The American Film Marketing Assn. and legitimate vid distributors in Argentina are mobilizing to turn Latin American video bandits into a pirate sandwich.

AFMA officials and members took advantage of the recent AFMA mini-market in Buenos Aires to rally the Argentine troops, and 24 distribs from that country turned out for a meeting.

Bill Shields, chairman of American Film Export Assn., outlined the “sandwich” strategy.

“The place to start is to organize the local distributors, which is strange because they’re all competitors,” Shields explained.

” However, we said ‘You have to get together, establish your own committee, go to the government with concrete proposals that will help fight the problem.’ At the same time, AFMA will go to the U.S. government and ask them to go to the Argentine government. Basically, the Argentine government will get it from both sides.”

Asked why AFMA has become directly involved, Shields said: “Strong local distribs are the cornerstone of AFMA’s basic trade policy, and one of the ways to make them stronger is to organize with them.”

The timing has to do with the fact that piracy is snowballing, according to Tim Kittleson, AFMA exec VP.

“In the past 3 1/2 months, video pirates have come above ground. They have offices, they have addresses, they are running ads in consumer publications and they are falsifying contracts,” said Kittleson.

“In two cases, where (pirates) were challenged by legitimate distributors of AFMA-member product, they’re being countersued by the pirates. These guys are going ballistic,” said Kittleson. “That meeting became a hotter ticket than the cocktail party.”

The wheels are still in motion. “We’re waiting for them to come back to us with specific proposals so we can study those and present them to the U.S. Trade Representative Office,” said Shields, also prexy of GEL Distribution.

Larry Garrett, AFMA VP and co-chair of copyright and film security committee, is still in Buenos Aires working with those distribs on the proposals.

Garrett, Shields and Kittleson already met with U.S. embassy officials to discuss a resolution.

AFMA members such as New Line Intl. are pleased with the strategy.

“Piracy is rampant down there: it has to be stopped,” said Rolf Mittweg, prexy of New Line Intl. “It won’t be stopped from one day to the other, it’s been going on for some time. But with some added help from AFMA members, perhaps the Argentine government will take initial steps to stop it.”

Exact figures on how much money is being lost to pirates are unavailable. However, “No one would quibble with thefact that it’s a minimum of 40% of the market and could be as high as 50% or 60%,” Shields said.

Rough estimates say Argentina reps about $ 9.5 million in revenues annually to AFMA members.

The Argentine and Latin American market is becoming increasingly important to AFMA members, especially with the growth of the cable industry there.

The 18 members who attended the minimarket say the four-day event (June 21-24 ) was a success in terms of business as well as politics.

Stats from the confab reveal that of the 18 American companies there, some 88 % made sales, largely in homevid (54%) and TV (27%), but also a surprising 19% in theatrical sales, said Kittleson.

Some 236 buyers representing 113 companies from 10 countries attended, including Telefe and Cablevision, two of the largest cable operators in Argentina. Buena Aires has 27 TV channels.

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