“I got 200 sticks of dynamite…”
Race horses that cost $50,000 a month to feed, $20,000 a night spent in nightclubs, flashy, disposable sports cars, and millions of dollars wrapped in trash bags and buried in the back garden–Miami, Florida in the late 1970s and early 80s was one big party for the drug traffickers, and drug dealers–the wholesalers and the retailers–those who dealt in the lucrative cocaine business. The big party lasted until the situation in Dade County spun so far out of control that the murder rate climbed from 104 in 1976 to 621 in 1981, and an entire graduating class from the police academy were either dead or in jail.
Director Billy Corben’s excellent, insightful and well-structured documentary Cocaine Cowboys examines the drug explosion that took place in Miami in the late 70s and early 80s. The film is largely built around details provided by two drug traffickers–Jon Pernell Roberts and Michael Munday. Roberts and Munday were initially involved in Marijuana smuggling, until a “sample” bag of cocaine was stuffed in with a shipment, and then the Cocaine explosion began. In a matter of years, “the Rule of Law completely broke down in South Florida.” An entire economy sprung up around the lucrative drug trade–banks, fancy hotels, and nightclubs–Cocaine was the oil that greased the wheels of trade in South Florida, and while the rest of the country suffered from a recession, there “was no sign of recession” in the “Cocaine Economy” of Dade County.
The film clearly pinpoints the pivotal events that turned the tide in the drug trade–the influx of Cuban boat people tossed out of Cuba by Castro, for example. At first the Columbians imported and the Cubans distributed, but that shifted as Cocaine swept through the trade, and soon the Columbians were “pushing the Cubans out.” Another pivotal event highlighted by the film is the 1979 Dadeland Mall shooting–a bold daylight shootout orchestrated by Medellin Cartel trafficker, Griselda Blanco also known as the “Black Widow.” Blanco was bad news for Dade County, and the film tracks her bloody career with some very gruesome photographs. Also included are extensive interviews with one of Griselda’s favourite hitmen, Riverito.
Cocaine Cowboys is excellent, and the film does a thorough job of exploring and explaining the details of how the drug trade exploded in Dade County, and its disastrous results. This lucrative, bloody business had to spin so far out of control before it was finally stamped on, and interviews with various reporters, police officials, hit men, and drug dealers capture the absolute decadence of the times. DVD extras include: deleted scenes, commentary by the director and the co-producer, “Hustlin’ with the Godmother: The Charles Cosby Story” and a “sneak peek at Mr. Untouchable.”