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A documentary that details the inception of the cocaine drug trade in America from the early 1970's when Columbian dealers dropped a few "suprise" kilos in bags of marijuana which was easily smuggled in via boats to the Reagan Era which spent millions "controlling" the drug trade in South Florida. "Cocaine Cowboys" presents an interesting perspective on the economy of the 1970's and what kept Miami afloat. Director Billy Corben tells the story of a Miami skyline built not of bricks and steel, but bricks of cocaine via interviews with some interesting smugglers, assasins, dealers, Ford models, and newscasters.
According to the film, in the 1970's marijuana was easily smuggled into South Florida. People openly off-loaded bales of marijuana from sail boats on public docks without interference. According to dealers in the film, in the 1970's cocaine was only used by medical professionals who could afford the several hundred dollars a gram price tag. Eventually the Columbian cartels found smugglers willing to import the drug and used Cuban distributors which made the drug readily available for everyone. The drug was first used by low-lifes-Castro refugees set free after he opened his prisons-and worked it's way up the ladder to become a party drug for all echelons of society. While the rest of the country struggled with 18 percent rates of inflation and a crashing economy, the Federal Reserve in Miami had so many deposits they had to stay open 24 hours a day. At one point the film says that federal investigators estimate one bank should have taken in deposits of around 2 million a year but was actually taking in 12 million. And that was just one bank. Hundreds opened their doors to launder money for the Columbian cartels. With the cocaine economy came Mercedes dealerships, a run-up in housing costs, luxury jewelery dealers. The Mercedes dealership in South Beach had a three month waiting list while the rest of the country was struggling to save for a Honda Civic and the gas that went in it.
It's never stated, but it sounds like the cocaine economy kept the whole country afloat for a while. The situation continued for about ten years until so much cocaine was being imported that the price dropped, violence skyrocketed, and the government finally decided to start busting people-not coincidentally at a time when the economy had recovered. Most of the people interviewed for this film were or are in jail. But many people in legitimate businesses that benefited from the free flowing cash from the cartels, used their new found wealth to build the Miami skyline. A doctor who is interviewed for the film said that at one point he was driving to work and counted more than 30 skyscrapers going up in the Miami skyline-all from the profits of drug money.
Some of this documentary will be familar. There have been enough films and sitcoms about cocaine in Miami that most of us know the tales. However, the positive economic impacts of cocaine were totally unknown to me. It's amazing and somewhat shocking. The vintage news footage and interviews make this documentary really interesting and keep the essential message from becoming a boring classroom lecture from the Federal Reserve chairman. All in all, a unique perspective and a pretty good yarn told by interesting raconteurs.