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Film / Cocaine Cowboys

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Cocaine Cowboys is a 2006 documentary about the rise of the illegal cocaine trade in Miami, Florida and the resultant crime epidemic during the 1970s and 80s. The movie chronicles the development of the illegal drug trade in Miami during the 70s and 80s, focusing on the immense and easy riches as well as the resulting gangland violence and bloodshed. The story is told primarily from the perspectives of Jon Roberts and Micky Munday, who helped transport cocaine for the Medellín Cartel as well as Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, the main enforcer for notorious Cartel drug lord Griselda Blanco AKA "The Godmother".

The 2008 sequel In Name Only, Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' with the Godmother, documented the relationship between Oakland crack dealer Charles Cosby and Griselda Blanco against a backdrop of the early 90s crack cocaine scene. The second film is smaller in scope, dealing primarily with Cosby and Blanco's relationship as opposed to the first film's assorted cast of characters.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Affably Evil: Roberts and even Rivi.
  • Ax-Crazy: Griselda Blanco, who is credited with starting the Miami drug war in the first place. Her violence gets so extreme and senseless that she is alienated from the rest of the Medellín Cartel, who makes multiple attempts on her life and forces her to move to California. By the time she is caught by police, she is estimated to have been responsible for the deaths of 200 people.
  • Black Widow: Griselda Blanco is outright called this due to her propensity for killing men she no longer finds useful.
  • Corrupt Cop: Police corruption was endemic, to the point that an entire academy year of the Miami PD ended up dead or in jail over drug-related corruption.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Played straight for most of the first film, until it all falls apart.
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  • Dedication: The Reloaded cut is dedicated to the memory of Medical Examiner Dr. Joeseph Davis, who died in 2013.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Griselda Blanco
  • The Dragon: Rivi, hitman and main enforcer for Blanco.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the first film, Rivi and his men had just successfully carried out a hit on a man who failed to pay Blanco when Rivi learns that she had also promised his men a bonus for killing the wife and kids as well. Even though his men had already shot the wife, Rivi ordered his own men out of the house at gunpoint to stop them from killing the children. Additionally, the accidental death of a rival dealer's son during a drive-by shooting is one of the only killings for which Rivi shows any apparent regret.
  • Every Man Has His Price: Roberts mentions this as proof of the corrupting effect of drug money on businesses and police.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Cosby in 2 discusses his intention to do this should Griselda Blanco order his death. While he escaped the drug trade, he lives knowing that she could have him killed at any point. A few years after the documentary was released, she was gunned down in Colombia, making this unlikely to happen.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: In 2, the prosecution believes that there's no way that Griselda Blanco will get anything less than a life sentence, and will most likely get a death sentence, as Rivi agreed to testify against her. The problem? A secretary in the Florida State Attorney's office ends up establishing a phone sex relationship with Rivi, which makes any testimony he could give inadmissible and blows the prosecution's case open. Fittingly, this segment is titled Beyond Bizarre.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Griselda Blanco, who grew up poor in Colombia and started her criminal career as a prostitute and pickpocket. She later became a drug lord of the Medellín Cartel, started the Miami drug war and was responsible for up to 200 murders.
    • Rivi started his criminal career as a car thief in Chicago and later became an assassin for Griselda.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Munday. Roberts explicitly compares him to MacGyver.
  • Gorn: The first film has quite a few explicit shots of dead men killed as a result of the drug wars.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Dadeland shooting is discussed about midway through the first film and it marks a switch from Roberts and Munday discussing origins and infrastructure of trafficking to Rivi recounting the violence of drug wars.
  • Infant Immortality: Zigzagged in the first film. Averted with the son of Chucho, a drug dealer who had disrespected Blanco's son, Michael Corleone Blanco, but played straight when Rivi orders his men to spare another target's children (see Even Evil Has Standards). Averted in the second with a memorial wall showing the many young deaths from drug gang violence.
  • Irony:
    • A moment of situational irony occurred when a South Florida preacher's sermon on the evils of drugs was interrupted by half a million dollars worth of cocaine crashing through the church roof.
    • A meta example: Attorney Samuel L. Burstyn, who discusses the moral decay brought on by the drug trade during the first film, was disbarred for his own involvement with the drug trade by the time the documentary was released.
  • It Gets Easier: Discussed by Rivi in regards to his killings.
  • Karma Houdini: Averted for most in the first film. Roberts & Munday were arrested soon after Max Mermelstein but were eventually released from prison, with Roberts dying of cancer in 2011. Rivi is still serving a life sentence for three murders. Griselda Blanco was arrested and imprisoned in 1985 (an subsequent case against her became a subplot in the sequel), but was released from jail & deported in 2004 and eventually gunned down in Colombia in 2012. Subverted with Max Mermelstein, who went into Witness Protection until he died of cancer in 2008. Played straight in the second film with Cosby, who retired from the drug trade after his involvement in Blanco's prosecution.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Cosby directly credits this for his survival at the end of the sequel.
  • Woman Of Wealth and Taste: Griselda Blanco.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: Even though Blanco was arrested in 1985, she still ran her cocaine empire from prison and enjoyed a $50 million annual income.
  • One Last Job: The flight that Munday made on September 20, 1986 (when police finally shut down the Miami operation) was to be his last trip because he felt that he'd made enough money by that point, and that things had become too dangerous to keep going.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Discussed by Roberts as a major difference between Colombian and Italian organized crime - the Colombians would kill someone if they didn't get paid (or sometimes even if they did), whereas the Italians would just beat them up because they knew they wouldn't be able to get any more money from a dead person.
    • Also discussed by Roberts when he explains why he couldn't have Barry Seal assassinated - Barry was such a high-profile government witness with so much protection around him that whomever carried out the hit was basically guaranteed to get caught and Roberts didn't want to take the risk. While Rafa was infuriated by this, threatening to cut Roberts off from more work, one of the Ochoas' sons was much more reasonable and was able to smooth things over with the Colombians.
  • Police Are Useless: Initially, the Miami-Dade police are overwhelmed by the level of violence and crime due to the Miami drug war, with murders happening so often that officers spent most of their time responding to crime scenes instead of investigating them. Their initial attempts to get enough officers on the streets to properly patrol them results in a massive amount of corruption, and the police advise citizens to arm themselves. They avert this later on as they get a grip on the situation.
  • Professional Killer: Rivi.
  • Recut: An updated and extended version of the original, Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded, was released in April 2014.
  • Retired Outlaw: Both Roberts and Munday are this at the time of filming. Since 2011, Munday is the last surviving "Cocaine Cowboy".
  • The Stool Pigeon: Max Mermelstein becomes a Betrayer Barry after getting busted for possession and taking a Plea Bargain. His testimony helped put Roberts & Munday away and effectively crippled the Medellín Cartel's Miami operation.
    • Barry Seal becomes another Betrayer Barry in Reloaded when he takes a Plea Bargain and becomes an important government witness. He was later gunned down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after a local judge refused to lift a six-month house arrest order, thereby guaranteeing his whereabouts and making it easy for the Colombian cartel to take him out.
  • Title Drop: In the first film, the title is used to describe the gunmen from rival gangs shooting each other on the streets.
  • Villain Protagonists: Roberts, Munday and Rivi in the first film. Cosby in the sequel.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last few minutes of Reloaded details the eventual fate of most of the main players (see also Karma Houdini) including events that occurred since the original film's release (such as the deaths of Roberts and Blanco).
  • Witness Protection: Max Mermelstein entered the program after testifying against the others and the Cartel.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Griselda Blanco, who offers her men a bonus for killing a target's whole family during a hit. When she hears about the death of Chucho's son in a botched hit on Chucho himself, she shows no remorse.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Rivi refusing to let his men kill a target's children. He accidentally averts this when a failed hit on Chucho ends up killing Chucho's son instead, which deeply affects Rivi when he finds out.
  • Wretched Hive: Does a good job of painting 1980's Miami as this. Dr. Davis even claims that any $20 bill found in Miami during the 1980s would have traces of cocaine if viewed under a microscope.


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