Latin America’s Counterfeit Markets Aiding Organized Crime

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Latin America is home to five of 11 countries identified by the United States as hotbeds of counterfeit and pirated goods — a hugely profitable trade closely linked to organized crime.

According to a recent United States Trade Representative (USTR) report (pdf), the sky-high levels of piracy and contraband trade in infamous marketplaces in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay position the countries among the world’s major abusers of intellectual copyright.

In Argentina, Buenos Aires’ La Salada is referred to as the world’s “largest mall and largest black market.” The illegal trading place is so renowned and accessible that designated buses bring shoppers from neighboring countries Paraguay and Uruguay.

In Colombia, the issue is connected to shopping areas known as “San Andresitos” — named after the duty free shopping available on the island of San Andres. These shopping centers, long associated with organized crime, have shifted from the sale of smuggled products into the unauthorized reproduction and distribution of goods, according to the report.

Paraguay’s trade is focused in Ciudad del Este, a notorious hub for the dealing of counterfeit and pirated goods within and beyond the Triple Frontier region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The situation there “has not improved over the past year or even the past decade,” according to USTR.

Also on the list are Ecuador’s Bahia Market in Guayaquil, which has been resistant to enforcement efforts by national authorities, and Mexico’s Tepito market in Mexico City and San Juan de Dios market in Guadalajara, which also display evidence of activity by transnational organized crime groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

The piracy and contraband sectors are major sources of revenue for organized crime groups in Latin America, which profit from them either directly through manufacture and sale of merchandise; or indirectly through charging vendors fees for operating in territories they control; or using the trade to launder drug money.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

In Mexico, the Zetas in particular have capitalized on the sector, profiting from sales within areas under their control and even reportedly emblazoning pirated CD’s with a “Z” logo. The Familia Michoacana was also believed to have cashed in on the sector by pirating software.

Colombia’s San Andresitos have long been viewed as an ideal money laundering platform by criminal groups, who repatriate drug profits through the imported goods sold there.

In other locations, such as Ciudad del Este and Guayaquil, the trade may not have such direct connections with organized crime, but is rather part of a general lawlessness resulting from the mass transit of goods — among them illegal drugs.

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