Cocaine Cowboys, produced in 2006 in the United States, is an interesting documentary looking at how the drug trafficking industry shaped the city of Miami, FL. It transported the city from a dingy town to a bustling metropolis and vibrant city. Money coming from drugs went into buying skyscrapers. It’s true that such a dangerous and illegal operation as buying drugs has some benefits, but at what cost? The film looks at that question, as do historians. Historically, United States presidents have used the sale of drugs to benefit their political agenda.
First of all, President Nixon made policies against drug trafficking to support his anti-communism agenda. He and the Fuerza Democrática Nicaragüense/Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) tried to paint “communist Cuba as a cocaine-lovers paradise. In actuality, Cuba was not that bad and was doing a lot to reduce the use of cocaine (Gootenberg 153). Furthermore, Nixon set up the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973 to supersede past drug agencies, but his end goal was to eliminate communism. For instance, in 1973, he ordered the arrest of 19 drug traffickers in Chile on the grounds that illicit drug activities might be used by the left to threaten state security (Gootenberg 175). So, Nixon clearly had an agenda to decrease drug trafficking in order to defeat communism.
The problem is that the drug industry provided lots of people with jobs and supplied lots of money to Latin American countries. Gootenberg writes that many Bolivians resisted Nixon’s efforts to control drug trafficking in their country because cocaine was considered its most successful homegrown export at the time (170). Like the film shows, the selling of cocaine produced mass amounts of capital. The elimination of cocaine, would have hurt the people growing it greatly.
Later on, President Reagan’s administration exerted control over drug trafficking in a different way. They knowingly participated in the drug trade in order to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In the “National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2,” it was found that Oliver North, Reagan’s National Security Council aide, helped run the contra war for the Reagan administration. The contras were a guerrilla force backed by the Reagan administration which attacked Nicaragua’s Sandinista government during the 1980s. The briefing looks at a series of journals North made. In one entry, North wrote about a meeting he had with Robert Owen, his liaison with the contras. They discussed a plane used by Calero, who was head of the FDN, to transport arms from New Orleans to contras in Honduras. The Reagan administration was arming the FDN. The problem is that the funds totaling 14 million dollars for the arms supplying the FDN came from the selling of drugs.
Furthermore, the top-secret briefing also describes how the Reagan administration interceded on behalf of Jose Bueso Rosa, a Honduran general heavily involved with the contra operations. Rosa faced trial for a massive drug shipment to the United States. The FBI intercepted a 40 million dollar cocaine shipment to the U.S. from him. Bueso and other conspirators planned to assassinate Honduran president Roberto Suazo Cordoba—no doubt the Reagan administration supported. Unfortunately, for the Reagan administration, their plans were not working out. As the briefing details, a contra sympathizer in California testified to the FBI that the FDN had become more involved with selling arms and cocaine for personal gain than for a military effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. Evidently, their political goal wasn’t working out well.
Further evidence that political agendas don’t work out well is in recent U.S. presidents such as George Bush. President Bush tried to solve the problem of drug trafficking, but there has been a lot of collateral damage with those efforts. Youngers said the immense control and aid from the United States to Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Columbia increases local military control when it should be thinking about civilian control (144). Civilian governments are unable to exert control because the U.S. provides so much aid to local military forces. The end effect is unrest and human rights abuses among the civilians. For example, in Bolivia, the U.S. drug policy puts cocaine farmers against the Bolivian police. This causes violence and human rights abuses (Youngers 127). In this case, U.S. political control in Latin American countries has proven to be damaging to the people in Latin America.
So even though the production of drugs is profitable to some, the cost of it is not worth it. Like the film shows, the U.S. seems to benefit greatly from it. Politicians have tolerated it and been opposed to it in order to advance their own political agenda. But the U.S. control of drug trafficking is damaging to people in Latin America producing it. While the U.S. does not see the damaging effects of drug trafficking, it is there. The film, Cocaine Cowboys, seeks to show that the economical advantages of drug trafficking is not worth the suffering it causes. It’s illegal and should not be condoned by U.S. politicians.