The death of Griselda Blanco, the Colombian grandmother who rose to the top a powerful 1980s drug cartel, could soothe the souls of hundreds of people in South Florida, says Miami filmmaker Billy Corben.
Corben, who directed the popular documentary Cocaine Cowboys, says Blanco is believed to have ordered at least 40 homicides in Miami-Dade County alone in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“Her actions impacted a lot of people down here,” Corben said. “If you factor in not just the people killed but their families and friends, she caused quite a bit of pain and suffering and misery. She moved to California in 1985 and she had more people killed over there.”
In all, says Corben, Blanco may have had a hand in 200 homicides in the United States!
Corben never met Blanco, who was nicknamed Black Widow and Godmother. But he interviewed many in her entourage, including her preferred hitman Jorge ”Rivi” Ayala.
“Sometime in 1984, Griselda and Rivi and others drove to (the landmark Fort Lauderdale dinner show) Mai Kai for Rivi’s birthday,” Corben said, “and they got drunk. On their way back, they stopped at a red light and saw a cop pulled over to write someone else a ticket.
“So Griselda says: ‘Rivi, shoot the cop!’ But Rivi had been in the United States for a while and told her ‘No way!’ She kept egging him on, insisting that he shoot the cop. She was serious. But Rivi knew all would break loose if he did. That’s what Griselda was like.”
A former prostitute, Blanco lived for years in Broward County, Corben said, under the radar but not quite.
“There’s no way you can pull the deeds on the houses,” Corben said. “Her name doesn’t show up. But her crew had several places in Broward and Miami.”
Since Blanco was wanted as much by rival drug cartel bosses as much as the DEA, Corben said, she didn’t drive around the area much except for a few things.
“She loved having her hair done and manicure and pedicure,” Corben said. “She was a regular at the salons at the Galleria (Mall) and Broward Mall. She loved shopping in malls!
“And in Miami, she used to go quietly to Colombian nightclubs.”
Blanco eventually pleaded guily to three murders and received a 20-year sentence. She was deported in 2004 and lived as a free woman in a gated community outside Medellin that Corben compared to Bel Air, the Los Angeles area mostly inhabited by celebrities.
Blanco, 69, was shot in the head by two gunmen on motorcycles on a street of Medellin about 3 p.m. on Labor Day.
“It’s unlikely this was random violence,” Corben said. “But until the end, she was a survivor. She survived the cocaine wars, the cartels, Pablo Escobar and the American government. And she died a relatively free woman.”
Corben just finished Broke, a new documentary on big-time athletes going broke. It’s set to air October 2 on ESPN.