Points Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

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. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. 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

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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SHAD Interview: “A Small Distinction with a Big Difference: Prohibiting “Drugs” but Not Alcohol, from the Conquest to Constitutional Law,” with José Domingo Schievenini

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. José Domingo Schievenini, whose article you can see here. Schievenini (PhD, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2018) is an assistant professor of history at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ). His research focuses on drug policy in Mexico and the history of drugs in Latin America. 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 and what got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

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Dr. José Domingo Schievenini

I am a Mexican historian. When I was an undergrad, a decade ago, my thesis attempted to explain why the use of medical marijuana was treated as a crime in Mexico. At that time, four states in the U.S. had already legalized the medical use of cannabis, and the scientific evidence in support of such use was overwhelming. Among other things, I chose this subject because it seemed irrational to me that the use of cannabis for medical purposes was a crime in Mexico. Undoubtedly, it was an injustice. There were even arguments to affirm that this prohibition was a crime, but not on the part of those who consumed marijuana, but rather an unconstitutional act on the part of the Mexican state. 

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SHAD Interview: “Mexico, Shanghai, and Drug History’s Global Turn,” with Isaac Campos

Editor’s Note: Starting today, we’re going to run a 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. This is a particularly exciting issue, which focuses on Mexico’s rich historical role in the field. It was led by Isaac Campos, the subject of today’s interview. 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

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Isaac Campos

I’m an Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati. I’m trained in Mexican history and my main area of interest is the history of illicit drugs. I’ve published one book (Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs) and a number of articles on the subject.

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

Because the War on Drugs has been such a disastrous and mostly nonsensical approach to the problem of drug abuse, I’ve always been fascinated by how these policies came into being and how much support they were able to garner and maintain over many decades. And within that I’ve always been fascinated by the ideas surrounding drugs and how those ideas justify bad policy decisions.

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.

Screenshot 2020-05-25 11.38.08I’m the warm up act at the start of the show. I’m just setting the table in this issue for the great original research that follows by an exciting group of scholars who are mostly just starting their careers. I also provide a little overview of the long stretch of Mexican drug history to provide a little background and context for readers who may not be familiar with that history.  

Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?

Well it’s part of a larger project in that I’m always working on Mexican drug history. I’ve got a bunch of other stuff in the works right now. There are two digital humanities projects tracing the development of the discourse surrounding cannabis in U.S. newspapers during the 1910s and I’ve been working on another larger project about drugs in Mexico and the U.S. between 1910 and 1940.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the field of Mexican drug history is just getting closer to the present. There are some really talented people now working on the second half of the twentieth century. Professional historians are really only beginning to really analyze this history after the Second World War. So that is I think where some of the most exciting work will be emerging, as evidenced by some of the work we’re putting forward here. 

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra. He’s a legend in Mexico. A psychiatrist from the 1920s-50s. A real character who famously designed a morphine monopoly in Mexico that got off the ground briefly in 1940. I’ve written about him in a couple of places. One of those essays is published (“A diplomatic failure: the Mexican role in the demise of the 1940 Reglamento Federal de Toxicomanías”) and the other is forthcoming. I’d have a lot of questions for him for sure!

SHAD Interview: “Mexico’s Dirty War on Drugs: Source Control and Dissidence in Drug Enforcement” with Aileen Teague

Editor’s Note: This week we’ll continue our series of interviews 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 excited to talk to Aileen Teague, currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, she will begin her appointment as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. She completed her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University in 2018. Aileen specializes in the history of U.S.-Mexico (Latin America) Relations, Drug Control, and National Security. Her work has been supported by a number of fellowships and grants including Fulbright and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. She is currently revising her dissertation into a book manuscript. You can read Aileen’s article in its entirety (until May 1!) here.

Screenshot 2019-04-15 at 12.53.06 PMTell readers a little bit about yourself

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and will begin as Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service next year. I was born in Colon, Panama, traveled the world as part of a military family, and served in the Marine Corps prior to my academic career.

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

As someone who has lived or worked on a number of overseas U.S. military bases (Panama Canal Zone, Guantanamo, Okinawa, the Philippines, etc.), my larger interest has always been U.S. interventionism. By the 1970s and 1980s questions of U.S. anti-drug interventionism become entangled in U.S. domestic policy issues in a singular way that drew me in, and I haven’t looked back!

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Aileen Teague

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender wouldn’t find boring.

Many of us are familiar with Mexico’s more recent drug violence and powerful drug cartels. My work provides a historical explanation of how we got here. It points to the 1970s as a critical period in establishing U.S. and Mexican drug enforcement policies, strategies, and tactics, which have played a role in shaping current antidrug issues and the landscape of border security.  

Is this part of a larger project?  What else are you working on?

My article draws from my dissertation, which I am currently revising into a book manuscript.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

I think the future of the field, especially with respect to contemporary drug history in Mexico, will involve a lot more oral history gathering, engagement with journalistic narratives, and will thrive with the declassification of archival materials in the coming years.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

Mark Twain; he was such a keen observer and commenter of society and culture during one of the most interesting periods in American history.

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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Tequila for the Tourists: Mexico City’s New Museum of Agave Intoxicants

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She visited the New Museum of Agave Intoxicants in December 2015. Enjoy!

In December 2015 I found myself in Mexico for a new research project. Although my work had nothing to do with intoxicants (the subject of my first book), I couldn’t resist stopping by the Museo del Mezcal y Tequila (Museum of Mescal and Tequila) one free afternoon.

In years of travel, I’ve visited many intoxicants museums. The Drug Elimination Museum of Yangon, Myanmar attempts to scare schoolchildren away from methamphetamine with graphic images of dying addicts and bloody battles between traffickers and government forces. In Thailand’s Golden Triangle, not one but two Opium Museums recount the history of the drug in Southeast Asia and China as a tale of Western oppression and spur to state-building. The Coca Museum in Cuzco, Peru seeks to replace the legal, mildly stimulating plant’s fatally tarnished image as the raw form of cocaine, with a more positive association with national culture. Free coca-filled chocolates round out the experience. (They taste terrible.)

The Museo del Mezcal y Tequila, which opened in 2010, is a different experience altogether. Like Mexico’s other famed agave museums in Cancún and Guadalajara, this institution might best be characterized as a promotional opportunity for the alcohol with the fastest-rising sales in the United States. Although tequila has long suffered from its association with shots, drunk college students, and intense hangovers, in the past decade it has followed vodka, whiskey and bourbon into the luxury sector. Reflecting increasing demand among consumers for artisanal comestibles, most growth has occurred in super-premium sales (that is, tequilas that cost more than $30 per bottle and consist of pure agave). Meanwhile, mescal, associated even more firmly with “authentic” local production, is also experiencing booming growth—in fact, many tequila brands today have begun to fear its competition.

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The facade of the Museo del Mezcal y Tequila in Mexico City

 

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The Points Interview: Isaac Campos-Costero

Editor’s note: Today’s entry in the Points Interview series is number twenty-seven, and features Isaac Campos-Costero discussing his recently published Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

Between the 1840s and 1920, marijuana was overwhelmingly associated with two effects in Cover of Isaac Campos' Home GrownMexico– madness and violence. And I really mean overwhelmingly. There were hundreds of reports of marijuana turning its users into violent maniacs and such reports went almost totally unchallenged in published sources. Furthermore, the belief that marijuana caused violent madness appears to have been especially prevalent among the lower classes. In other words, it does not appear that these views were imposed on average Mexicans by propaganda campaigns from above. If you could go back to 1890s Mexico City and ask an ordinary person on the street to describe the effects of marijuana, they almost certainly would have told you that “it makes you crazy.” Of course today marijuana is associated with very different effects. Even the most aggressive drug warriors, in their most hyperbolic moments, would shy away from claiming that marijuana causes violence and madness. That just seems absurd given more recent experience with the drug. Thus my book  explains how marijuana earned this reputation. In the process it documents pretty much everything about cannabis’ history in Mexico, from its introduction to the country as a fiber-producing industrial plant in the 1530s, to its nationwide prohibition in 1920. The book thus also traces the origins of prohibitionist drug laws in Mexico and hence the origins of Mexico’s war on drugs. Ultimately I argue that marijuana probably had some role in triggering “mad” behavior and even violence but not because marijuana necessarily causes such effects in any context where it is used, but, rather, because of what researchers have long referred to as “drug, set, and setting”—that is, the interaction between user psychology, the setting of the drug’s use, and the  pharmacology of the drug itself. Simply put, what people think is going to occur when they take a drug is often as important as any other factor in producing a particular behavioral effect. Thus if you think a drug should make you lazy, it’s much more likely to make you lazy, and if you think it should make you crazy, it’s much more likely to make you think you are going crazy. Furthermore, marijuana is a substance ideally suited to convince people that “madness” might result from its use. It can produce anxiety, panic attacks, and even hallucinations at high doses (hence its classification as a “psychotomimetic” drug). But, again, like all drugs marijuana’s effects are highly conditioned by the social and cultural setting of its use, and the psychological “set” of its users.  In Mexico, a country with the richest collection of hallucinogens on earth and where, since the sixteenth century, disputes over the use of such substances have been intimately linked to political and spiritual conflict, it is not so surprising that the use of marijuana would soon be associated with madness and even violence. And that association has had an enormous historical impact in North America. These ideas not only helped inspire Mexico’s drug-war policies but, as I demonstrate in the book, they also served as the foundation of “reefer madness” ideas in the United States. Thus these Mexican ideas were also crucial to the development of the U.S. war on drugs as we now know it, with marijuana as one of its “big three” targets alongside cocaine and the opiates. Continue reading →