Friday, July 21, 2006

Bolivia, Miami: Miami Vice For Real

Miami Was Full of Vice

We've got Miami Vice the Movie opening, but what about Crocket and Tubbs original adventures in pastel? Seems like they weren't so far off in the 1980's. Miami was a trip back then.

Starting At The Airport

It all started wherever in Latin America you boarded. In Bolivia the point of departure was Santa Cruz where an inordinate amount of large houses were going up when the country was stuck in hyperinflation and oil had gone to hell. The airport itself was loaded with Lear Jets where the Narco-elite arranged its own flight schedules. The big Camba and Boliviannarcos sent their bag men and bimbos on the Santa Cruz-Panama-Miami flight, along with the medium sized dealers, and whoever else could afford a ticket worth three months of a bank managers salary. Those without US visas or with deposits to make debarked in Panama, and the party continued to Miami.

And Miami really was wild. Upper and middle class Nicaraguans fleeing the draft and the Sandinistas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, South Americans either fleeing from something, looking for opportunities, or both. People I had known, from about every country I had lived in, were here and many seemed to be involved in some scam or another, be it a get-rich scheme or plotting against governments. More than one of them ended up in the federal slammer - or worse.

Talk about a crazy time, people were running dope not only from Colombia or Bolivia, but also through third countries like Costa Rica. Nervous Colombian middlemen or small dealers, scared of the cartels distribution networks in Florida,unloaded blow at discount rates. From there it was a matter of getting it to Miami, because that's were everyone had a conecte who supposedly had cash in hand.

Miami was just the center of all sorts of related activities. Dollars looted from national treasuries, payoffs, legitimate profits, and payments from shady Colombians could be deposited and "made safe" by the many helpful banks in Miami. And from these institutions it was a short hop to El Omni (Shopping center) or Dadeland Mall for some shopping. Before it became uber-hip, Lincoln Road in South Beach was one giant electronics and clothing bazaar, where Latin America's new and old rich shopped in an area of town that was mostly retirees and shady characters. In other words you could also shop for other less conventional goods, or collect payments out of rooms in Miami Beach's then decaying waterfront hotels. Basically, the city was the place where you could come and buy anything you wanted, from Betamax recorders, airplanes, to AK-47's and have it delivered back to the home country, or wherever in the world.

And when some "bizness" went wrong:

Robert Hoelscher, a Miami-Dade County police sergeant and consultant for the TV show, said: "85 percent of what we put on television was a paraphrase of actual cases."

"There was a constant turf war," said Hoelscher. "We were out-equipped. They had better aircraft. They had bigger, faster boats. They had automatic weapons. We were outgunned in many respects."

Drug traffickers were regularly gunned down on city streets, sometimes in broad daylight, and bullet-riddled bodies turned up frequently in remote locations. One lawyer was shot to death in his office after he was subpoenaed in a drug case. A liquor store at a popular shopping mall was shot up by men wielding submachine guns and driving around in an armored panel truck.

Bryan Page, chairman of the University of Miami's anthropology department, said the "cocaine cowboy period" in the city's history began in the 1970s when an established Cuban network of traffickers and cocaine users attracted the attention of Colombians who saw a potentially lucrative market.

"The violence that was taking place was essentially Colombians taking over Cuban territory," Page said. "They were very bold. People would get shot up sitting at traffic lights. It was that kind of Wild West atmosphere that attracted the attention of the people putting together `Miami Vice.'"