How the “narcos” of the 1980s turned cocaine into an industry

First, the jerky riff of Keith Richards, then the singular voice of Mick Jagger: “Yeah, you got satin shoes/Yeah, you got plastic boots/Y’all got cocaine eyes. » It’s 1971. The Rolling Stones just released their album Sticky Fingersand Sister Morphine dance with her “sweet cousin cocaine”. Drug of performance, drug of pleasure, drug of a certain in-betweenness, this “sweet cousin”, as the Stones say, is emerging from a long slumber, and rock hedonists are writing a new chapter in its history.

Taking advantage of the negative image associated with heroin, which is ravaging working-class neighborhoods, cocaine displays its supposed advantages: no physiological dependence, according to some doctors, no need for a syringe to take advantage of its effects. The “coke” becomes mundane. In 1973, the New York Times qualifies her as “drug champagne”and the psychopharmacologist Robert Byck gives him his scientific backing by affirming that “cocaine is not a narcotic”.

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A few thousand kilometers to the south, the historical culture of Andean coca is restructured according to regional political developments. Armed with their know-how in the marijuana trade, the Colombians are gradually supplanting their Peruvian and Bolivian counterparts, from whom they buy a coca paste (resulting from the maceration of the leaves with kerosene and baking soda) of very good quality. quality that they then transform into cocaine powder.

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A young smuggler from the Antioquia region, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, develops ambitious business strategies and opens up new routes for bringing the product to the American market. In 1978, after only a few years of “labor”, he was already rich enough to buy a 20 square kilometer farm, soon transformed into a luxury estate with a zoo, around twenty artificial lakes, a landing strip or even a karting circuit… At the entrance, “don Pablo” installs the replica of the small plane aboard which he sent his first kilos to the United States.

White lines and greenbacks

In 1981, the city of Miami, Florida, was the American epicenter of this flourishing “business”. The Colombians work there with part of the Cuban diaspora, in an increasingly violent climate. The explosion of trafficking is accompanied by that of homicides: 621 in one year. In 1983, director Brian De Palma made it the theme of his scarfacethis reference film in which the “cocaine cowboys”floral shirts and cake shovel collars, do not hesitate to wield the chainsaw against their rivals.

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