How does buying ounterfeit goods fund violent drug cartels?

Written by Narcomappingmx, January 10, 2021


Los Zetas officer Gregorio Villanueva Salas, "El Czar de la Pirateria

The production and selling of counterfeit goods are a large contributor to Mexico's massive underground economy. Many goods are pirated in Mexico, from fake designer watches and action movies sold on the streets of Tepito, to phony pharmaceutical drugs that find their way on the shelves of legitimate drugstores. A study by the Mexican Chamber of Commerce revealed that 8 out of 10 Mexicans have purchased pirated goods. (Observatorio Nacional, 20:12) This taste for counterfeit goods costs the Mexican economy $2 billion+ USD per year. 


Although often called a victimless crime, pirated goods often directly fund violent criminal organizations such as the Union Tepito or Los Zetas. Cartels have diversified from solely trafficking and producing narcotics into many other illicit markets, including counterfeit goods. The production is often controlled by larger organizations, and the individual street vendors purchase their stock from these suppliers. Individual buyers often also support organized crime through “cobro de piso”, payments to local crime groups for selling on their turf. 


Los Zetas were heavily involved in the sale and importation of counterfeit goods. One officer within Los Zetas, Gregorio Villanueva Salas, was nicknamed the “The Czar of Piracy” for the ability of his criminal cell to produce 58 million pirated CDs and movies a year. When he was captured in Matamoros, Tamaulipas in 2012, police found a workshop dedicated to creating counterfeit discs. These goods were then shipped south into the center of Mexico, where they were sold in street markets in Jalisco and Mexico City, two hot spots of counterfeit goods.