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.
I 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.
Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Lina Britto. Britto is a Colombian journalist and historian who teaches Latin American and Caribbean History at Northwestern University. She received a PhD in History from New York University, and was a postdoctoral and faculty fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. Her work was been published in theHispanic American Historical Review, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, NACLA, and El Espectador (Colombia), among others. Her book Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise came out in spring 2020 with University of California Press. She’s currently working on her second book project on the role of medicine, science and technology in the violent transition that her hometown Medellin, Colombia, underwent during the second half of the twentieth century, when it became one of the murder capitals of the world.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
Dr. Lina Britto
Having worked as a waitress in NYC before I went to graduate school, I know how incredibly hard is to get the full attention of your bartender. I think my best chance would be to mention the most recognized pop culture icons of global drug history, namely Pablo Escobar and Scarface. I’d say my book tells the story of the Colombian smugglers and American hippies who flooded the United States with marijuana a decade before suppliers like Escobar in Medellín and wholesalers like Scarface in Florida did the same with cocaine. It’s a forgotten story of how small-scale smugglers, during the golden years of the counterculture, paved the way for a more entrepreneurial and violent approach to the international commerce of drugs, and why such a transition wreaked havoc in the Americas.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from 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.
I was born in Bogotá in December 1969, and raised in a bicultural world, moving back and forth between Colombia and Texas. My Colombian mother and my American dad introduced me, unintentionally, to a certain complexity that generated in me a unique way of looking at the world. I do not remember much from my first seven years, just some constructed ideas from old photos. There are plenty of foggy memories that are not tied to a story that has a beginning or an end. Surprisingly, one of my first vivid memories from early childhood is a man being forcefully dragged out of his home by two men, as two other men with face covers restrained his wife and daughter. It was a six or seven second scene, before my mom drove away as the traffic light changed, in a busy neighborhood street, in the northern part of Bogotá.
Ten years later, after one of the many deadly detonations of bombs in Bogotá ordered by Pablo Escobar, I connected the two incidents. It was then that I realized that I was in the middle of the American War on Drugs. I was a teenager at that point, fighting for my freedom and independence, and arguing against my family-imposed lockdown. The current COVID-19 situation brought back that feeling of confinement; I could not go out at night and my mobilization was limited to going to school and back home because the danger and threat were invisible, but the consequences were real.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from 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. He continues our exploration of drugs under quarantine, exploring how the marijuana market functions in the US and abroad during a global pandemic.
The news is bleak, and the media’s propaganda war against, and in favor of, the current administration, coupled with the lockdown resulting from COVID-19, makes it difficult for all Americans to stay home and comply with their social duty. But unlike in 1918, the last time a debilitating illness swept the globe, today’s America has the luxury of enjoying a wider array of leisure activities under lockdown.
In many states this includes the legal right to consume marijuana in all its forms. Indica, sativa, and hybrid “flower” are now accessible to hundreds of thousands of American consumers, who are incorporating it into their lockdown routine. This new social experience isn’t limited to Americans, either. The laws in Canada and Uruguay allow citizens to partake in this newly-legal form of recreation, and the same practice takes place in other countries too, though it’s criminalized there. Global consumers seeking the joy of the herb have found their own ways of securing a share of the market in order to navigate the new realities of life under the pandemic.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canandian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.
In January 1968 the Winnipeg Free Press reported that marijuana was “the biggest mass floating of the law since prohibition.” Back then the urban myth said Lebanese cannabis was the most potent, but Canada, like the U.S. market, was limited to Mexican cannabis; “Acapulco Gold” was the common preference among “local users.” This new generation of consumers was juxtaposed against the anti-marijuana initiatives on both sides of the border that had, by that point, constructed the idea among sectors of civil society and policy makers that the drug led to mental disorders, violence, degeneration, addiction, and that it served as a gateway to other more dangerous narcotics. It was from the late 1960s onward that a pro-marijuana movement across both sides of the border was spearheaded by young rebellious Baby Boomers in order to clarify the facts and debunk the old myths. Fifty years later the construct of the “thin, sunken-eyed individual slowly starving himself to death” has been replaced by the image of the radiant millennial stoner. Within that transformation of the constructs of marijuana, Canada’s Federal and Provincial governments were able to build a government-business partnership that positioned the nation and its private sector as the pioneers of a new global business that might even surpass the global market for coffee. A half century ago possession in Canada could cost you seven years in prison; today it represents an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Director, Louis J. Gosnier. “Tell Your Children,” 1936.
Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Lina Britto, an assistant professor of History at Northwestern University where she teaches on the history of the drug trade and the war on drugs in the Americas, among other subjects. You can read Britto’s article in its entirety for a bit longer here.
Tell readers a little bit about yourself
I’m Colombian, and recently became U.S. citizen as well. I began my career as a journalist, and I still write journalism when I manage to carve time between teaching and other responsibilities. I did a Masters in Anthropology, which made me to fall in love with History, so I decided to became a historian. My PhD in Latin American and Caribbean History is from New York University, and before coming to Northwestern University, where I work as an assistant professor in the Department of History, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University.
What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?
The reality of my country, which is still one of the main producers of cocaine in the world, and my own lived experience as a member of a generation who grew up in Pablo Escobar’s Medellín in the 1980s and early 1990s. But because I’ve always liked to swim against the tide, my interest was never really to understand the history of cocaine, which I found so pervading and asphyxiating. My curiosity was directed toward my father’s homeland, the Guajira, the northernmost section of Colombia’s map in the Caribbean coast, where the country’s first drug boom took place in the 1970s around marijuana, not cocaine. Trying to connect with that other side of my family and with my own roots, I began to explore that story almost 15 years ago. Now it’s a book.
Dr. Lina Britto
Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring
Before marijuana became mainstream and half of the states in this country legalized it completely, a group of young economists in Colombia, the country that supplied most of the weed that the hippies smoked in the United States at the time, proposed legalization. The idea was presented during a publicized conference in Bogotá that U.S. diplomats and scientists attended. The goal was to provide policymakers with an alternative solution other than the bloody war that Washington and Bogotá waged together against producers and traffickers in Colombia. But the time was not ripe yet. In 1979, such a bold idea only served to infuriate those who believed in the “war on drugs.” So, before consumers and their advocates got crushed here in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the forces that called for a less punitive solution to the drug problem got silenced in Colombia. Their political defeat during this month-long debate marked the end of the idea of marijuana legalization in both countries. Only in the last decade, this idea resurfaced again, this time under a completely different set of circumstances and results.
Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?
Yes, this is a small section in one of the chapters of my forthcoming book, entitled Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise, which will be published by the University of California Press in 2020. Additionally, I’m in the phase of conceptualization and exploration of my second book project, which will examine the history of my hometown, Medellín, during its transition from an industrial pole of development to a cocaine dystopia, but from a counterintuitive perspective. Again, swimming against the current.
Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?
I see colleagues doing all kinds of things, some of them quite creative. As a Latin Americanists, what I would love to see more of are twentieth-century regional and national histories of countries that are apparently peripheric for the transnational drug trade business in the Americas, however central in ways that we don’t understand yet, such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile.
What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?
First, I’d go out for brunch with Elena Poniatowska, one of the greatest Latin American thinkers of our times, a journalist, a novelist, a trailblazer, a true artist in the widest sense of the term. And then I’d have dinner with E.P. Thompson to pick his brain about my second book project. That’d be a good Sunday.