HomeNewsBriefAfter Working With CIA, Old-School ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ Face US Justice

After Working With CIA, Old-School ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ Face US Justice


A US court handed down an 11-year sentence to a former “cocaine cowboy” whose brother is currently fighting deportation from the United States. Both men worked alongside the US government at the time of their drug trafficking activities, lending a certain irony to their current legal predicaments.

On April 25, a federal judge in Miami handed down a more than a decade-long sentence to Gustavo Falcón. The Cuban-born Gustavo is the brother of Augusto Guillermo “Willie” Falcón, another member of the so-called cocaine cowboys, a term used to describe traffickers who brought drugs from Colombia into South Florida through the Caribbean in the 1970s and 1980s.

After 26 years on the lam from drug charges, Gustavo was arrested last year in Kissimmee, Florida. He pleaded guilty in February to involvement in a drug trafficking conspiracy led by his brother Willie and another Cuban national named Salvador Magluta. Officials estimate the network brought tens of millions of dollars worth of cocaine into the United States on an annual basis during its heyday.

US authorities brought charges against the Falcóns and Magluta in 1991. But Gustavo skipped bail and went into hiding while his brother and Magluta faced a trial in which they temporarily escaped facing justice by bribing jurors.

Later, however, Magluta was convicted of jury-rigging and other crimes, and in 2003 he was sentenced to 205 years in prison. Willie Falcón accepted a 2003 plea deal that gave him a maximum sentence of 20 years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cuba

Willie Falcón was released from prison in June 2017, but was immediately put into deportation proceedings in an attempt to return him to Cuba. He has since been engaged in a seemingly uphill battle to stop his removal from the United States.

According to the Miami Herald, Falcón’s lawyers have argued that his deportation to Cuba could put his safety at risk because the Cuban government would likely target him for retribution for his role in a plot backed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) aimed at killing then-President Fidel Castro.

The Falcón-Magluta drug trafficking organization reportedly funneled “substantial drug-trafficking profits in the mid-1990s to Cuban exile paramilitary groups aiming to kill Castro,” which also recieved support from the CIA. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The sentencing of Gustavo Falcón and his brother’s battle to block his deportation to Cuba are illustrative of a pattern of the US government at times turning a blind eye to the criminal ties of individuals and groups it views as necessary for achieving certain political goals. But it also shows how that dynamic can change when those actors lose their usefulness. 

One example of this is the Contra cocaine scandal of the 1980s. As the late Gary Webb chronicled in his series “Dark Alliance,” the US-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua were engaged in trafficking cocaine to the United States, which the CIA ignored due to the guerrillas’ role in fighting the US proxy war against the Soviet-aligned Sandinista government.

But after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and US-backed presidential candidate Violeta Chamorro ousted Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua’s 1990 presidential election, the threat that communism would take over became far less urgent, and the United States abandoned the Contras. After their drug trafficking ties came to light, some of the facilitators of the Contras’ cocaine business were prosecuted by the United States for their criminal activities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy

A similar pattern unfolded in the United States’ long and questionable relationship with the late Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. As InSight Crime previously reported, Noriega worked with the CIA for decades, providing the agency with information on drug cartels and aiding in clandestine operations. But after Noriega started to jeopardize US interests in Latin America, the US military invaded Panama in order to arrest and prosecute Noriega on drug charges.

The US handling of Falcóns’ cases has many parallels with the handling of the Contra scandal and Noriega.

The CIA backed the groups to which the Falcóns and Magluta funneled drug money at a time of deep concerns about the threat posed by Cuba and the Soviet Union. But as US-Cuba relations have eased in recent years — despite US President Donald Trump’s efforts to reverse these measures — the United States no longer has as strong of an interest in ousting Cuba’s communist government.

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