Review: Cocaine Cowboys
Griselda Blanco, a.k.a. The Godmother, a suspect in hundreds of drug-related murders in Miami during the ’80s.
Cocaine Cowboys is this year’s other Miami Vice. However, the Cocaine Cowboys is a serious documentary, which takes an unromanticized look at the cocaine trade in Miami during the 1970(s) and 80(s). This is a must see film. Read on:
This year has seen not one but two movies about Miami vice. The first was Michael Mann’s big-screen version of the 1980s TV series. The second is the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, a dizzying look back at the cocaine trade of the 1970s and ’80s and how it affected the city of Miami, Florida.
Directed by Billy Corben (Raw Deal: A Question Of Consent), Cocaine Cowboys explores Miami’s cocaine trade from the inside, including recent interviews with the criminals, cops and citizens who were there when the one-time retirement community metamorphosized into the glamorous yet blood-soaked epicenter of the Medellin cartel’s stateside operations.
The turning point for the city, the film suggests, was the Dadeland Mall shootings of July 11, 1979, when Colombian males involved in the coke business were gunned down at a liquor store in broad daylight. The level of violence displayed in the machine gun slayings was unheard of in Miami before that day but from then on it became commonplace. Miami, in effect, became a war zone for years after that.
A number of factors came into play that led to Miami becoming the murder capital of the U.S. during the 1980s due to the cocaine trade. Cocaine Cowboys focuses on two white Americans who made a fortune in the coke business, and illuminates how the trade literally made Miami the city it is today. The primary subjects are coke traffickers Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday. Jon, a brash New Yorker with Mafia ties, came south to avoid the “heat” from police only to find that he could make a fortune beyond his wildest dreams in the then “wide open” sleepy city of Miami. Jon was the business manager; transportation was handled by his foil, native Floridian Mickey (no Disney jokes, please).
These guys brought in obscene amounts of cocaine into the U.S. through Miami during the ’70s and ’80s. But they were just part of a larger narco-trafficking network originating in Colombia, which used Cubans as its distributors. Panama, then under the control of strongman dictator Manuel Noriega, served as the cartels’ bank. The Miami police department was besieged by corruption and lawyers got in on the act, too.
Cocaine Cowboys recounts the fast, glamorous life enjoyed by the likes of Roberts, a man so filthy rich he buried millions of dollars in cash in his backyard. But as in any gangland rise-and-fall story, the good times come to an end. After the Dadeland Mall slayings – the Lexington & Concord moment of the “cocaine wars” – the Miami’s murder rate tripled during the ’80s to over 600 homicides a year. This drug-driven bloodshed prompted Time to brand Miami a “Paradise Lost.” And the person suspected behind hundreds of these murders – including Dadeland – was an unlikely figure.
The drug trade in Miami, we learn, was not lorded over by a man but rather a woman: Griselda Blanco, a.k.a. The Godmother/The Queen of Cocaine/The Black Widow. And, as recounted by her former henchman, convicted killer Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, she was a terrifying master who ruled through fear and unspeakable violence. She would think nothing of having anyone – literally, anyone or anything near a target, including their wives, children and pets – butchered along with whomever had wronged her. The film’s most gruesome and shocking moments recall the numerous murders and attempted hits that Rivi and the various law enforcement personnel interviewed here connect Blanco with. Rivi speaks with chillingly calm candor about how he went from car thief to hitman, and his role in dozens of drug-related slayings. But Blanco remains the true monster of the piece.
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