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Gootenberg discusses book about history of cocaine

By Emily Cummins, News Editor

Professor Paul Gootenberg of Stony Brook University spoke to students Wednesday about his book "Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug."

The book, being used by a number of students in their history classes, is as Gootenberg called it "an attempt to rewrite the history of cocaine from an Andean perspective." In it, he describes the construction of cocaine, its loss of legitimacy, and the transformation from a medicinal drug to an illicit one.

The book tries to reveal the Andes people as an agency in the construction of cocaine. Gootenberg explains that the coca leaf was and is deeply imbedded in Andean culture, and once scientists created cocaine, prominent members of society contested the anti-cocaine movement.

People generally associate cocaine with Columbia, however, the development of cocaine in Peru was a precursor to the Columbian cartels of cocaine according to Gootenberg. "Cocaine and the coca leaf was unknown in Columbia until the 1970s," Gootenberg said.

The transformation of cocaine into an illicit drug is "where the book gets sexy" according to Gootenberg. He explained that the cocaine boom of the 1980s was a blowback effect of the war on drugs.

"Anti-drug education is like abstinence only education… it actually makes kids want to take drugs especially if lies are involved," Gootenberg suggested.

"President Nixon's campaign against marijuana stating that marijuana kills was false… therefore, people ignored all the warnings the government gave about drugs… and when cocaine came along, they thought it was a soft drug," Gootenberg said.

He then addressed the question of what the political relevance of the book is. "The book shows that the United States has a dysfunctional relationship with cocaine… doctors are giving kids a drug that is essentially cocaine; it is called Ritalin," Gootenberg stated.

Gootenberg closed with the notion that if Andean people could export and sell coca, not only would it help the Andean economy, but also get consumers away from "illicit" cocaine.

Author Paul Gootenberg (right) talks with a student (left) (Emily Cummins/The Chronicle)

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