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Review: Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded

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During the 1970s and 1980s, cocaine supplanted marijuana as the recreation drug of choice, turning the idyllic seaside town of Miami into a hub of decadence, crime, and violence. The cocaine trade was big business, attracting all sorts of sordid characters: Columbians, who supplied it; Cubans, the foot soldiers; and a motley crew of smugglers and hustlers who moved it all around. They called themselves (or were so dubbed, no one really knows for sure), the Cocaine Cowboys. They’re all subjects of a brilliant and illuminating documentary: a gripping story about how a group of criminals fed America’s growing fondness for cocaine, their rise and fall.

The Cocaine Cowboys came up with some ingenious ways to smuggle cocaine into the United States, often being one step ahead of law enforcement. They became fabulously wealthy in the process, creating an economic boom. But the city of Miami, and its helpless residents, paid a heavy price. Crime went up drastically as drug gangs viciously and brazenly fought each other in the streets for market share. The media started calling Miami the crime capital of the United States. Residents and tourists were fleeing the city in droves.

Aside from Miami looking like Al Capone’s Chicago, things were no doubt good for the Cocaine Cowboys, but like all good things, it came to an end. Hubris—and greed—played its part, of course; an after years of bumbling, law enforcement got its act together, and aided by the federal government, forced the cocaine business out of Miami. And those Cocaine Cowboys not already killed by the police, or their rivals, ended up in jail.

One question the documentary answers is where did all the money go? So much money was pouring in from the cocaine trade—in the billions—that an entire banking system sprouted up just to handle all it all, turning Miami into a center of narco-finance. Much of the money was laundered into legitimate businesses, mostly real estate. Much of modern Miami, as currently know it, its downtown, South Beach, and countless beachfront properties were financed by fortunes made from cocaine.

The story of the Cocaine Cowboys is told mostly by the participants themselves, through candid interviews, interspersed with news footage and grisly photographs, they tell a gripping story of the rise and fall of the cocaine trade in Miami.

One of the most chilling interviews is from a former hitman named Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, who worked for Griselda Blanco, a ruthless female gangster known for her murderous ways. Rivi, speaking from jail where he’s serving several life sentences, talks about his murders in a straightforward and matter-of-fact manner, devoid of any emotion or remorse whatsoever: a stone-cold killer. Rivi is one of many characters who make this documentary such a compelling watch.

Though the main focus of this documentary are smugglers and thugs, law enforcement gets to tell its side. They, too, talk, candidly about how hapless they were in fighting the drug gangs, hampered by poor to non-existent resources to widespread corruption.

If this documentary teaches us anything, it’s the futility of America’s war on drug. Law enforcement may have shut down the drug trade in Miami, but it just simply moved elsewhere. These days most cocaine flows through Mexico. The violence that once plagued Miami now hits the border towns of Mexico. Price America is willing to pay to sniff cheap cocaine.

[Note: Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded is an update of Cocaine Cowboys, originally released in 2006. It includes over one hour of new footage, interviews, and updates.]

Written by niraj

October 22nd, 2014 at 9:06 pm