Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary centered on the drug wars of the 1970s and 1980s in Miami, Florida. It outlines the shift from marijuana to cocaine as the most popular drug in America. Many former key players in the drug trade including Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday and Jorge Ayala told their stories. Roberts and Munday were drug runners who utilized many different ways of smuggling cocaine into the United States. This included flying planes to and from Colombia to pick up the drugs, sometimes dropping it into the Miami Harbor attached to tracking beacons, and then loading it into boats and transporting it back to the mainland. The two men owned several properties and faux businesses up and down Florida’s west coast in order to protect their smuggling business. When Roberts was finally captured, he claims he made more than 50 million dollars during his time as a drug smuggler.
Jorge Ayala was a hit man for Griselda Blanco, the godmother of the Colombian drug trade. Blanco ordered more than 200 killings in the Miami area before she was finally arrested. He admitted to killing more than 25 people during his tenure with Blanco. He said he came from a good family in Chicago, didn’t really have any reason to turn to crime, but started stealing cars with friends at a young age to make extra cash. Stealing cars led him to his life with the Colombian drug lords.
The film shows that money made from the drug trade went right back into the infrastructure of Miami. It stimulated Miami’s economy with people buying expensive homes and cars. Banks, clubs and sky scrapers were all built with money used from cocaine dealings. In fact, until the drug trade turned violent, many politicians and law enforcement officers turned a blind eye to the drug trade because it helped Miami’s economy in a time where most economies were struggling.
CIA documents also show that the US government knew about the drug trade in America and actually let it continue. Throughout the 1980s the US government backed the Contras, a rebel group engaged in war with the Socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua. After Congress passed a resolution forbidding any US assistance to the Contras, many high government officials allowed these rebels to sell drugs in America in order to raise money to purchase arms. One document shows, “In a July 12, 1985 entry, North noted a call from retired Air Force general Richard Secord in which the two discussed a Honduran arms warehouse from which the contras planned to purchase weapons. (The contras did eventually buy the arms, using money the Reagan administration secretly raised from Saudi Arabia.) According to the notebook, Secord told North that “14 M to finance [the arms in the warehouse] came from drugs.”” The documents also say that “in 1985 Oliver North had wanted to take $1.5 million in Cartel bribe money that was carried by a DEA informant and give it to the contras.”
According to Coletta Youngers, after the Iran-Contra affair, the US took a more active role in Andean politics regarding the drug trade. They wanted to arm and train armies fighting drug traffickers. Youngers writes, “Among those militaries are those responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in the hemisphere today. As a result, another unintended consequence of the US war on drugs is that Washington is at least indirectly fueling human rights violations and, in Colombia, contributing to the region’s most brutal counterinsurgency campaign.” This means that by the troops the US are arming and training are torturing and slaughtering poor farmers who have no other choice than to harvest coca leaves. She also says that due to political corruption, farmers losing land, and people just being poor in general, most farmers move to the Andes region to try their luck in the jungle making cocaine. These desperate people are the ones facing the brunt of US trained Colombian soldiers. Youngers says “US coca-eradication efforts in Columbia are counterproductive.”
Cocaine Cowboys helps to show just how big the drug wars of the 1970s and 1980s were in Miami. Although many people died for cocaine, the money that resulted from this illegal trade greatly improved Miami’s economy and infrastructure. In the 1980s, members of President Reagan’s administration turned a blind eye to cocaine sales in the US if it would help the Contras take out a socialist government. Finally, recent attempts to destroy the drug trade in the Andes Mountains have encouraged human rights violations by US trained Colombian troops.