The film Cocaine Cowboys uses the testimony of two American drug dealers to explore the sharp uptick in the volume of transportation of cocaine from Colombia to the United States in the 1970s. The movie goes on to uncover the spike in violence as a result of the increased cocaine dealing and the resultant corruption of the Miami Police Department due to its dire need for manpower, again heavily relying on the anecdotal testimonies of individuals directly involved with the drug cartels. Cocaine Cowboys concludes with the arrest of many involved in the drug dealing in Miami and an analysis of the positive economic impact of the drug trade on its locale.
The movie begins by investigating the transition in the United States from an emphasis on marijuana trafficking to cocaine trafficking. In the interview with Mickey Munday, he mentions that he started off in the marijuana trade, but as a result of its supply exceeding its demand, low prices forced drug dealers to switch to cocaine. According to Gootenberg, “cocaine barely existed as an illicit drug” before 1945, but “by the mid-1960s,” the flow of cocaine from South to North America “topped hundreds of kilos yearly” (Gootenberg 133).
The turning point of the film comes when the problems of Miami, Florida, are thrust into the limelight of national politics. The audience is shown pictures of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush reassuring the citizens of Miami and the United States that the drug problem will be dealt with. The film portrays this development accurately, but in some ways Cocaine Cowboys is misleading in this regard. Director Billy Corbin seems to associate the federal interest in Miami’s drug problems with their resolution, elevating the importance of this movement with the arrest of a major player in the drug cartel, Max, who fingered an incredible amount of others involved in the Miami drug trade. These two events were undoubtedly related, but the movie leads its audience to believe that ramping up the manpower of the police was a quick fix to the crime problem. Securing a boss of the Colombia-Miami drug cartel was in fact the primary reason for the police’s ability to imprison many of the members of the cartel.
Cocaine Cowboys primarily focuses on the effects and acts of drug dealing in the United States, but it does not discuss those effects in Colombia. Beginning with George H.W. Bush’s presidency, the United States turned its efforts towards changing the way that source countries themselves dealt with drug trafficking issues. The idea was ”to make the illicit drug trade more dangerous and costly, thereby driving down production and availability, driving up prices, and ultimately discouraging U.S. citizens from buying and using illicit drugs” (Youngers 129-30). In addition, the United States wanted ”to strengthen and diversify the legitimate economices of the Andean countries so that they could overcome the destablizing effect of eliminating coca and cocaine as a major source of income” (Youngers 130).