Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary produced in 2006 about the illegal drug trade that was prevalent in Miami during the 1970s and 1980s. Candid interview of Americans who were involved explain how drugs were smuggles into the United States and the violence that the trade necessitated. The documentary shows the intricacies involved in smuggling while making it seem easy to accomplish. The viewer is left wondering how it was possible for smuggling of illegal drugs to be so lucrative despite immense effort put forth by the US government to end trafficking.
According to the article by Coletta A. Youngers, the policies adopted by the United States did little to hinder the growth of the cocaine industry. She sites Fortune magazine as stating that cocaine is “’probably the fastest growing and unquestionably most profitable’ industry in the world”. The Andean Initiative as enacted by President George H. W. Bush had been intended to “strengthen and diversify the legitimate economies of the Andean countries to overcome the destabilizing effect of eliminating coca and cocaine as a major source of income.” Had this economic assistance provided by the initiative been forthcoming it may have helped, but the plan called for providing aid only after a significant decline in drug trafficking had been achieved. With the high profits from cocaine being an immediate source of income waiting for aid from the United States would only hinder the economy.
The United States also found resistance from the local communities in which the drugs were produced. Though the US denied foreign aid and imposed sanctions upon countries that did not cooperate with the war on drugs, many local farmers gained their livelihoods exclusively from production of the coca plant. Many local officials worried that removing the coca plants could led to rebellion against the fragile governments in place. Youngers quotes a Peruvian military commander as saying “There are 150,000 peasants growing coca in the zone. Each of them is a potential subversive. Eradicate his field and the next day he will become one.”
Another possible reason the United States was unable to effectively combat the illegal drug trade for so long is the early focus on Cuba as a main route for smuggling. According to Paul Gootenberg, Harry Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics “tried to paint ‘Communist’ Cuba as a cocaine-lovers’ paradise” in order to fuel anti-Castro sentiment within the US. In reality, the FBN needed to misrepresent facts about the seizure of narcotics in order to portray this image. In one case mentioned by Gootenberg a find of 14 kilos of cocaine which happened in Mexico was reported to the public as having occurred in Cuba. It was also stated by the FBN that $2 million of cocaine was imported by Cuban communists into New York on a monthly basis, when the drug trade was actually anti-Castro. This campaign of misinformation led to confusion of illegal trade routes by the authorities and the misdirection of funds required for combating the emerging drug problem.