American Venom presents an “animal-centered” history of inter-American relations from the dawn of the 20th century until the current day. The book is organized around 4 chapters, each of which focuses on a particular genus of venomous snake (1: Bothrops; 2: Crotalus; 3: Lachesis; 4: Micrurus + Oxyuranus),followed by an epilogue - Hydrophis. It roughly arcs chronologically, starting from the turn-of-century era of budding multinational corporate capitalism, and concluding in our present day landscape of global health inequities. I examine the ways in which the people, products, and sociopolitical configurations of that inter-American moment converged in the encounters between humans and venomous snakes. These “human-snake conflicts” proliferated along with the expansion of large-scale agroindustrial operations undertaken by U.S-based corporations with massive Latin American landholdings and commensurately exploited workforces - particularly in Central America and the Caribbean basin, but not exclusively. It traces the struggles of workers who mobilized for rights, as they labored at the nexus of various marginalizing forces. These campaigns included access to life-saving antivenom medicines that by the 1920s were an increasingly common matter of life or death on bananeras, coffee plantations, and other similar tropiculture settings. Concurrent with these struggles were public health campaigns and related legislation that brought together policymakers, corporate actors, elected officials, and medical professionals who wished to solve the issue of snakebite in their communities, constituencies, or employee ranks. These efforts also bore out in the work of doctors and scientists who pursued research on venomous animal toxins. These emerging global networks of snakebite and venom knowledge established processes to synthesize antivenins, and launched pharmaceutical manufacturing operations across the hemisphere. Following the momentous shifts in inter-American relations that characterized the first half of the twentieth century, the ensuing Cold War era witnessed broadening articulations of South-South solidarities. The 1960s and 1970s saw these dialogues play into the opening of new South-South visions of common struggles in public health, tropical disease, and rural poverty. The past 40+ years of scientific research and public health initiatives maintain the hallmarks of these South-South visions, while also reflecting the legacy of over a century of ever-evolving formations of multinational capital and international economic relationships that drive social and health inequities today.
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