Watch “Cocaine Cowboys” and Learn the History of Miami’s Drug Trade
“Cocaine Cowboys" is an education in the undeniable connection between Miami and the growth of the cocaine trade.
If you are like me and have lived in Miami for a while now, you have no doubt at some point run across a hardened old local who will go on and on about what a great city this used to be. And how now it is a festering cesspool of filth and crime. None of them ever care to explain how Miami went from Paradise by the Sea to “Detroit with a Beach,” but filmmaker Billy Corben attempts to try and explain it to us newcomers in “Cocaine Cowboys.” Apparently it has something to do with drugs.
“Cocaine Cowboys,” released this month on DVD, is a fast paced, quick edited 90-minute education in the undeniable connection between Miami going from Leisure Village to Global Village and the growth of the cocaine trade. Beginning with the infamous Daytime Shootout at Dadeland Mall in 1979, the film chronicles the rise of the cocaine business in South Florida in the 70’s and 80’s as told by some of the people in its most important roles. The first we meet is Mickey Munday, a guy who grew up in the Everglades and is about as Old Florida as they come. He was the leading transporter of cocaine form South America to the United States in his day, and demonstrates that wile many like to blame the cocaine boom on immigrants the locals played a big part as well.
There are also many interesting revelations in the film, among them that when Miami was the murder capital of the United States in the early 80’s, the police department was stretched so thin that they went from requiring that officers had never used drugs to basically admitting anyone onto the force who did not show up with a nose bleed. We also learn that while the rest of the United States experienced this apparent “recession” in the late 70’s, nobody in South Florida felt a ripple. Why? Well, it seems that while the manufacturing and service segments of our economy are sometimes sensitive to outside forces, the glamorous-illegal-drug segment seems to stay fairly healthy no matter what the financial climate. All those unemployed people had to feel good somehow. Another Cocaine fun fact we learn: The Miami Federal Reserve processed something like 10 times more cash than any other federal reserve in the United States in the early 1980’s. And we’re all pretty sure its not because people were just averse to using credit cards.
The weaving theme of the film is the gruesome tale of Griselda Blanco, better known as the Godmother of the cocaine trade. As anyone familiar with Latin culture knows, male dominance is more or less a given. So for a woman to garner respect, much less fear in an industry dominated by Latin men, she must be 10 times more brutal than they are. And Blanco made sure the men knew she was all business. She not only was indirectly responsible for hundreds of murders of rival drug rings in Miami during the 70’s and 80’s, but would routinely kill members of her own organization she thought might be plotting against her. The interviews with her main enforcer, Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, are disturbing for their gory detail, but are downright terrifying in the nonchalance with which he recounts some of their more brutal executions. Perhaps a reason Ayala’s interviews were done from prison.
This film is done in that 1980’s style which manages to capture the frenetic energy and intensity of the time period. It is that energy that exemplified Miami to so many people of my generation, and why many of us chose to move here. If you do not like quick change editing or intense on-screen video, you may become slightly nauseated by this film. However it would be an injustice to the subject matter to have filmed it any other way. The score is done by Jan Hammer who, as any Miamiphile knows, also wrote the score for the Miami Vice TV show. It fits the time period and the characters perfectly and provides an excellent backdrop for the stories unfolding onscreen.
If you are new to South Florida, or at least did not live here during the era of the Cocaine Cowboys, this film is a must-see. It will allow you to understand that the high-rise condo you now call home would not be there were it not for the likes of Griselda Blanco and Mickey Munday. While some, like Herald reporter Edna Buchanan, lament this fact, others see it as the necessary evil that made South Florida a major player on the world economic scene. Why else would so many Latin American banks have headquarters here? The 90 minutes that “Cocaine Cowboys” encompasses are intense and therefore the movie seems longer than it really is. But if it a ride you enjoy being on, nobody seems to mind.
Learn about the cast
John Pernal Roberts - Cocaine wholesaler, Roberts is involved in two of the most successful criminal organizations in the world - and became a multi-millionaire as a result - all before his 30th birthday.
Mickey Mundane - A self-described “old Miami redneck”, when he was busted by the FBI they referred to his smuggling operation as the “most sophisticated” the government has ever seen.
Jorge “Rivi” Ayala - Born in Colombia and raised in Chicago, Rivi was Griselda’s main enforcer.
Max Mermelstein - Snitch and star witness, Max testified that between 1981 and and his arrest in 1985, he smuggled 56 tons of cocaine and send $300 million back to the Medellin Drug Cartel.
Rapael “Rafa” Cardona Salazar - Highest ranking member of the Medillin Cartel in the United States in the 1980’s.
Miguel “Miguelito” Perez - Arrived in the United States during the Mariel boat lift. He was Griselda’s most ruthless killers, responsible for the Pupo Mejia stabbing at Miami International Airport.
Griselda “La Madrina” Blanco - The Godmother of Miami’s Cocaine Trade.
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