For anyone who lived through the 1980s the television series Miami Vice is the pastel-shaded music-driven drug-saturated image of the city forever seared into memory.
At the centre of this action in real life was the Mutiny at Sailboat Bay – a hotel and club in the city’s Coconut Grove neighbourhood.
Roben Farzad – whose family immigrated to the United States from Iran after he was born – grew up in Miami during those years.
His new book Hotel Scarface is a raucous history of the cocaine boom as it played out at the Mutiny.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
Some really smart – ambitious and strait-laced people — class salutatorians – Federal Reserve Bank analysts — morphed into cocaine dealers in no time at all.
The profit motive – you couldn’t resist it.
Some very worldly people got a chance to get some cocaine for a few thousand dollars and turn it into much – much more money.
And even if you tell yourself ‘I’ll just do three or four kilos and let it go – it’s a victimless crime’— people couldn’t do that.
It took over their lives.
And I didn’t fully appreciate to what extent our misadventure with Cuba informed our cocaine experience in the United States.
There were thousands of men hellbent on taking out Fidel Castro and the C.I.A. trained them to do it.
When it was botched with the Bay of Pigs invasion these men waited for a rematch and they never got it.
So you had a lot of restless mercenaries around who knew the coastline like the back of their hands.
It was child’s play to smuggle pot.
And when cocaine came along it was high class.
Unlike pot – which was looked at as the province of stoners – cocaine was something your dentist did.
It turned into cocaine madness.
The Colombians came back to reassert themselves when Castro sent refugees.
It started to become downright murderous.
Miami was ill-equipped to handle that inundation of both petty thieves and assassins – people for hire.