Surviving the Black Widow
Griselda Blanco has acquired many monikers in her 65 years. The Colombian drug dealer earned the title of "Cocaine Queen" in 1970s New York, and she became La Madrina — AKA "The Godmother" — when she moved her operations to Miami. Because of her tendency to bump off her own husbands, three in all, she has also been dubbed "Black Widow."
Blanco got busted in California in 1985, and she was subsequently convicted in federal court of conspiring to import cocaine.
The conviction made the nightly news, which is how Charles Cosby, a small-time street hustler from Oakland, California, learned about her. He was gob-smacked, he says. "My drug dealing was confined to the hood," he recounts in a telephone interview from California. "I couldn't see beyond the ghetto. I never knew anything about the higher echelons."
Cosby saw Blanco as a role model, someone to be emulated. In 1991, he sent a fan letter to her California prison cell, and she wrote back. The two struck up a fast correspondence friendship. Authorities wouldn't let Cosby, then 23, meet the 51-year-old Blanco in person because, he says, he was on probation for carrying a machine gun.
But after months of written exchanges plus daily phone conversations, Cosby finally got cleared for a jailhouse visit.
"I'll never forget it," he says. "When the officers brought her in, everything stopped. She commanded the attention of the entire room. She was beautiful. She immediately embraced me and stuck her tongue in my mouth."
According to authorities, Griselda Blanco was behind many of the murders that rocked Miami in the late 1970s and early 1980s as cocaine dealers resurrected the murderous mayhem of Prohibition-era Chicago. In the midst of the torrid cocaine wars, hundreds of people were killed — flattened by machine guns, murdered execution-style on back streets, sometimes rubbed out in public places in the bright Florida sunshine.
Blanco is a central yet elusive character in the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, which chronicles the way Miami flourished with drug money. When researching the movie, director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman came across photos of Cosby.
The documentary-makers, who are about to release a straight-to-DVD sequel titled Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' With the Godmother, on July 29, said the other day that they often wondered: Who is this young black man? They were unable to locate him.
After Cocaine Cowboys was released, Cosby found them. The filmmakers invited him to Miami, where they run a production company called Rakontur, to record an interview that they could tag on to the DVD as an extra feature.
Meanwhile, fans were clamoring for more information about La Madrina. "There's surprisingly very little out there about somebody who was responsible for much of the Wild West activity in Miami," Spellman marvels. "The one character that didn't speak in Cocaine Cowboys was the one that everyone wanted to hear about."
Blanco had declined the Rakontur team's request via a lawyer for an interview. In 2004, she was released from prison and deported to Colombia. Now, here was this guy who knew her on an intimate level, wanting to share his memories. Corben and Spellman say they decided to tell Griselda Blanco's story through Charles Cosby.
"Out of all the people Griselda did business with, so many of them are dead," Spellman says. "That makes it almost impossible to develop any kind of first-person narrative. That's why Charles is so important."
Cosby is the central narrator in Rakontur's new 97-minute film, which Magnolia Pictures will issue on disc. It's one of several sequels that Rakontur hopes to turn out, with each focusing on different personalities from the Miami cocaine wars. The first Cocaine Cowboys became a runaway underground hit, especially with the urban crowd, helped immensely by South Florida rappers like Trick Daddy and Pitbull shooting video shoutouts for the flick.
When Cosby first met Blanco, he says, she was still in the drug business, by her own estimates pulling in $50 million a year while behind bars. Cosby had hit the big time. A few days after the visit, Blanco sent two boxes full of coke to his house as a first installment in their fireball relationship. Within weeks, Cosby was a millionaire.
The second time he saw Blanco, they retreated into a prison closet for rapid-fire sex. The guards were in on it: Blanco handed out bribes uninhibitedly. As such, she enjoyed privileges like those quickies with Cosby, and she was allowed to dress in silk suits instead of jailhouse scrubs, Cosby says.
The new documentary doesn't quite match the high-speed intensity of the first Cocaine Cowboys, which made Miami Vice and Scarface seem almost tame by comparison. But Cosby knows how to spin a good yarn — he relates disturbing tales with engaging detail in a nonchalant tone. The film begins in California, focusing on Cosby's entry into the crack business. It's a sharp detour from the Miami drug scene, with old photos of Cosby looking like a character from Boyz n the Hood. There's even a demonstration of how to condense cocaine into crack on a stovetop.
Cosby offers a street-level glimpse at the impact that the Colombian Cocaine Queen had on a single community — it's a scene that was playing out in neighborhoods across the country. Blanco is thought to have smuggled tons of powdered cocaine into the United States during her heyday.
In Hustlin', we learn that Blanco was a slum rat in Medellín who first killed a human being at age 11 and who worked as a teenaged prostitute. She's tough, violent, and ruthless. She's jealous too. When she suspects that Cosby is involved with another woman, she sends a car full of young men to shoot up his Corvette with machine-gun rounds. Cosby escapes with a bullet wound in one arm.
The story of Charles and Griselda, though, is at its core a love story. As such, the portrait we get of Griselda Blanco in this Cocaine Cowboys installment is that of a gentler Godmother. In Cosby's recollections, she's no longer demanding an associate's head — just because — or requesting that henchmen dismember her enemies and slay their children. She's a nurturer who adores her children and bestows favors on those who please her. She even forgives Cosby's sexual indiscretions, telling him that those silly gunmen were merely instructed to fire warning shots.
They remain close, with Cosby crisscrossing the country to represent Blanco in business deals. But Blanco's days as a crime boss are numbered. Law enforcers want to nail her for all those murders, and they have the right person in custody: Blanco's favorite hit man, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala.
As described in the film, Ayala negotiates a deal to testify against his former boss. The Godmother faces murder charges, and she's freaking out. She decides in mid-1996 to order the kidnapping of John F. Kennedy Jr. with the intent of trading him to the U.S. government for her own freedom. Cosby reluctantly assists her, but the kidnapping attempt flops. Then Cosby gets a subpoena to appear in Miami.
Again, Blanco is gunning for Cosby, this time as a potential prosecution witness against her. But then the government flubs the murder case. Ayala, it turns out, is having phone sex with a secretary in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. Cosby too beds a secretary while in town giving his deposition. Prosecutors decide that the credibility of their two key witnesses has been compromised.
Charles Cosby and Griselda Blanco haven't spoken to each other in more than a decade. It would seem that the Black Widow spared one of her mates.
So shouldn't Cosby be lying low, counting his lucky stars to be alive instead of running his trap about his former lover? "I'm not nervous at all," he says. "If she's upset about the movie, oh well. Get over it."
In fact, word on the street is that the Godmother is OK with the movies. Cosby says he recently reconnected with Blanco's youngest son, Michael Corleone (yes, Mafia buffs, Griselda Blanco loved The Godfather so much that she christened a son after Al Pacino's character in that movie), who said that both he and his mother had seen the movies.
"She sends her blessings," Cosby says.
Blanco's three other sons were all murdered, purportedly in retribution for carnage she herself caused. But Michael Corleone has reached the ripe old age of 30; he's now an aspiring hip-hop artist living in Miami and raising kids, including the 13-year-old son of one of his slain brothers. That nephew recently got a rude awakening when a classmate lent him a copy of Cocaine Cowboys. The kid apparently broke into tears while watching the tale. "He didn't know that part of his grandmother's life," Cosby says.
As for Blanco, Michael Corleone says that she's now a born-again Christian. She's alive and well in Colombia, and, like Cosby, she has apparently abandoned the drug trade. Both, though, were able to squirrel away enough cash to retire, Cosby says.
"Hopefully, I'll see Griselda again someday," he says wistfully.
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