Mexico’s illicit economy — including a thriving black market — is still the fastest way forward for many, reflecting a rampant criminality that drags the country down.
Eva Ortiz has made a decent middle-class life for her family by selling pirated DVDs in the Chalco market. Orphaned as an infant, she was a maid at age 10, an abuse victim at 14 and a mother at 15.
She didn’t spend a single day of her childhood in a classroom.
Instead, she began selling bootleg VHS tapes of Disney cartoons. Few Mexicans see the trade as anything to be ashamed about — though the Motion Picture Association of America says piracy costs its members $300 million to $600 million a year in lost revenue in Mexico.
Today, Ortiz is Chalco’s best-known purveyor of movies and video games. She employs three clerks. “People here can’t afford to spend 100 pesos [$8] to buy these movies in a store,” said Ortiz, 39, who sells them for a dollar each.
She benefits from illegality — but pays a price.
So does Mexico.
Transparency International ranks the country a low 105 of 174 nations in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, behind Jamaica, China, Bulgaria. The group says a motorist’s likelihood of bribing a traffic cop in Mexico state, where Chalco is located (and where Peña Nieto was governor) is more than 80 percent.
Ortiz has sold enough bootleg copies to afford a 2009 Chevy SUV and a cement-block home for her four daughters.
But on three occasions last year, Mexican federal police raided the market and confiscated thousands of dollars worth of her merchandise.
Because Mexico’s drug cartels control a major portion of the illegal DVD trade, Ortiz’s cash business in the black market has left her vulnerable.
Armed men broke into her house three years ago, she said, holding her daughter at gunpoint until she withdrew her life savings from the bank — money she had set aside for a home in a safer neighborhood.
Although the sensational violence associated with drug trafficking grabs international headlines, it is the other crime wave that most upsets Mexicans.
There were a record number of auto thefts last year: More than 85,000 cars were stolen. Robbery has increased 45 percent from 2005 to early 2012. Extortion is now the most reported crime in half of Mexico — an estimated 4.4 million attempts last year. Yet the federal census bureau found that only 12 percent of crimes are reported, because Mexicans don’t trust the police. Only 8 percent are investigated.
“My life has been difficult ever since I was kid,” Ortiz said. More bad luck followed. She received a diagnosis of cancer in the summer.
Ortiz is one of 14 million Mexicans — one-third of the labor force, and growing — who work in the informal sector.
Paid in cash and off the books, they and their employers skirt taxes and fail to enroll in government social security programs.