Cocaine's minor destinies

Ephemerality and legal threat on the margins of the Peruvian state

by Richard Kernaghan

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How do fate and luck become decisive legal temporalities in the social worlds of Peruvian cocaine traders? This article retells an episode from the life of a woman who excelled at running cocaine in Peru's Upper Huallaga Valley. Drawing on her story, I consider how state predations affect experiences of law in a coca-growing region where police have historically exercised a right of spoils. Against legal fate—a threatening “state time” oriented toward misfortune—cocaine traders seek la suerte (luck), which they grasp through sensitivity to mundane details and a willingness to act on unforeseeable opportunities. Their accounts of police encounters reveal how the art of coordinating temporality and movement becomes essential to navigating margins of the state. I suggest that they also demonstrate the relevance of ephemerality to ethnographies of law.