GUATEMALA CITY – Eddie Gómezfingered the stack of rubber, colored wristbandscovering his tattooed forearm. Eachwristband had a different word engraved inblock letters across the top.He pointed out a pink one that said“LOVE” and a green one that read“PROSPERITY,” but stumbled when hecame to a red one with the word: “LIVESTRONG.”“I don’t know what this one’s for,”Gómez admitted.Nor did he know that the wristband hewas wearing was a copy of the original,yellow LIVESTRONG wristbands sold bythe Houston-based Lance ArmstrongFoundation to raise funds for cancer educationand research.“I want to fill my whole arm withthem,” said the 24-year-old street vendor,who didn’t know who Lance Armstrong iseither.WHILEArmstrong, who this week wonhis record seventh Tour de France, may notbe too well known on the streets of CentralAmerica, his wristbands – and their multicoloredimitations – are prevalent.In Guatemala, as in other neighboringCentral American countries, the wristbandshave become a major fad amongyouth like Gómez.Retailers are profiting from the charityitem by selling the original bracelets for asmuch as five times their set price.Counterfeit wristband producers and sellersare also cashing in on the trend, withzero profits going to the Lance ArmstrongFoundation.THE yellow, silicon wristbandsimprinted with the motto “LIVESTRONG”were first put on the market inMay 2004 to raise funds for cancer-survivorArmstrong’s foundation. The goalwas to raise $5 million to support cancerresearch, education and advocacy.However, when the wristbands hit themarket, shortly before the Texas native’ssixth Tour de France victory, they weresnatched up at a speed far beyond expectations.“I think we sold all five million evenbefore Lance got to the Champs Elysées,”said foundation spokeswoman MichelleMilford, referring to the final stage of theJuly 2004 Tour.Like many fads developed in theUnited States, LIVESTRONG wristbandsspread quickly to Latin America. Demandfor the wristbands was so high inGuatemala during the first few months ofthis year that some retailers were able tosell them for more than $5.The Lance Armstrong Foundation andauthorized retailers, mostly Nike stores,sell them for $1.JUAN José Castañeda, a Guatemalanbusinessman, saw the trend coming andimported 5,000 of the wristbands in January2005. He sold all of them in less than amonth through a kiosk in a shopping center.He rushed to import another 10,000,but hasn’t had the same luck with sales.Castañeda found his marked up wristbandscould no longer compete with the flood ofcounterfeit ones now selling for a fractionof the price on the street.“We lost a lot because of the similarwristbands that were, and are, being soldon the street,” he admitted.IMITATION LIVESTRONG wristbandssell for less than $1 at market stallsand on street corners. They are offered forthe same price and in the same packaging asa dozen other colored wristbands that carryengraved messages ranging from “GODBLESS THE WORLD” to “SEX.”“They killed the market completely,”said Lourdes Reyna, who supervises a chainof sporting goods stores in Guatemala thatsold LIVESTRONG wristbands until thecounterfeit versions came out.“Now they don’t help anybody,” sheadded.TO date, the Lance Armstrong Foundationhas sold more than 48 million wristbandsand raised about $50 million throughsales and accompanying donations. A numberof other organizations have copied thecampaign and developed their own wristbandsto raise money for charitable causes.But resellers and counterfeiters ofLIVESTRONG and other charity wristbandsare making untold profits off of theirpopularity. Retail outlets, online stores andauction sites, like eBay, sell LIVESTRONGand other charity wristbandswell above their original prices.Foundation spokeswoman Milford callsthe unauthorized resale of LIVESTRONGwristbands for a higher price “unethical.”“Making a profit at the cost of the battleagainst cancer is just wrong,” she toldThe Nica Times.The sale of counterfeit wristbands isalso illegal, since the LIVESTRONG logois trademarked by the foundation.LIVESTRONG counterfeiters haveeven tapped into the U.S. market, leadingto arrests in Connecticut and New York,Milford said.THE possibility of similar crackdownsin Guatemala and the rest of CentralAmerica is less likely.For street vendor Gómez, the origin ofhis bracelets is less important than howthey look on his arm.“I just like them because they’re instyle,” he said.
Today in Costa Rica