The tiny country of Paraguay doesn’t often pop up on the “must-see” list for those traveling to South America. Sitting landlocked between Argentina to the south, Bolivia to the west and Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay has been described as “the forgotten country of Latin America.” But Paraguay has nevertheless attracted quite a bit of attention lately, less for tourism than because it is an important hub in the global smuggling trade.
A vast bazaar of illegal weapons, counterfeit goods and illicit substances is spread out for sale in the markets of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s smuggling capital. The city is conveniently located at the convergence of the borders of three countries (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay), making it the ideal transit point for tax free and often illegal goods headed to all points beyond. GOOD magazine has an interesting profile on Ciudad del Este in its most recent issue. Author Sacha Feinman dives into the city’s back alleys and sidestreets, where he discovers everything from AK-47’s to Montblanc pens to bricks of marijuana can be easily obtained for purchase. Feinman also befriends some of Ciudad del Este’s many porters-for-hire, who package illicit goods and carry them over the city’s 1,600-foot “Friendship Bridge” to neighboring Brazil. Instead of crossing through customs, the men drop their packages off the side to the riverbank below, where waiting teenagers sort through the packages for distribution. So much for filling out that customs form…
As long as the Paraguayan and Brazilian authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the thriving smuggling practice, Paraguay’s black markets will continue to thrive. For a country that doesn’t see much tourism (or other industry for that matter) it seems to be as much an economic necessity as it is a fact of life. Do exercise caution if you’re even considering a visit. Aside from all the petty lawlessness, Wikitravel warns that Paraguay is currently experiencing its worst outbreak of Yellow Fever in over 60 years. Yikes.
U.S. currency has undergone several changes in the last few years. But the latest change to be administered is focused on the $100, which is the most counterfeited bill in U.S. currency. The changes will dazzle and delight — and hopefully frustrate counterfeiters. No fancy splashes of color here; instead 650,000 microscopic lenses are implanted in each $100 bill, which affects the micro-printing in a fascinating way.
Move the bill up and down, and the image seems to move from side to side. Move the bill side to side, and the image appears to move up and down.
The old $100, which had the same security features as the $5, has long been cracked. Counterfeiters quickly figured out how to use the $5 to create the $100. Thus, a new $5 will be made public on September 20.
The $100 is expected to go into circulation sometime next year.
Many folks, these days, are traveling for more than just sightseeing, they’re going shopping. With the dollar lingering near all-time lows versus some major world currencies, many shopping tourists are traveling to the States. However, some real shopping bargains exist elsewhere, particularly in the rip-off goods category.
My trip last year to China was a real eye-opener: the major markets all sold knock-off goods openly, while big, red banners, hang across all entrances, proclaiming “Maintain Intellectual Property” (one of the few signs anywhere in China written in English). (I’m still trying to figure out what the banners that said “Striking Forbid Illegal Management Activities of Soliciting Goods” mean, but that’s another story …)
These huge open-air markets are enough to make brand-name companies fume, with brands like North Face, Nike, Victorinox, and Columbia Sportswear and others all featured prominently, for pennies on the dollar. They don’t even bother with the spelling errors (you’ve seen them: “Addidas”) or mismatched teams (e.g., “Atlanta Braves Football Club”). The rip-offs are so realistic, it’s hard to tell them from the real thing, and it’s all right there in the open. It puts Canal Street to shame for sheer audacity.
But it’s not just China that’s in the big business of selling black-market items. They’re being sold across Europe too, usually in Asian-run boutiques. The shoe pictured above was featured prominently in the window of a downtown Barcelona shoe store just last month. Note the altered swoosh. I can hear Phil Knight screaming …