A Chronology of Drugs

Editor’s Note: During her career as a Professor of History, specialising in 20th century Latin America and the war on drugs, Myrna Santiago compiled a chronology of drugs. This contains a log of key dates throughout the history of drugs. We’re incredibly grateful that Myrna has offered to share her chronology within this blog post and will remain part of our Teaching Points collection. I’ll defer to Myrna to explain the rest…

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CFP ADHS 2022—”Rethinking Alcohol and Drugs: Global Transformations / Local Practices in History”

The Alcohol and Drugs History Society is pleased to release its call for papers for the 2022 biennial ADHS conference, currently scheduled for June 15–17 in Mexico City. The 2022 conference theme will be “Rethinking Alcohol and Drugs: Global Transformations / Local Practices in History.”

The conference will be a collaboration between the ADHS and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México-Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (IIS-UNAM). ADHS hopes that this conference will be an in-person event, but please stayed tuned for more details in early 2022.

Descubrimiento del pulque
José María Obregón, El descubrimiento del pulque, 1869. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Unidad, Servicio y Recuperación: Twelve-Step Recovery in Civil War Guatemala, Part II

Editor’s Note: Today we finish our two-part series from Dr. Heather Vrana on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous in Latin America. Check out the first part here. You can find out more about Dr. Vrana and her work here

Treatments tell us about more than scientific understandings of ailments. They also reveal cultural and social beliefs. Injections of strychnine and insulin characterized treatment for alcoholism, addiction, and their related manias for about six decades from the late 1800s into the mid-20th century in Latin America. Incarcerated in a logic of addiction as disease, treatment was individual and invasive. Then, the twelve-step method—the 1960 Prensa Libre article called it the “gregarious exercise”—took over. Suddenly alcoholics and addicts could help one another without the risks and costs of hospitalization. While the civil war raged outside the doors, recovering alcoholics and addicts recited the Oración de la Serenidad.

One of the most intriguing, yet largely ignored, legacies of the civil war in Guatemala is the proliferation of twelve-step recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Neurotics Anonymous (N/A) in every department, city, pueblo, and aldea. The previous blog post discussed the arrival of AA to Guatemala. This post addresses NA and N/A and how their proliferation fit within the nation’s complex and violent civil war. 

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Unidad, Servicio y Recuperación: Twelve-Step Recovery in Civil War Guatemala, Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Heather Vrana. Vrana (Ph.D. Indiana University, 2013) is Associate Professor of Modern Latin America in the Department of History at the University of Florida. Vrana’s research interests include disability, social movements, human rights, photography, and youth and student movements in Central America. She is author of the monograph This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala (University of California Press, 2017) and the anthology Anti-colonial Texts from Central American Student Movements 1929-1983 (Edinburgh University Press, 2017). She is co-editor with Julie Gibbings of Out of the Shadow: Revisiting the Revolution from Post-Peace Guatemala (University of Texas Press, 2020). Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Genocide Research, the Radical History Review, and elsewhere. Vrana has conducted archival and oral history research in Central America since 2007, focusing first on Guatemala, then on Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Today’s post is the first of a two-part series on AA in Latin America; the second part will run on Thursday. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its sister fellowship Narcotics Anonymous (NA) arrived in Central America during the region’s nearly four-decade crucible of civil war. Incredibly, at a time when gathering in private was suspicious, if not explicitly forbidden (by countless states of emergency, curfews, and skirmishes), anonymous alcoholics and addicts met in homes and rented rooms most nights of the week. In their move to Central America, very little changed in the texts and practices of the fellowships. The literature and spoken rituals (like the Serenity Prayer, or Oración de la Serenidad) of group meetings were direct translations from the English-language texts. But the mid-1990s saw the emergence of a new and distinct twelve-step program, Neurotics Anonymous (N/A). 

The civil wars have largely been the purview of social movement history. At the same time, social movement history and alcohol and drug history are essentially separate subfields. But together they suggest why twelve-step recovery was so popular in Central America and, in turn, how some Central Americans responded to the trauma, political violence, and religious tensions of the wars and their aftermath. Histories of alcohol and drugs have turned decisively toward transnational and global approaches, a turn the upcoming bi-annual conference of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society aptly reflects. This research proposes that the same approaches might be usefully brought to bear on transnational and global exchanges of recovery.

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Dr. Heather Vrana

In this and a follow-up blog post, I summarize the history of three central twelve-step recovery groups in Guatemala: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Neurotics Anonymous. Like Stanley Brandes, whose wonderful Staying Sober in Mexico City offers a rare ethnography of AA outside of the U.S., I am curious about the reasons for AA’s impressive expansion in Latin America. But where Brandes emphasizes AA’s adaptability, I find orthodoxy. Through that orthodoxy, twelve-step programs provided an apparently apolitical outlet for affects, thoughts, and outlooks that were outcomes of political turmoil before and during the civil war (1960-1996). I also suggest that meeting spaces and fellowship practices provided a space for community that was largely unfettered by surveillance and political repression at a time when that was hard to come by. 

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The Power of U.S. Decertification Policies in the 1990s

Editor’s Note: Today we continue this week’s focus on Colombia and its role in America’s war on drugs. Contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School, writes about his experience returning to Colombia, the country of his birth, and witnessing the effects of American drug policy on that country. 

Screenshot 2020-07-01 14.37.26I returned to Colombia after my undergraduate years in the early 1990s.  At that point the U.S. War on Drugs had penetrated deep into the social, cultural, economic, political, legal, and environmental realities of Colombia.  The presence of the CIA, DEA, and Marines was evident; it was no secret that the country’s domestic and foreign policy agendas were directly and indirectly impacted by U.S. political and economic interests.  Parallel to this, Colombia’s society was adjusting to the aggressive structural changes that resulted from the implementation of neoliberal policies that centered around the privatization of production, the reduction of government intervention and regulation, and the implementation of free market policies that would eventually result in the bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in 2012.

It was under these circumstanced that President Bill Clinton’s administration took advantage of the 1980s foreign policy tool that required nations receiving U.S. Official Development Assistance (ODA) to combat the War on Drugs, to pass annual certification requirements as a precondition for receiving the aid.

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Gender and Critical Drug Studies: A Woman Formed the First Cartel?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. In it, she explores more about her article on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, a contemporary female leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

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Elaine Carey

To analyze contemporary female leaders of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, I focused on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, also known as “Ma Baker,” because she represents a historical continuity of the women in the drug trade.  More significantly, however, her organization represents how the history of drugs responds to various contingent and changing factors and events.

Buendía formed a powerful familial-based drug trafficking organization (DTO) that grew the internal cocaine trade in Mexico. She and her daughters Marcela Gabriela, Nadia Isabel, and Norma Patricia, along with extended family and sons-in-laws, built a “narcomenudeo” network in the working class suburb of Ciudad Neza.  There, the Buendía became instrumental to other DTOs by responding to changing demand patterns in the US that shifted from cocaine to heroin. This shift was, in part, due to the over prescription of opioids by medical doctors which triggered a wide spread heroin epidemic.

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Coca: The Survival of a Drug of the Dispossessed

In the beginning of this year, Bolivia gained the right to re-access the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation concerning the prohibition of the chewing of coca leaves. This is a small but perhaps not unimportant victory against the global War on Drugs. Especially it means some recognition of the right of indigenous people, the dispossessed of the earth, to their own drug use.

Bolivian woman protests against UN report on coca
Bolivian woman protests against UN report on coca

In my blog of 11 June 2012 I discussed how the knowledge of coca use among the Indians of Spanish America was disseminated by, among others, the buccaneers and pirates of the later seventeenth century. As a collateral result of their plunder voyages on the Spanish Main some of the Brethren of the Coast became key informants on American drugs for the botanists and trading companies of Western Europa. Some of these drugs became export products to the rest of the world, with varying commercial results. Coca, for some reason, didn’t. Was there in Europe in the early modern period no need for a drug that gave a slight stimulation throughout the day? Or did a drug used, not by wild and exotic Indian savages firing the imagination of European armchair adventurers, but used by poor Indian slaves adjusting themselves to Spanish tyranny, fail to have the necessary sexiness to be adopted in the lifestyles of Europeans? Was it just the case that Europeans weren’t used to and didn’t like the method of consumption of coca, chewing the leaves until their teeth turned green? Or was it a matter of too complicated logistics to export the leaves to Europe in a state of some potency?

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LSE IDEAS: The Global Drug Wars

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Recently, the LSE IDEAS program hosted a daytime conference, “Reevaluating the International Drug Control System–Historical Evolution; Potential for Reform,” along with an evening event, “The Global Drug Wars.”  Both events are worth sharing with the readers of Points.

LSE IDEAS is housed within the London School of Economics, and focuses on international affairs.  The ambition is one that readers of Points might appreciate: “understanding how today’s world came into being, and how it may be changed.”  That was certainly the animating spirit behind the daytime conference, very ably organized by LSE doctoral candidate John Collins.  If you aren’t yet familiar with John and his work, you will be, and you might get a head start on getting acquainted here.  Associated with the daytime conference is a report, Governing the Global Drug Wars, which may be read in its entirety online.  What I like about the report is that it brings together some very able historical commentary with some equally solid commentary on contemporary policy regimes.  I wish, of course, that these were more directly in conversation with one another, but reading them side-by-side produces something close.

The evening event was moderated by LSE IDEAS founding Co-Director, Mick Cox, and featured four presenters: Bill McAllister, David Courtwright, Ethan Nadelmann, and Nigel Inkster.  You can view the entire event online.  First up, McAllister, an outstanding historian of international drug control and special projects director in the State Department’s Office of the Historian.  McAllister gave a remarkably useful guide to the historical nuts and bolts of the international control system, and if you pay close attention at the end, he offers some really useful insights into the prospects for future change within the system.  Second up, Courtwright took the assembled audience on a colorful yet efficient tour of global drugs and alcohol history, sorting out the still-essential question of why we make war on some drugs but not on others.

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