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Colonization & War Catapulted The Proliferation of Opium & Cocaine Throughout The World

Updated on December 29, 2014
Illustration of Cocaine.
Illustration of Cocaine. | Source
Geography | Source


Colonization and war play a major role in the proliferation of opium and cocaine throughout the world. The colonization throughout Southeast and Southwest Asia greatly influenced the opium trade. The early settlements and migrations of the Europeans, Chinese, and Arabs and many more inhabitants brought with them their knowledge and experience in cultivating opium to new lands, ultimately expanding the industry. Throughout the centuries, merchants, travellers, and migratory people expanded the opium trade by trading and selling opium as a marketable good across the globe. In Southeast and Southwest Asia, war has played a central role in the facilitation and growth of the opium trade. Burma, a worn-torn country in constant internal conflict, used the opium trade to fund the war effort by providing weapons and ammunitions directly and indirectly to each warring faction. The opium trade has funded the war in Burma for over sixty years and as the war effort continues, the opium trade continues to blossom. Similar to Burma, Afghanistan’s production of opium provided financial aide to the guerrilla forces within the area. The Soviet invasion into Afghanistan also played a large role in the proliferation of the opium trade. The Soviet invasion destroyed the country’s agricultural industry, ruining and killing its crops, animals, and plants. The invasion caused detrimental damage to the agriculture farming industry, leaving the Afghan people to resort to the cultivation of opium. Additionally, the War on Drugs, led by President Nixon, implemented numerous measures to eradicate the opium economy such as aerial spraying, prohibitions, and a militarization approach, however, the opium output was still on the rise and resulted in the industry moving into another region.

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The colonization of the Peruvians, Europeans, and Americans, assisted in the growth of the coca and cocaine trade throughout the world. The coca leaf was originally used by the Peruvian people as part of their culture and used it for work related activities and for health reasons. The coca leaf was embedded in the Peruvian way of life. Century’s later, European and American merchants, travellers, and scientists began travelling to Peru to seek out this mysterious coca leaf and its stimulant powers. As more and more research was conducted on the leaf, the faster the coca leaf became popular throughout the global community. Once the German scientist discovered the invention of cocaine, it became a more important and acceptable good to have. The scientific breakthrough’s in each country regarding the use of coca and cocaine for surgical procedures and a cure all for any healthy ailment, the cocoa leaf became a global commodity. As cocoa and cocaine became popular for its health purposes, the demand began to rise globally and then coca was used in beverages, wines, and tonics, comparable to coffee and tea.

The migration of thousands of peasant workers into Peru contributed the growth of the cocaine industry. The Huagalla Valley eventually became over-populated and the development projects failed leaving the country without a viable means for sustenance, causing the thousands of workers to resort to the production of cocaine right into the hands of the Colombian narco-traffickers. The cocaine industry started out as anthill smuggling then to organized drug rings to extremely organized drug chains, expanding the industry on a global level. The US War on Drugs fueled the growth of the cocaine industry. The War on Drugs focused most of its time on the eradication of marijuana, leaving Colombians the ability to take advantage of the free opportunity to exploit cocaine and drive its prices. Nixon’s policies during the War on Drugs asserted that cocaine was not a top priority and that it was just a soft drug for the elites. The lack of focus on cocaine spiked the cocaine industry.


The United States and the Europeans are to blame for the world’s drug economy. The opium cultivators in Southeast and Southwest Asia may have started the industry, but the United States and the Europeans greatly facilitated the growth of the drug industry on a global level. During the Cold War, the United States was solely focused on eliminating communist regimes that they employed the CIA to fund the opium trade. The CIA funded the KMT, the mujahedeen, and other rebel armies by providing logistical means for transporting opium and provided the rebel armies with weapons and ammunitions. The CIA and its under cover operations greatly facilitated the growth of the drug trade within Southeast and Southwest Asia. The United States and the Europeans also contributed the expansion of the cocaine industry. The Peruvian population cultivated the coca leaf as part of their cultural beliefs. The scientific curiosities throughout the world, mainly the United States and the Europeans, discovered coca and cocaine and its stimulant and health properties, catalizying global use for medicinal, surgical, and eventually in marketable goods such as Coca-Cola, wine, tonics, and elixirs. The United States and the Europeans harnessed the drugs abilities and unleashed it to the world as a legal substance, proven by the US-Andean and European commodity chains.

The US led War on Drugs also contributed to the worsening drug economy. The US prohibition and intitatives sparked the growth of the industry. The developmental projects that were implemented in Peru stimulated the cocaine industry. The dvelpomental projects brought in a large population of peasant workers to the Peruvian region. The projects attempted to build the economy and introduce the locals to other means of sustenance within the agricultural business, however, only a few crops could grow in the region causing severe poverty and starvation, resulting in the peasants resorting to the drug trade. The US continued its efforts during the War on Drugs, but did not believe the cocaine industry was a threat. The US primarily focused on marijuana and left the cocaine industry alone because it was a low priority and a soft drug, allowing the Colombians to exploit that mistake.

1850s-1980s, Emergence of Commodity Cocaine

Throughout the 1850s- 1980’s, the world economy significantly influenced the spread of cocaine throughout the world. The Peruvians originally grew the coca leaf and cultivated it within the region. Once rumors of the mysterious coca leaf reached the United States and the Europeans, the coca industry rapidly grew. Between the 1850s and 1860’s, researchers and scientists discovered the coca leaf and its properites, eventually transforming the leaf into cocaine. Once researchers from Peru, Germany, France, Britain, and the United States got their hands on what cocaine could do, the demand for it rapidly grew. Every country began to use cocaine for medicinal purposes in surgeries and as a cure all for any aces and pains of the human body. Then major companies began mass-producing coca and cocaine causing supply and demand to soar and the trade itself. Then cocaine was introduced in beverages, tonics, and elixirs as an everyday household item, comparable to tea and coffee.

Once the demand for coca and cocaine skyrocketed, it created two prominent commodity chains, the US-Andean and the European commodity chain. Then cocaine became illegal entering into the 1920’s, factories began to shutdown, and eventually sparked the illicit cocaine industry overseas. During the 1920’s, the US became the lead enforcer for eliminating the cocaine industry and the onset of World War I & II, caused a dramatic decrease in the production and distribution of cocaine.

During, the 1940s and 1950s, small scale production of cocaine began to emerge among sailors, merchants, and travellers, carrying an ounce or so in their pockets. By the 1960’s cocaine became more organized and formed criminal rings with a few couriers to transport cocaine throughout Latin America. The Grace Line ship played a large role during this era for transporting cocaine back and forth from Latin America to the United States. The 1970’s witnessed extremely organized cocaine rings with a 100 members for each ring, with contacts throughout Peru, Bolivia, Cuba, and the United States. By the time, extensively organized cocaine rings established an enterprise of the cocaine business.

In the 1970’s, internal turmoil in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile caused the cocaine industry to fluctuate in each country. The thousands of peasant workers in Peru were still seeking cocaine production as a viable means for sustenance. Simultaneously, the Chileans began to incorporate Colombian smugglers into the cocaine industry. Once the Chilean coupe took place in 1973, the trafficking routes were severely disrupted and forced cocaine smuggling into Colombia. Colombia began to instantly thrive off the cocaine industry and used the Andean peasant workers to cultivate and produce their cocaine. The Colombians built a global enterprise, using the Andean population to supply them with cocaine and were able to establish offices in the United States. By the 1980’s, the Colombians brought cocaine trafficking to a much higher level and were known to produce a major part of the world’s cocaine.


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