Rivi was, for a time, the hit-man of choice for Griselda Blanco, aka the Black Widow. Griselda was the grande dame of the Miami cocaine business, a Colombian mother of three, of impoverished origins, who slaughtered and intimidated her way to the top of a billion-dollar industry. She is a central character in this movie, the most deadly figure in a story in which the bodies are stacked like dominos. Conspicuous by her absence as an interviewee, she is one of the few key survivors of the era whom the film-makers were unable to coax before the lens. “Her release was imminent at that point, as was her deportation. I think she has changed her mind since, because we have been reapproached,” Corben says.
contract killer Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, the director of Cocaine Cowboys Billy Corben says: “He told me where there is a body buried in Miami, by the Florida turnpike. It’s all developed now, malls and condominiums. He knows where all the bodies are buried. We told the police. I think he told the police too. I just don’t think they care.”
Now serving three life sentences for 12 counts of murder, Rivi is a chillingly cool customer. He affably reels off the names of the victims he dispatched as if he were running through a shopping list. “The guy is one of the most pleasant interview subjects, the most laid-back, easy-going, polite, friendly and simple to deal with. But we’d be sitting there in an interview and you would have to kick yourself in the head to remind yourself what it is that this guy is talking about. He might as well be talking about the weather outside. But he’s talking about murdering women and children.”
The film’s approach is an unabashed tabloid assault of sensational images. Police and press photographs of nameless bodies, the collateral damage in the cocaine wars, dominate the screen, their twisted bodies leaking blood on to the Dade County sidewalks.
Rapid-fire editing unleashes an onslaught of information. This is documentary-making for ADD sufferers and has now inspired a feature film to star Mark Wahlberg, based on the the drug dealer Jon Roberts, featured in Cocaine Cowboys.
Corben, a Miami native with a conversational style like a runaway train, acknowledges the drug’s influence on Cocaine Cowboys’ aesthetic. “My intended effect was that after this movie, you felt like you had been on a bender.” Besides Griselda and Rivi, the key characters in the film are Roberts and Mickey Munday. They are the “cowboys” of the title, two outlaws who imported but didn’t sell the drugs. The way they tell it, their clever smuggling methods transformed the fortunes of the once sleepy backwater of Miami.
Corben’s memories of growing up in Miami during the cocaine-fuelled 1980s are of nightly news stories with a body count to rival a small war, and an awful lot of money. “I remember being in this working-class neighbourhood and everybody was doing very well. Whatever business you were in, the city was flush with so much cash that it trickled down, sort of a Reagan theory of economics. The trickle-down theory worked as long as you had successful drug king-pins in the community.”