Week 11- Cocaine Cowboys

Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary that recounts the rise and fall of some of Miami’s most prolific drug traffickers. It also recounts the violence that inevitably followed the flood of drugs into Miami during the 1980’s. Directed by Billy Corben it was released in 2006 and showed those who watched it how Miami became a haven for drugs, drug smugglers, and those who would buy the drugs. At the same time it poses some interesting questions, such as where were these drugs coming from? How was the U.S. trying to stop this rush of Cocaine? And finally, how did this whole thing get started?

To answer the first question, Coletta A. Youngers points to the Andes are the source. In Collateral Damage she says that “The Andean region is the source of the bulk of illicit drugs that ultimately wind up on U.S. city streets.” (Youngers, 128)  Disturbingly though, it appears that some of our allies were involved with this drug trade. Oliver North pops up quite a bit when talking about the “Contras” and the drug trade is no different. In many reports it appears that through his dealings and the dealings of other that the U.S. knew of the Contras being actively involved with the illicit drug trade. (The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations) This answers the first question, that indeed drugs were coming into the U.S., we knew where they were coming from, and were even willing to turn a blind eye to allies dealing in drugs, so long as it suited our needs in the area of conflict.

The second question also comes with some disturbing revelations. Once the U.S. government decided to begin its “War on Drugs” it actively tried to stop it. With drugs flowing into Miami at a ridiculous rate, the government had to take action. The only problem was it went about it the wrong way. Youngers wrote extensively on the U.S. strategies to contain and end the illicit drug trade from Nixon all the way to George W. Bush. But in all her research she sees that the U.S.’s attempts simply undermine the very countries they’re trying to help. The U.S. chose allies that “represent some of the most dangerous elements” of Andean society which threaten the “civilian institutions upon which the future of democracy in these countries depend.” (Youngers, 134) The U.S. attempted to stop the cocaine rushing into Miami at its source in the Andes. But, this didn’t exactly work since “there is hardly a dent in overall coca production, and cocaine and heroin are just as cheap and readily available as they were” when George H. W. Bush launched the “Andean Initiative” in 1989. (Youngers, 129 – 131) So despite U.S. attempts to stop the drugs at their source, they still pour into places like Miami, even if some of the criminals who traffic in the drugs are caught.

Finally, the third question is how did this all start? Paul Gootenberg tackled the origins of this drug trade with The “Pre-Colombian “ Era of Drug Trafficking in the Americas: Cocaine, 1945 – 1965. He places the problem with the politics of cocaine that could be found in Peru. In May of 1949 the last of Peru’s legal cocaine was dried and sent off. (Gootenberg, 136) This marked the beginning of cocaine being an illicit drug. This was due to various anti-cocaine politics that followed after the American government caught a cocaine trafficker by the name of Balazero. (Gootenberg, 140) He was linked to the politics of Peru and from that point forward it was the end of legal cocaine in Peru. And when the cocaine became illegal the prices for it and the violence to which people would go to obtain skyrocketed. This was the start of the illegal drug trade that would eventually come to America’s doorsteps in Miami.

Cocaine Cowboys presents an interesting recent history that appeals to those of us who were born in the late 1980’s. It successfully shows the appeal of the illicit cocaine trade in Miami, how it got started there, and how it supposedly ended, though any American who has watched the news knows that the importation of cocaine has not stopped and is still profitable.