Social and Cultural Impact

South Florida—that postcard corner of the Sunshine State, that lush strip of hibiscus and condominiums stretching roughly from Palm Beach south to Key West—is a region in trouble.  - James Kelly (1981)


Beneath the sunny, carefree exterior that enclosed South Florida, lay a city with a corrupted reputation. In the last few decades of the twentieth century, Miami was no longer leading in tourism, but annual homicide rates. 

A vistory to Miami in the 1960s would have discovered a mainly quiet, retirement community with an economy based around tourism. Just a short decade later, with the illegal drug trade in full force, Miami had progressed into one of the most violent epicenters in the nation. A new arrival of immigrants also accompanied the expansion of the industry.South Florida enjoyed a new prosperity due to the sudden influx of money and people brought by the trade, but it came with a violent cost. 


The illegal importation of cocaine in Miami beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the next decade ushered in what was then the largely foreign presence of violence, completely altering the city’s social scene into one characterized by rampant bloodshed. The buying and selling of drugs was irrevocably linked to murder, and Miami would soon come to be known for both.

                                                       The Miami cocaine crisis not only brought an unprecedented                                                        surge of violence unseen to the city before, it left an indelible                                                        stain on the city that would remain for years to come.   













However, once the dust settled, the remains were not all tarnished. The city lept from a sleepy retirement community into the international spotlight. Its reputation for the fast life and beautiful people, portrayed in movies and television that stemmed from this period, continues today.  In fact, one might argue that the Miami of today is, in large part, the product of the Cocaine Crisis. As Billy Corben, director of Cocaine Cowboys, put it, “The South Florida of today is the America of tomorrow.”

"An epidemic of violent crime, a plague of illicit drugs and a tidal wave of refugees have slammed into South Florida with the destructive power of a hurricane." 



Kelly, James “Trouble in Paradise” Time Magazine November 23, 1981


Billy Corben, personal interview with director, May 12, 2016.




"Paradise Lost," Time, November 23, 1981,16641,19811123,00.html