The United States is “the world’s largest consumer of illicit drugs” (Youngers 126). The documentary Cocaine Cowboys, is a behind the scenes view of how the drug industry grew in a multi-million dollar industry in Miami and beyond. The money that buying, selling and transporting drugs offered, to those who were willing to take the risks, was enormous; however, along with the wealth came violence and threat of prosecution. The life of a drug smuggler was definitely portrayed as glamorous at first, and seemed to be an easy way to make a fortune if one knew the tricks of the trade, i.e. knowing the right flight routes to take to avoid inspection, using a towing business to avoid accountability, and of course, bribing the local police force to look the other way, or in some cases, even lend a helping hand.
Youngers supports these basic concepts of the drug trade by stating, “Traffickers have adapted quickly to drug control strategies, developing new methods and routes to circumvent detection” (128). She also cites the Fortune magazine article that called the cocaine trade ‘as probably the fastest growing and unquestionably the most profitable industry in the world” (129). The film also discussed the economic troubles that the United States experienced during that time, but Florida was one state that showed an excessive growth in their economy due to the drug trade. As Youngers points out, the Florida was not alone in this experience as Columbia also felt the help that the drug trade offered as it “lubricated the economy” and provided “employment opportunities” (129).
But the ease of doing business didn’t last and the ill effects of the drug business finally reared its ugly head. As Coletta A. Youngers said in Collateral Damage, “Drug trafficking […] breeds criminality, exacerbates political violence, and […] greatly increases problems with citizens’ security” (Youngers 126). She goes on to make the point that as the United States created its own stance on the drug trade, they professed that it should be the stance that other nations, like those in Latin America, but “Through its drug policy, the United States has forged unholy alliances with militaries that have deplorable human rights records” (Youngers 127). The documents that were released due to the Freedom of Information Act in 1989 support this idea, citing the United States involvement in the Iran Contra scandal and the monetary support that Oliver North was apparently willing to make through funds taken from the drug trade. “The Kerry Committee report concluded that “senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras’ funding problems” (Did the CIA Sell Drugs in the 1980’s?).
The film did not touch on the impact that U.S. counter narcotics agencies had upon the regions like Columbia. Younger points out that “the Pentagon is seeking to strengthen the very forces that many local governments are trying to keep back […] and that remain one of the principal obstacles of establishing effective civilian rule…” (133). Younger also states that those forces backed by Washington in other regions were “some of the most dangerous elements” of the area.
The film, articles and previously classified documents paint a very broad picture of the drug industry. While painted as glamorous and lucrative by the film, the articles and documents paint a drastically different image. Drug trafficking permeates all areas of the lives who must live in the general vicinity of the activity and even for those of us who may live in a relatively drug free environment, we know it’s always lurking just below the surface waiting to make its presence known.