Patrick Skene-Catling

The Mutiny and the bounty

Roben Farzad reveals how the police, judiciary and drug traffickers happily collude in running America’s multi-million cocaine capital

Sullying the glorious sunshine, sand and sea, Miami in the 1940s, when I first ventured there, was already overcrowded, vulgar and exorbitant. It got a lot worse. By the early 1980s, the period to which this sensational criminal history is devoted, it had become the capital of Cubans in exile and America’s most prosperous cocaine entrepot, where the annual murder rate was more than 300. Attempts to impose law and order were handicapped by corrupt police, a corrupt judiciary and corrupt juries.

Over many years of intimate investigation of Miami at its nadir, Roben Farzad has succeeded in overcoming the formality of his Ivy League education (Princeton and Harvard) so uninhibitedly that he seems to have penetrated the minds, while discovering the habits, of the cocaine traffickers and users, and has adapted his prose style to the underworld patois of Little Havana. It is now too late for the Miami Chamber of Commerce to have Farzad assassinated; in his book Hotel Scarface, the truth about the place is out in all its luxurious squalor.

The quintessence of Miami’s industrial- scale narcotic hedonism was a hotel on Sailboat Bay, Coconut Grove. Owned by Barton Goldberg (whose father had established a New York hotel patronised by the Mafia), the headquarters of Florida’s cocaine cowboys was called the Mutiny. It was later nicknamed ‘Hotel Scarface’, in honour — if that’s the word — of Al Capone, the Chicago prohibition gangster who spent his last days of freedom in Miami before being imprisoned for tax evasion. When a film was made about another ‘Scarface’, his favourite fictitious habitat in Florida, the Babylon Hotel, was modelled on the Mutiny.

It was surrounded by a sub-tropical garden, with convenient access to moorings for yachts and powerboats able to reach Colombia, the principal source of cocaine.

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