Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary made in 2006 by Billy Corben about the illegal drug trade in the city of Miami in the 1970s and 1980s. It covers, through interviews with drug traffickers, dealers, hired assassins, and others involved with the trade, the rise of cocaine in America as it entered through the city. Interesting to note in this film is the way it had a significant and positive impact on the economy of Miami, even when the US was in the middle of a very severe recession, due to the large amounts of money that was generated by the illegal drug trade. Also in this film, it covers the rise and fall of organized crime groups, specifically like those of Griselda Blanco, an infamous drug queen and her rein of terror in which she had anyone that upset her killed in cold blood. These criminals are where the filmmakers take the title of Cocaine Cowboys, since their outlaw ways in battling one another caused widespread terror in Miami and they would kill anyone that stood in their way.
America is the world’s largest consumer of illicit drugs (Youngers, 126), and the US government has adopted a strong anti-drug stance to counter this. The reverberations from this have caused negative effects in the attempt by Latin American countries to become legitimate democratic countries, since America has the policy of training local militaries to be the enforcers against the drug trade, a job that is normally given to local police agencies. Coletta Youngers, in her article “Collateral Damage”, has a quote that explains these anti-government feelings that have risen from the US’s war on drugs:
“The US government’s war on drugs clearly hinders efforts to put civilian-military relations on a new footing and as such constitutes an obstacle to the strengthening and deepening of democratic governance in the Andes. US drug policy is detrimental to efforts to reduce military roles and missions, to eliminate the military’s role in maintaining internal public order, to enhance civilian control over military forces, and to increase both the transparency and the accountability of military forces. Moreover, the counternarcotics mission provides the military with a task that is likely to lead to human rights abuses, and the “confidential” nature of counterdrug programs further exacerbates patterns of impunity. (129)”
As can be seen, this policy that America has on using local military forces of other countries to stop the flow of drugs like cocaine into the US, instead of allowing governments to train local agencies to enforce drug laws, has caused tension between Latin American countries and the US.
In the documentary, the filmmakers show the contempt that drug traffickers had for the American government in interviews with them. They would smuggle thousands of kilos of cocaine every year in ingenious ways past DEA and coast guard forces, ignoring the laws so as to rake in billions of dollars in the drug business. The film also slightly touches on the under the table dealings that the US government had with drug cartels and money launders in Latin America when drug traffickers explained how they would send millions to banks in Panama under the control of the head of government there, Manuel Noriega. This guy had a good relationship with the US government due to them needing him in the war against other forces in Latin America, such as the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan government, as uncovered in declassified documents from the CIA.
The film, Younger’s article, and the CIA documents help show the overall context of America’s involvement in the war on drugs and its effect on Latin American countries. While the US’s policy of training military forces to combat drug cartels was the surface to the drug war, they were also hypocritically using funds and weapons to supply these same drug traffickers to combat political enemies in Latin America. Both of these caused negative feelings against America and further made life in Latin America harder for the native population, because of the dangerous and deadly trade of illegal drugs.