, and social and health agency records and statistics) and qualitative data (documents, etc.) I’ve always been interested in history, although I’ve had very little formal historical training. My long-ago dissertation was about governing images of alcohol and drug problems. Among other things, this involved looking at the rise of the concept of alcoholism as a way that the US “alcoholism movement” could talk about alcohol problems in American society in the wake of two generations of middle-class youth rebellions against temperance and prohibition.

Given my background and trajectory, I have always been interested in cross-cultural comparisons, and I was a member of the founding generation of the Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol, the main international society in its field…. You can find a vita and quite a lot of my stuff at www.robinroom.net

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

 As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, I switched from English literature to sociology, and I had to take a one-year course in survey research methods (survey research was going to turn sociology into a “Real Science”!). On the strength of that course, I got a two-month summer job on the California Drinking Practices Study, which had been funded to look at drinking practices in the general population—sociologists had convinced the US government of the importance of looking beyond alcoholics to understand problems with alcohol in the US. And I stayed on in the field after that.

Alcohol studies is an interesting area, because drinking and alcohol reaches into so many different fields—biology, tourism research, criminology, literary studies, international law, traffic engineering, history—you name it, there’s an alcohol aspect to it, which can be interesting to study. But alcohol is pretty peripheral to any particular academic discipline, and, for that matter, any profession, so the leaders in the discipline or profession won’t get too upset about an outsider messing around in “their” territory.

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Editorial transition at Contemporary Drug Problems

CDP changes hands this month. Kate Seear, author of Law, Drugs and the Making of Addiction: Just Habits (Routledge, 2020), and kylie valentine, Deputy Director of the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and author with Suzanne Fraser of Substance and substitution: methadone subjects in liberal society (Palgrave, 2008) step into new roles as co-editors.

Following upon the editorship of Robin Room, the journal has been edited for the past decade by David Moore. The new co-editors served as associate editors and they recall, We have strong (and fond!) memories of reading articles in CDP that discuss pleasure, solidarity, and new possibilities; as well as articles that focus our anger and concern for systemic inequality and worldwide injustices experienced by people who use drugs. We think CDP is also a unique journal, given its concern for theoretical and empirical work, and will maintain those elements of the journal’s focus.  

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Points Interview: “Sacred Places, Sacred Plants, and Sacred People: Carving Out an Indigenous Right amid the Drug Wars,” with Alexander Dawson

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Alexander Dawson. Dawson holds a PhD in Latin American History from SUNY Stony Brook, and is an Associate Professor of History …

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Points Interview: “The History of Inhalant Use in Mexico City, 1960–1980” with Sarah Beckhart

Editor’s Note:We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Sarah Beckhart, a doctoral candidate in the history department at Columbia University. For a short while, you can read Beckhart’s article for free here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 7.19.02 PMI was born and raised in Mexico City and lived there until I left for college. When I got to college, I felt I was always missing Mexico. I took a Latin American history class to feel closer to home. I also thought that I already knew everything about Latin America, and so the class would afford me an easy A. I was wrong. I realized I wanted to learn more about Mexico and Latin America. I have followed that passion and will soon be graduating with a PhD in History that focuses on Latin America from Columbia University in the Fall. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

It was an archival accident.  I was in Mexico City doing preliminary research on what was going to be a dissertation on urban history in Mexico City in the 1960s and 1970s. In the archives I came across boxes full of files on drug use among Mexican minors in this period. I was surprised that there was so much concern on behalf of Mexican authorities for Mexican drug use and I wanted to know more. Of course, the reality of my country also made me more interested in understanding how domestic drug use shaped Mexico’s current drug policy. 

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Points Interview: “Taking the War on Drugs Down South: The Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico (1973–1980),” with Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart. Ricart is an assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and a postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in International Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. His research has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Global Governance, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Historia Mexicana, Foro Internacional, Frontera Norte, Contextualizaciones Latinoamericanas, Kriminologisches Journal and others. His forthcoming book (Penguin Random House) explores the activities of US drug law enforcement agents in Mexico.

You can see Ricart’s article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-03 at 2.26.59 PM
Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

I was born in Mexico City in 1987. I am currently assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and have been working as postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford for the last three years. I hold a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in international Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. 

I consider myself a political scientist with a strong interest in history. While I haven’t had any formal training as an historian, I have been working with archive documents for more than a decade. I also prefer to get involved in historical discussions rather than in finding statistical significance in regression models. And I prefer drinking beer with historians rather than political scientists.

Having said that, I am a fervent follower of the idea of placing politics in time described by Paul Pierson. I believe that the Historic Turn in Social Science should mean not only the “study of the past” or the “hunt for illustrative material” but the “exploration of the temporal dimension of social processes”. This exploration can’t be done without some degree of political science theory. In that sense, I am happy to balance on the line between politics and history. 

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