Cocaine Cowboys

Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary that chronicles the the growth of the drug trade in Miami, Florida during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The film makers interview many of the actual people involved in the drug trafficking, as well as using footage from the time period. The primary drug driving the operations and violence in Miami and South Florida is cocaine from Columbia. As Coletta Youngers writes in “Collateral Damage: The US “War of Drugs” and its Impact on Democracy in the Andes” the birth of illicit cocaine alarmed world drug authorities who still wanted to believe this drug had vanished for good in the 1920’s. Additionally, illicit cocaine for overseas use was porn in Peru in 1947-1950 with the suppression of declining legal cocaine sector, and then pushed on to Boliva, where the revolution progressively fostered cocaine’s development until 1964.

This would have a profound impact on the city of Miami, which went from being mainly a quite retirement town, to a hub of violence and the main access point of illegal drugs entering the United States from Latin America. Miami saw a rash of murders, gang violence, and police corruption during this period. It also saw a large influx of money, as drug dealers made vast amounts of money dealing cocaine. Men like Jon Roberts and Al Sunshine themselves admit and explain the cavalier way in which they tossed money around they earned operating as key transporters between Columbia and the United States.

The Columbian drug organization the Medellin Cartel was responsible for the majority of the violence during these period. The reason for the amount of violence was how incredible lucrative the cocaine trade was for the Cartels. This went so far as leading to Cartels destabilizing governments in Latin America through both corruption and establishing there own personal armies. In the declassified CIA documents it is acknowledged that in 1984 Bueso and co-conspirators hatched a plan to assassinate Honduran President Roberto Suazo Córdoba; the plot was to be financed with a $40 million cocaine shipment to the United States, which the FBI intercepted in Florida. The interaction of Latin American governments and the drug trade extends to their US diplomatic relations, as the US has long attempted to combat the drug trade at home and in Latin America. Paul Gootenberg writes in “The “Pre-Colombian” Era of Drug Trafficking in the Americas” that approximately 65 percent of the federal drug control budget continued to be allocated annually for supply-side efforts at home and abroad, and the Andes remained the centerpiece of U.S. International drug control policy. “Plan Columbia” was legislated, amounting to 1.3 billion over a two-year period, making Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. Military assistance in the world. Nearly $1 billion was allocated for the Colombian armed forces- almost $2 million a day.

Cocaine Cowboys shows why the US government is willing to spend this type of money in order to fight the drug trade back in Latin America, though the movie also raises serious questions about how effective the “War on Drugs” has been in the past. Taken as a whole, the film provides an in depth perspective on the drug trade by the people who took directly part of it. In the interviews, many of the participants talk about the 70’s and 80’s and the life they led then almost with the same sense of astonishment that comes over the viewer while watching Cocaine Cowboys. The film itself is very well made, and tells a fascinating story about Miami, drugs, money, and how Latin American Cartels became entrenched in parts of American society.