Blu-ray Review: “Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded” Is A Compelling Look Into The Cocaine Wars of 1980s Florida

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Review by James McDonald

“Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded” is the true story of how Miami became the drug, murder and cash capital of the United States, told by the people who made it all happen.

In “Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded”, the film talks to the men and women who back in the 1980s, at the height of the cocaine infusion into America, were responsible for smuggling the drugs. They talk about how marijuana was the big deal for a long time but gradually, cocaine started making its mark and in no time, it took over as the most expensive and most profitable narcotic in the country. And with this cocaine, came murder. A lot of it. Drug cartels from South America were running the show in Florida and they were constantly fighting with each other and because of this, many innocent people were disposable collateral damage. A lot of the people killed were Cuban immigrants who had come to Florida illegally and therefore could not be identified. In 1980, 125,000 Cubans reached the United States despite Coast Guard attempts to stem the movement. As the exodus became international news and an embarrassment for the Cuban government, Castro emptied his hospitals and had prison inmates rounded up as “social undesirables” and forced the inclusion of them among the political and economic refugees.

President Carter’s administration welcomed the refugees with open arms and once Cuba saw that the U.S. weren’t turning these emigrants away, Castro stated, “Anyone who wants to leave Cuba can do so” and declared that those who were leaving the country were scum. A lot of these refugees were regular people trying to make a new start for themselves and their families but many of them were the above-mentioned “social undesirables” who once they reached the U.S., were free to roam the streets and began raping and killing anybody they wanted. At this point, Dade County in Florida became known as the murder capital of the United States. Gun ranges started popping up almost overnight and regular citizens started buying guns and learning how to use them so that they could fight back against the Cuban convicts, convinced that the police were not doing anything to help them. Violence begot violence and it became a never-ending circle.

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Because of all this violence and mayhem, Florida’s tourism started to dry up. People were afraid to visit the ‘Sunshine State’ for fear of losing their lives and the authorities knew they had to do something about it. In late 1980, the police came up with the idea of an elite task force, CENTAC (Central Tactical Unit), which combined the efforts of the DEA, Metro Homicide and the Organized Crime Bureau Units. They became known as a modern day “Untouchables” because they were given the power to do whatever it took to fight back against a seemingly unstoppable force. What I really liked about this film, is that it is broken down into three segments. The first segment deals with the people who smuggled the drugs from South America to Florida and within the state. Then we talk to the police and they explain how they operated during this time-frame and the last part is the drug dealers themselves. Talking to men who were assassins for the drug cartels and listening to how they did things. All three segments deal with the three operational components of drug dealing.

Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala was, for a time, the hit-man of choice for Griselda Blanco, a.k.a. the Cocaine Godmother and the Queen of Narco-Trafficking. She was a drug lord for the Medellín Cartel and a pioneer in the Miami-based cocaine drug trade and underworld during the 1970s and early 1980s. In the movie, Ayala, who is serving three consecutive life sentences, talks very calmly about the people he killed and how he killed them. It was chilling listening to a man that could be your brother or best friend, casually talk about murder like you and I might talk about a game or a movie. At a butt-numbing two and a half hours, I honestly thought I would be looking at my watch but the subject matter in the film is so intense and incisive, you hardly notice the time going by.

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James McDonald
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