Two years ago, the mansion of Pablo Escobar was demolished. One of the last remaining vestiges of the period that earned Miami the title of the drug capital of America, people were happy to see it go. It marked the end of an era, signaling that drug cartels no longer hold sway in South Florida.
Or do they?
Cocaine is making a comeback.
Cocaine production is at a record high in Colombia, and the vast majority of that production finds its way to the United States. The amount of cocaine being produced already far exceeds the amount produced during the height of the Miami drug wars of the 1980s.
There is always a delay between when drugs are produced and when they arrive in the US— smuggling is a complicated process, after all— and we know that the peak of this new wave of drugs has yet to arrive on our shores. Even so, we’re already seeing an increase in cocaine and related deaths in Miami.
Lessons from the past.
In the ‘80s, Miami was famously at the mercy of “cocaine cowboys,” drug smuggling rings that enforced their business with violence and were responsible for the murders of men, women, and even children. In 1982, $100 million of cocaine was seized from Miami International Airport. By 1985, nearly 50,000 pounds were seized from around South Florida in just one year. This was almost double the previous record for the entire United States.
While smuggling routes were regularly cut off by the DEA and Reagan’s newly-minted South Florida Drug Task Force, the cartels found new ways to sneak cocaine into the country. While a kilogram of cocaine might cost $1,000 to refine and $4,000 to smuggle into Miami, it could sell for a total of $50,000 or more. And when old-fashioned loyalty or the potential for profit wasn’t enough to keep people in line, there was always the option of violence. “Plata o plomo,” Escobar himself was often known to say, explaining the choice to be made. “Silver or lead.”
There was no single factor that led to Miami becoming a safer place. Improved technology, increased budgets, and better intelligence all increased the rates at which drugs were seized. With extradition agreements came increased arrests and convictions of key figures in the primary drug cartels.
On the South American side, direct attacks on fields drove profits down. With the risks so much higher and the potential for profit so much lower, Miami became known less for drugs than as a multicultural city with a flourishing music and food scene.
Making Miami safer today.
The drug cartels of the past are not the same as those that are emerging today. Rather than rely on a few individuals, the new smugglers keep things smaller and more decentralized. They aren’t so engaged in high profile activities, preferring to stay under the radar. While federal agencies will of course continue to do their best, Miami’s newer problems will not be solved by taking down one individual or organization.
Much of that work will have to be done at the local level. Local law enforcement will be critical to this process, of course, but also individual citizens who are out in their neighborhoods, living their everyday lives with their eyes open. Only someone who knows their area well notices immediately when something is out of place.
The power of people.
While in the past, drug gangs have been able to use threats of violence in order to stop citizens from reporting suspicious activity, the internet has changed all that. Using an app like Torch means that tips can be truly anonymous.
With no chance of discovering the reporter, there is nobody to bribe or harm. Every honest person on the street has the opportunity to shine a light on their community without any fear of retaliation. And when one or two people become a hundred or a thousand, our streets are safer as a result.
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