Sunday, August 08, 2004

My Cocaine Museum

An excerpt from Chapter 2 of My Cocaine Museum (Michael Taussig, University of Chicago Press, 2004):

I ask a friend upriver in Santa María what happens to the gold he mines and sells. He says it goes to the Banco de la República in Bogotá, which sells it to other countries. "What happens to it then?" "I really don't know. They put it in museums. . . ." His speech fades. Lilia shrugs. It's for jewelry, she thinks. And for money. People sell it for money. It goes to the Banco de la República and they get money for it. . . . In a burst of self-righteousness, I ask myself how come the world-famous Gold Museum of the Banco de la República in Bogotá has nothing about African slavery or about the lives of these gold miners whose ancestors were bought as slaves to mine the gold that was for centuries the basis of the colony -- just as cocaine is today? So what would a Cocaine Museum look like? It is so tempting, so almost within grasp, this project whose time has come. . . .

Within grasp?


Where better, then, to start than with the twelve-inch-long bright red wrench, lovingly displayed on our TV screens in New York City last week, as described to me by my teenage son, an inveterate watcher of TV? Is not this oversize wrench the most wonderful icon for My Cocaine Museum? I mean, where better to start than with the mundane world of tools, antithesis of all that is exorbitant and wild about cocaine, and yet have this particular tool, which, being so fake and being so grand, so far exceeds the world of usefulness that it actually hooks up with the razzle-dazzle of the drug world? How these two worlds of utility and luxury cooperate, to form deceptive amalgams that only people privy to the secret can prize apart, is a good part of our story and therefore of our museum too.

For according to U.S. federal prosecutors, gold dealers on Forty-seventh Street in Manhattan are paid by cocaine smugglers to have their jewelers melt gold into screws, belt buckles, wrenches, and other hardware, which are exported to Colombia, from where the cocaine came in the first place. U.S. attorney in Manhattan James B. Comey points to "the vicious cycle of drugs to money to gold back to money."

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