Norman's Cay, 1981
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Norman's Cay is a small Bahamian island (a few hundred acres) in the Exumas, a chain of islands south and east of Nassau, that served as the headquarters for Carlos Lehder's drug-smuggling operation from 1978 to around 1982.
Drug smuggling history
As part of the Medellín Cartel, Lehder used the island as a transshipment base for smuggling cocaine into the United States. Lehder, before with his partner George Jung and later through Norman's Cay, is often credited with revolutionizing drug smuggling. The typical method of transporting small shipments, often carried by human drug mules, either through ingestion or in their luggage, onto commercial airlines, was surpassed by the use of small aircraft shipping entire loads of cocaine.
Lehder eventually constructed a 3,300-foot (1,000 m) long runway for his fleet of aircraft. In order to protect the island, armed guards and attack dogs patrolled the beaches and runway, and radar was employed. Any pilot foolish enough to land there was quickly warned off by heavily armed guards. The island was a strategic point for Colombian drug flights to refuel and rest before proceeding to the United States.
The island became a location for partying. Carlos Toro, a friend of Lehder's who worked as a representative for the Medellín Cartel, remembered that "Norman's Cay was a playground. I have a vivid picture of being picked up in a Land Rover with the top down and naked women driving to come and welcome me from my airplane... And there we partied. And it was a Sodom and Gomorrah... drugs, sex, no police... you made the rules... and it was fun."
Marine biologist Richard E. Novak, the island's former dive master, fought back, waging a heroic but ultimately futile one-man war to liberate Norman's Cay. Not until 1982, under pressure from US law enforcement, and despite years of turning a blind eye, did the Bahamian government begin to crack down on the island's drug-smuggling operations. In 1987, after Lehder was arrested in Colombia and extradited to stand trial in the U.S., his property was confiscated. It is now a tourist destination reachable by charter flight.
The island was again a subject of controversy when the newly elected Progressive Liberal government honored a pre-election in-principle agreement to sell the government-owned portion of the island, valued at $40.5 million, despite the objections of the local MP. The government believes it may encourage further foreign investment.
The island's consortium of local and foreign owners, including Bahamians Mark Holowesko, Martin Solomon, Greg Cleare, James Cole, US investor J. Steven Manolis and Jonathan Breene, had planned to include a resort chain Aman Resorts. The island has purportedly been sold to the Miami-based Fort Capital Group.
In 2017, Billy McFarland arranged to lease the island from its owners to hold the Fyre Festival, on the strict condition that no reference be made to the Pablo Escobar connection. Promotional footage for the festival was shot on Norman's Cay, and planning for the festival went ahead. In early 2017, the video was released on social media, which advertised the island as "once owned by Pablo Escobar". The owners immediately cancelled the arrangement.
The island is served by Norman's Cay Airport. As of 2018, the airport has no commercial airline service.
In popular culture
Norman's Cay has been featured in multiple works.
- Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All (1993) by George Jung and author Bruce Porter.
- Mid Ocean (2009), a novel by T. Rafael Cimino about drug smugglers and the federal agents who chase them. The novel is set in the Florida Keys in the mid 1980s and was listed as one of the top 20 novels to read before being made into a film.
- Turning The Tide: One Man Against the Medellin Cartel (2010) by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, a true story of the college professor who brought a ruthless cocaine kingpin to justice.
- Heavy (2014), by T. Rafael Cimino and George Jung.
- Buccaneer- the Provocative Odyssey of Jack Reed- Adventurer, Drug Smuggler and Pilot Extraordinaire (2014) by Jack Carlton Reed and MayCay Beeler ISBN 9781939521088
- "Norman's Cay: Playground for Drug Smugglers". PBS.
- "Pilots' Guide". Bahamas and Caribbean Guide.
- PBS Interview with Carlos Toro
- "Norman's Cay Exumas Bahamas "Sweet Deal"". Bahamas News Board. Archived from the original on 25 October 2009.
- "Norman's Cay, Exumas, Bahamas by Fort Capital Management Investments in Miami, Florida". fortcapital.com. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
- Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Netflix. 2019.
- Aswad, Jem; Trakin, Roy (18 January 2019). "Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most Outrageous Moments". Variety. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
- "Watch FYRE FRAUD Streaming Online | Hulu (Free Trial)". www.hulu.com. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
- "Mid Ocean: T. Rafael Cimino: 9780615305738: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
- Mejia, Lisette. "Books Being Made into Movies in 2012 and 2013 | POPSUGAR Celebrity Australia". Popsugar.com.au. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
- Kirkpatrick, Sidney D. & Abrahams, Peter. Turning the Tide: One Man Against the Medellin Cartel. ISBN 0525249982.
- "George Jung Wrote 'Blow' Sequel in Jail". TMZ.com. 6 June 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
- Simunek, Chris (5 August 2015). "The HIGH TIMES Interview: George Jung". High Times. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
- "George Jung Wrote 'Blow' Sequel in Jail". tmz.com. 6 June 2014.
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