Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary film about Miami and the drug trade, which seemingly built the city as it is known today, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The story is told by many of the individuals involved in creating the cocaine culture, including those involved in transport, selling, and the violence that ensued as the cartels began fighting over territory. The documentary goes into great detail about the intricacies of transporting drugs into the United States and the various groups involved in selling cocaine. While the film was centered on Miami and Colombia as the destination and source of the cocaine respectively, the trade of and war against drugs occurred in many different areas.
Miami was certainly the hub for cocaine during the 1970s and 1980s as shown in the film. Those interviewed in the film explain how the trade took the city from a typical retirement style Florida town to the culturally diverse city it is now. The drug trade created a financial boom in the city that caused immense growth. At this period in time, Colombia seems to be the only major source of cocaine even though that was not always the case. As Gootenberg explains throughout his article on “pre-Colombian” drug trade, the path was built by other Latin American nations and allowed Colombia to step in as a major player without having to start from scratch (Gootenberg, 175). The drug cartels merely advanced what already existed. During the early years of the war against cocaine specifically, Colombia was not even considered due to its reputation as a marijuana producer (Gootenberg, 159). The focus of the international anti-drug campaigns were on people such as Blanca Ibanez of Bolivia (Gootenberg, 164-7).
It is also this same war against drugs that created the ebbs and flows in the source of cocaine that allowed Colombia to become the major player seen in the documentary. The pressure the United States and international organizations, such as the UN and INTERPOL, placed on Bolivia and Peru forced the trade to relocate or other cartels to become more successful (Youngers, 128). As pressure from various governments increased, at the behest of the United States, the production of cocaine simply adapted.
An interesting aspect to the drug trade and specifically the United States’ war on drugs revolves around the alliances that have formed between the U.S. military and various Latin American nations. Youngers spends a significant amount of time pointing out the blind eye the U.S. government turns while supporting regimes or military organizations which violate human rights on a regular basis (Youngers, 139, 145).
Another parallel can be drawn between the the documentary and a situation Youngers points out in her article. The documentary goes into some detail about the financial gains Miami enjoyed as a city due to the large sums of cash flowing from the selling of cocaine. It also explains how the economy fell drastically as the crackdown by local and federal agencies slowed the drug trade. Youngers explains how the coca industry significantly helped Latin American nations throughout the 1980s and they came under economic hardship as the war on drugs caused many of the coca growing areas to fall on hard times (Youngers, 129).
One aspect of the documentary which is particularly interesting comes revolves around the topic of economics. A few of those interviewed hinted at the local governments’ knowledge of the trade and its impact on the economy, especially during the 1980s while the rest of the nation was in somewhat of a recession. They also spoke of how the only reason for the intense crackdown on cocaine revolved around the extreme violence between the cartels in Miami. This leads me to believe that the war on drugs is somewhat of a false war. So long as the drug trade is somewhat beneficial to the overall population, at least in this case a city’s population, the government is willing to simply look the other way. Had it not been for the greed of a few prominent members of the cocaine trade in south Florida, cocaine could still be a major factor in the city. There is little doubt though, as was pointed to in Dr. Black’s lecture, cocaine has simply been replaced by some other substance yet to feel the wrath of the war on drugs.