When most of us think of Peru and drugs we naturally think of Cocaine, and of course I hope that readers of this blog also think of Coca Leaf and say to themselves – “La Coca no es la Cocaine.” It’s probably a fair assumption that few people link Opium and Peru in the same thought, and of course there is not a lot of Poppy production in Peru – unlike Mexico, Cuba and a number of other Latin American countries.
However, as I have been researching the historical record for my book “The Coca Leaf Papers” I am finding some fascinating Opium-Peru connections, with an interesting England-China-California-Peru axis.
To fully appreciate this connection we have to remember that the British in the 19th Century were the world’s greatest drug dealing empire, far eclipsing the dreaded “Cartels” of today in scope, wealth and power. Of course, just as it is highly unlikely that the American CIA, or at least some of the main people involved, got out of the heroin business just like that after the war in Vietnam ended, it is equally unlikely that the British ever actually left the lucrative worldwide Opium trade after the 20th Century saw the birth of the “War On Drugs”.
While the propaganda machine popularly called “the media” go on and on about the Latin American Drug Cartels, complete with photos galore of the tacky wedding cake mansions built by the “Drug Lords” and gruesome photos of their leaders lying full of holes and bleeding out in some filthy alley in a slum, one never hears a peep from the media about the network of American and European financial and business institutions that operate from well-groomed British estates and ultra-private American clubs with the Latino Drug Cartels as the front men. Does anyone really think that monsters like HSBC really arose from nowhere, or started life as legitimate banking institutions?
If one had the resources, and the careless disregard for personal safety, it would be a relatively simple matter to trace a great deal of the dark network behind today’s international drug trade straight back in an unbroken line to the British Empire. The goobers who control today’s worldwide drug trade are, in large part, blood and marriage descendants of the “legitimate businessmen” who ran the worldwide drug trade under the legal protection of the British Crown – which I am sure takes its share of the profits today just as it did hundreds of years ago.
In the following post you can clearly see how one small part of this global network began and flourished in the 1800’s. Again – does anyone think that such an immensely profitable enterprise simply went away at some point in time? After all, the drug trade isn’t like any other industry – it has continued in unbroken succession over many generations because its basic products have not changed and cannot be supplanted by technological advances. Of course the initial trade in Opium evolved into Morphine and then Heroin, but good old Opium is still King. And of course Cocaine evolved into mutations like Crack, but nothing yet has replaced Queen Cocaine. Even Cannabis, which in modern times has evolved from crumbled bags of mostly-leaf Mexican weed to today’s gourmet 10X-20X THC buds hasn’t really changed, and there are still huge amounts of money being made by growing it south of the US border and smuggling it in in spite of all the legal growing now going on in some of the more enlightened US states. Even alcohol hasn’t changed that much, even though we now have esoteric markets for hundreds of brands of micro-brew and boutique liquors like Blue Agave Tequilas to choose from, most of the world still gets drunk on plain old beer and cheap booze. Joe Six-Pack still rules.
So without further ranting (which I hope you find at least somewhat entertaining dear reader) here is some documentation and correspondence from an English gentleman in the mid-1800’s discussing how he found, and grew to love, the Opium trade – in Peru of all places.
113 London, 10th June, 1880.
My Lord, The undersigned British merchants haying establishments on the West Coast of South America, being deeply interested in the development of the agricultural resources of the Republic of Peru, desire to call your Lordship’s attention to a matter of the greatest moment in connection with this subject.
As your Lordship is doubtless aware, Peru has for some years past been making steady progress as an agricultural country, and more especially in the cultivation of sugar and cotton, the exportation of which articles to this country has rapidly increased in importance from year to year. A large amount of English capital has found remunerative employment in fostering this industry.
It is also no doubt within your Lordship’s knowledge that, owing to the peculiar conditions of the country, those concerned in the development of its agriculture have been mainly dependent upon Chinese labour for the cultivation of their estates. The chief reason for this is, that the lands best suited for the growth of the sugar cane and the cotton plant are situated on the coast, the inhabitants of which region are not sufficiently numerous to supply the necessary labour.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Peru, who would find abundance of occupation on the coast and are far more numerous, are nevertheless unable to withstand the effects of the climate of the coast.
Chinese immigrants have, on the contrary, been found to thrive on the Peruvian littoral, and many thousands are now settled in that region, where they readily find employment both in agricultural and in other pursuits. Large numbers of them have acquired competencies, and it may be said that none, except those suffering from bodily ailments and infirmities have become destitute, whilst comparatively few care to return to their own country, the larger proportion remaining as permanent settlers. The majority of these were brought to Peru from Macao under the old coolie system, which was abolished in 1874 through the intervention of Her Majesty’s Government with the Government of His Majesty the King of Portugal, as it was found that that system gave rise to many abuses.
The great demand which existed and still exists for Chinese free labour brought about an attempt which was made in 1877 to establish a regular line of steamers between the ports of Hong Kong and Callao, the latter being the chief port of Peru, and situate in the centre of the agricultural district of that country.
This attempt was unsuccessful through the failure of the firm owning the line of steamers. The scarcity of labour has in consequence greatly increased, and has reached such a point that the large sums invested in sugar and cotton plantations in Peru are jeopardised through this cause.
The principal cultivators, under the denomination of the “Agricultural Society of Peru,” have therefore commissioned a gentleman now in Europe to proceed to China with the object of contracting free labourers on their behalf, and providing them with the passage money and requisites for their journey to Peru, of which Her Majesty’s Minister Resident at Lima has been duly informed.
An ambassador from the Court of Peking is now on his way to Lima, and it is thought will establish Consulates in Peru, in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Commerce already in existence between that country and China. We have thus briefly laid before your Lordship the principal features of this important subject, our object being to solicit the countenance and support of Her Majesty’s Government in facilitating the free emigration to Peru of labourers, both from the British colony of Hong Kong and from ports in the Chinese Empire.
We are Your Lordship’s obedient humble Servants, Graham, Rowe & Co. Duncan, Fox & Co. Antony Gibbs & Sons. Isaac & Samuel. Frederick Huth & Co. Bates, Stokes & Co. Haines, Batchelor & Co. Baring Bros. & Co. Henry Kendall & Sons, Bute, Taylor & Co. Matheson & Beausire. GRtoiNo & Co. To the Right Honourable Earl Granville, K.G., -Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whitehall.
Edinburgh, August 6th 1882.
H. H. SULTZBERGER, Esq.
Dear Sir, – I am obliged by yours of yesterday, and should be glad to hear at your entire convenience how you like my translation. My experience of the Chinese was acquired in Australia some twenty-five years ago. I was then conversant with prepared opium as an article of merchandize imported from China for the use of the Chinese.
It was a dark-coloured viscous fluid, somewhat resembling treacle, and was contained in small metal packages covered outside with paper wrappers, inscribed with Chinese characters. The contents might be about from four to five ounces, and the wholesale importer’s price, if I remember right, was about 30 – 32s. for that quantity. I have often sold it to the Chinese dealers, amongst whom there were many highly respectable and very intelligent men.
They assured me that the use of opium, except in excess, was not injurious, and although a considerable quantity was at that time imported and consumed among the Chinese population, I never heard of its doing any harm. If death had been in any case caused by it, the Coroner would have had something to say on the subject, and the public would have heard all about it.
Considering the low rate of wages current in China, it seems to me that opium must be unattainable by the bulk of the population on account of its costliness, and that this fact must be a powerful check on any tendency to excess. I think your Lima correspondent is right in saying that the use of opium by the Chinese is very analogous to that of tobacco amongst Europeans, neither better nor worse.
I remain, yours truly, R. WAUGH MACARTHUR.
The above referred- to Lima correspondence runs as follows:
Lima, June 24th, 1882.
Dear Sir, – Replying to your private letter I have to say that as far as my practical experience goes with our Celestial customers, I do not believe that they are the worse, either physically or mentally, for their habit of smoking opium, except in very rare cases where through excess the habit has developed into real vice.
I have on many occasions discussed this question with the leading Chinese merchants of Peru, and I have always been assured by them that the habit is not deleterious. Employers of Chinese labourers all along the Peruvian coast allow their men a moderate use of the drug, and facilitate even its sale to them, which they certainly would not do if it impaired their energies.
In my own opinion the use of opium by the Chinese labourers can be fairly compared with the use of tobacco by Europeans,
Yours faithfully, G. A. B. H. H. SULTZBERGER, Esq.
THE OPIUM TRADE WITH PERU
Under this heading I must give a short account of my own experience in the article, because I had the rare advantage of being the very first engaged in this particular trade with Peru. While a pupil in one of the numerous educational establishments in and near Geneva (Champel Venel) during the years 1849-50, an intimate friendship sprung up between one of the masters there and myself, in consequence of which I procured him the means of undertaking the journey to Peru, whence he was offered the post of private tutor in a family of position, residing in Lima, on condition of risking the journey at his own expense.
From mere family tutor my friend soon rose to the position of secretary to his wealthy master, and through taking also an active part in the business of the same, whenever not engaged in his educational duties, he was finally admitted a partner, and thus became a most enterprising merchant.
At first his principal’s chief business consisted in the importation into Peru of Chinese Coolies from Macao, which circumstance afforded my friend an early opportunity to acquaint himself with the Chinese habit of opium-smoking, and soon induced him to ask me for a trial shipment of one or two cases of that drug as a small venture on joint account, which turned out so exceptionally profitable that I repeated the operation at frequent intervals, and on an increased scale, when the matter attracted the attention of his principal, and the business, from a joint speculation between ourselves, changed into regular orders from the firm to be executed by me on the system of commission business pure and simple.
The importation of these Chinese Coolies having taken a rapid development, my orders too steadily increased, and soon attained such importance that without this intervention on the part of the firm, we never could have kept pace, between ourselves, with this ever increasing demand. While at first the article was admitted entirely free, it soon became subjected to a pretty heavy duty, when my packing instructions assumed such a peculiar character, as to leave me no doubt whatever respecting their real object, and years afterwards I learnt from my said friend, when on a visit to this country, that not one-fifth part of the opium consumed in Peru was properly declared at the Custom House there, but “was got through somehow or other”.
The effect of this systematic “evasion of the duty,” as my friend called it, probably because the word “smuggling” was not to his taste, was that the duty was lowered to one-half of its original rate, when the effect following this change took everybody completely by surprise. Lowered still further, and to such a point as to render smuggling no longer worth risking, the result was another considerable increase in the receipts of the Peruvian Exchequer. The business now had assumed an importance such as to attract the attention of several other firms, and owing to this competition it lost considerably of its former profitableness.
Some Chinese merchants, too, having settled in Lima, a good portion of the supplies of the drug was now imported by them from China, via San Francisco, which rendered it rather difficult to keep any longer a true record of the trade in this article with Peru.
However, by putting this down somewhere between 120 to 150,000 lb. per annum, previous to the breaking out of the war with Chili, I think I am not far from the mark.
During the worst period of this protracted and most ruinous struggle between the two sister Republics, the exports of opium from here to Peru, though at times entirely suspended for a month or two, yet never fell below the figure of 40,000 lbs per annum., from which undeniable fact I draw the conclusion that “coute que coute,” John Chinaman – in Peru at least – must have his pipe of opium.
Considering that before the war, with the exchange on London at 30d. per sol, or thereabouts, the selling price of opium averaged only from 7 soles to 9 soles per lb., it looks all the more surprising to see him pay gradually up to say 90 soles and even 100 soles per lb. for the article, after the rate of exchange had fallen, and if it be true, as I was assured by a presumably well-informed friend that, notwithstanding this unprecedented depreciation in the value of the paper currency of the, country, John Chinaman’s wages out there are now very much the same as before the war, the wonder really is that he should be able to manage at all to remain true to his pipe.
To my knowledge there never was any attempt made in Peru to “prohibit” the importation of the drug, which most likely may be accounted for by the entire absence out there of those well-meaning missionaries who think that John Chinaman cannot take care of himself, and who, with respect to this article, manage to see things which, to less fantastic observers, simply remain invisible.
On the other hand we see that those most directly interested in getting all the work they can out of John Chinaman, i.e., his employers, actually “facilitate” the sale of this so-called deadly poison to him. When we consider that a rapid rise in the cost of the drug, up to ten and even twelve times its former price, only partly affects the consumption of the same, it is obvious that no amount of “duty” is ever likely to do so; but, at the loss of the Custom House, is sure to benefit those who are spirited enough to run the risk of “quietly evading such duty.”
As I thought it useless even to try to obtain any information respecting the death rate amongst the Chinese in Peru, I will attempt to make a rough guess at it by way of comparison, and thus I would simply record the following three facts:
1st. That the wholesale importation of Chinese Coolies from Macao, as shown by the document reproduced at foot, has entirely ceased ever since 1874.
2nd. That the “free immigration” of Chinese from San Francisco, on account of the very costliness of this route, can hardly be worth while being taken into consideration.
And 3rd. That abstraction being made of the very worst period of the war, the consumption of the drug keeps on a wonderfully regular scale, from all of which it may be fairly concluded that this “death rate” cannot possibly be anything extraordinary.
Yours faithfully, G. A. B. H. H. SULTZBERGER, Esq.