Saturday, August 08, 2009

pirates of the seven DVDs

Most of us who live in Mexico have no direct experience with the drug war we hear about in the NOB press. Some Canadian newspapers give the impression that tourists are daily lured into the valley of death in Mexican resorts -- and that is only the time share salesmen.

Most of us see the occasional helicopter or Mexican Army truck. And that is about it.

That war is as remote to us as the war in Afghanistan.

But it can touch us in surprising ways.

I was having dinner the other day with an acquaintance in Melaque. We will call him Doug.

He is a good soul who actually lives out his principles: will not buy any product made in China (for a variety of reasons); will not eat shrimp because of the manner in which they are harvested; and refuses to be cowed into using politically correct language.

I would never think of accusing him of moral hypocricy. But we do not speak often of politics.

Instead, we talk a lot about old movies. He told me that he had recently purchased a copy of Apocalypse Now on the street in Manzanillo for about a dollar. He started to tell me about how much he admired Coppola's work when I interrupted him.

"You bought it where?"

"On the street. In Manzanillo."

"You bought a pirated copy of a DVD?"

"Calm down, Cotton. Who cares? So some corporation doesn't get an extra ten bucks. Who's the pirate?"

I told him I wasn't worried about the pirated aspect of the DVD (even though it is theft), but I was worried about the pirates who received his money. Being as well informed as he is, I thought he knew a large portion of the receipts from pirated DVDs end up in the hands of La Familia drug cartel.

He was shocked. I believe he had never heard about the DVD-drug connection.

Ironically, this week's Economist includes an article on President Calderón's war against the drug cartels. The article points out that drugs provide only about half of La Familia's revenue. The other half comes from selling pirated DVDs, smuggling people to the United States, and running a debt-collection service. Sounds a bit like the services rendered by crime families in Brooklyn.

Even though it is not universal, most expatriates avoid the purchase or use of illegal drugs. Using them is almost as insane as the laws that makes their use illegal. And I suspect that most of us will not be smuggling anyone north or asking La Familia to help us collect on that late rental installment.

But we may -- and do -- buy those pirated DVDs that gaudily decorate almost every street corner and tianguis. Putting money on the table risks putting pesos in the same hands that shoot policemen and innocent civilians.

Like Doug, I am tired of being a moral hypocrite. I have not bought any of the DVDs. And I am not going to.

Neither is Doug. They now go into his moral bag with China and shrimp.


Anonymous said...

That is why I read your blog!
Take care..

Felipe said...

Doug doesn´t buy anything made in China?! How does he live? In a lean-to on the sand? Everything is made in China.

Interesting about the pirated DVDs and the narco connection. I did not know that. Won´t affect my life, however, because I don´t buy pirated DVDs anyway. Some people are just instinctively good.

Babs said...

Geez, I have never heard that either. But, I don't know how to use my DVD machine so I'm not a threat.
Shrimip are the ambrosia of my diet. What's his beef about shrimp? Pardon the pun. I've known many good shrimpers along the coast of Texas and Louisiana. Some of the hardest working people on earth.....for very, very little profit.

1st Mate said...

I didn't know that about the cartels being the pirates either, although it makes perfect sense. I just didn't want them because I assumed they'd be flawed, and I hate getting halfway through a movie only to have it start stuttering, turning to mosaic or shutting off on me. Besides, I rarely see a movie I'd want to own and watch more than once. Now you've given me yet another reason not to buy them.

Anonymous said...

Geez, if drugs only account for half their income..kidnapping, extortion, dvds etc. must sure be lucrative. I echo Felipe about Doug..there's no getting away from goods made in China. I remember when the U.S.A. manufactured goods for export. Nowadays munitions are our biggest export.

Jackie said...

I had no idea that the drug cartel was behind the selling of pirated DVDs. I would never have purchased one anyway.

Calypso said...

We stopped buying pirated DVD's a while back after reading about the Cartel's involvement.

Anonymous said...

Where were Doug's hi-tech toys made? Computer, camera, TV, etc. He must have gadget in order to watch those oh-so legal movies. Not to mention most things in the kitchen. He must live in wonderland.

Anonymous said...

Gee whiz! Are Steve and I the only two people on earth, besides Senor Calypso, that are not living under a rock? And the so well read Felipe? I am astounded!!! What are you people doing down there to stay up on current events??

Most everyone I know up here knows that pirated DVD's are connected to the cartels in Mexico. We have known this, big time, for at least a couple of years. You don't even have to watch Geraldo to get this information.

I am beginning to think our news outlets may actually be giving us some semblance of the truth up here as to what is going on down there. Yep, it's way hyped up and made to sound all pervasive through out the country of Mexico, but at least we hear about that stuff. Even Univision, Azteca, and Telefutura have had entire documentaries covering these several topics.

And the kidnappings, extortion, and other stuff are very lucrative activities, and sadly happening somewhere near you and you just don't know about it. It is a very, very big business.

But guess what? It happens here too and has been for a very long time. It was even happening in the '60's when I was growing up in San Antonio. It's just that here then don't do it so out and in your face. The thugs are very good at what they do.


Privately yours...(you bet I'm chicken!)

Calypso said...

We stopped buying those dvd's a couple of years ago.

Come on don't be chicken ;-)

Steve Cotton said...

Min -- To get the low-down on piracy? Why, thank you.

Felipe -- It is possible to buy things not made in China. Mexico's dislike of Chinese imports helps a bit in that regard here.

Babs -- I am not an expert on this, but Doug claims most shrimp boats literally destroy the ocean bottom when harvesting shrimp. I don't know. I generally avoid anything that has spent time in water -- with the exception of hot tub devotees.

1st Mate -- I thought the narco-DVD connection was well-known. Of course, not all of them are, but they don't come with narco-free labels, either. Like those dolphin-free stickers on tuna cans.

Francisco -- And here I was thinking expatriates were our biggest export.

Jackie -- I agree with you. The fact that pirated DVDs are simply theft is good enough for me to avoid buying them.

Calypso -- And a good move it was.

Anonymous - It can be done. Now that I have met him, I am a bit more aware of what I buy. I noticed in Office Max the other day that their in-house index cards are made in China, but there are other cards made in Mexico. I bought the Mexico cards -- even though they were a bit more expensive.

Anonymous II -- I didn't think this was news. But I guess it is.

Anonymous said...

yes, it is news steve-thanks for telling us. and to anon, just because we didn't know this bit of info does not mean we live under a rock. maybe some of us just don't watch enough t.v. to hear about such things.


Steve Cotton said...

Teresa -- Then, I am doubly glad I wrote the piece. I almost skipped it.

Anonymous said...

Not because of that,you speak with much of insight on the many subject and I like your writing.
you well come,hope to speak with you in person.may be some day....
mean time,Take good care of yourself,and do not forget to have fun!!! min,Va

Islagringo said...

Thank you for bringing this issue to light. From the comments, I am shocked that so many people did not know the connection. The Zetas have just recently taken over the CD and DVD business in Cancun. The vendors now have to pay the Zs 6 pesos for a sticker for each DVD before they are allowed to sell it. We have already noticed a reduction in the number of vendors on the streets.

Steve Cotton said...

Islagringo -- Like you, I was a bit surprised that the connection was not better known. I guess i is now.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, it's hard to imagine that there's all that much profit in pirated DVDs. At least in Mexico at Mexican street prices.

In Mexico City they seem to run about 20 pesos, maybe a bit more. Given the cost of the disc, the wrapper, box, and commission to the 14-year old selling them, La Familia is going to have to sell a whole lot of DVDs to equal the profit in one pound of marijuana shipped to your favorite NOB city.

Perhaps this is more their idea of a public service.

Certainly most Mexicans can't afford to pay what Hollywood wants to charge.

I personally don't buy pirated DVDs, download tunes, or otherwise infringe copyright. But it's a mad, mad, mad world where a drug that costs $300 million to develop gets on average of 12 years of exclusivity, but Mick Jagger spends an afternoon in the studio gets 50 years of copyright, and then can renew for another 50 years.

And if you're Walt Disney & Co, you can get a special act of congress to pass a law giving you copyright on Micky Mouse & family in perpetuity.

Hollywood's just another form of cartel.

The difference? They film people being killed and then try to sell it as "entertainment."


Kim G
Boston, MA

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- You banker types would never get involved in this trade, but it is entirely a volume business. Like the protection racket. Each merchant pays a little. Lots of merchants. Ah, lots of money.