Andean- Until It’s legalized?

When cocaine was totally legal, the coca used was not Andean, at least not for long. When the cocaine alkaloid was isolated in 1860 and its uses as a local anesthetic were discovered, the Dutch began to plant coca in 1883 in their East Indian colonies (Indonesia), more precisely in the Island of Java.

Although the Japanese also planted coca in Taiwan, it was Javanese coca and the Netherland’s Cocaine Factory (NCF) that cornered the legal coca and cocaine markets while these commodities were legal; forcing the Andean countries to abandon their dreams of building their economies on what they considered their natural right to this global market as of their legacy.

In 1905, other cocaine-processing pharmaceutical companies, the Germans, formed a cocaine union, with monopsonistic purchases, deals between cartel on prices, and strong organizational bonds with the German government. By 1910, the European cocaine network was no longer conditioned by the market itself. In 1924, eight European pharmaceutical companies came together and formed the “European Convention of Cocaine Producers” which included the NCF and the three main German cocaine producers. At the same time, the Dutch founded the Dutch national ‘Association of Coca Producers’.

Meanwhile, in 1885 in the United States, Coca-Cola is born to compete with Mariani Wine, liquor which gradually falls off the market partly in the face of the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s. By 1920, the United States already had its own cocaine monopoly. Merck New Jersey processed high-purity medicinal cocaine and its close ally, Maywood Chemical, made “Merchandise No. 5" (Coca-Cola’s secret de-cocainized extract,) under the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ bureaucracy. Legal U.S. cocaine was and still is a byproduct of the Coca-Cola Empire. By 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, seals the prohibition on Andean coca, while ensuring that Coca-Cola would have access to the coca leaf.

Coca and Kola; the first an emblematic symbol of Andean culture; and the second, a nut which is an essential part of African, mainly Sudanese and Nigerian, social life, commercial transactions, fortune-telling and magic. But it’s much like when you ask a child to draw a chicken and what he associates, draws, is Kentucky Fried Chicken.  

Andeans are waiting for the ‘go ahead’ to assume coca, and more remotely, cocaine and we take it for granted that coca (and cocaine) are Andean. These telegraphic historical facts and our everyday life go to show that the only monopoly that pertains to the Andean Region is the war on coca.

While legal medicinal cocaine, i.e. for dental purposes, is still European and North American, the war on banned cocaine is expanding to all of Latin America and the Caribbean, to the numerous countries that nowadays process their own cocaine.

The cocaine sulfate (base) used by these Latin-American and Caribbean laboratories is still processed in the Andean Region. That is to say, the illegal cocaine consumed by those 21 million and more users worldwide is still basically an Andean product. Until it’s legalized? It all depends on how and who legalizes first.

Maria Mercedes Moreno

August 22, 2015