Mexico’s Avocado Industry Facing Cartel Takeover


America’s love and obsession with avocados has literally caused violence to surge in Mexico as cartels fight to profit from the multi-billion dollar industry. Criminal group the Viagras have been clearing the forest in Michoacan to set up a new operation to grow avocados (“green gold” among locals) as the fight against drug violence has led cartels to look for other avenues for money, the Los Angeles Times reports.

But they aren’t the only ones, dozens of criminals groups are battling for control of the avocado business in and around Uruapan, the second largest city in Michoacan, going after orchard owners, laborers, and truck drivers who take it to the U.S.

Due to its altitude, climate, and rich volcanic soil, Michoacan is ideal for avocados and it’s the ONLY stat in the country allowed to sell to the U.S., which had banned avocados from Mexico until 1997 to avoid transferring pests to U.S. Because of this, it’s led cartels including Jalisco New Generation and Viagras to battle over control of the trade with laborers, officers, and anyone else involved in the avocado business at their mercy sometimes at the cost of their lives.

“The threat is constant and from all sides,” Jose Maria Ayala Montero, who works for a trade association that formed its own vigilante army to protect growers, told the LA Times.

The Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación), the Nueva Familia Michoacana (which includes the Viagras), the Tepalcatepec Cartel and the Zicuirán Cartel are all involved in this surge of criminal activity in this industry, according to Michoacán’s Attorney General.

But the Viagras seized control of the forest in March of this year, announcing a tax on residents who owned avocado trees and charging a fee for protection as Jalisco New Generation battled for that land, the LA Times reports.

Though this violence against avocado growers in the area isn’t necessarily new, the situation worsened when in August of this year  U.S. Department of Agriculture team of inspectors were threatened in Ziracuaretiro, west of Uruapan and the avocado inspection program was temporarily suspended in that town, the publication reports. The agency didn’t specify what happened but there reports an inspector had been carjacked and after a group of employees canceled a farm’s certification they were subject to intimidation tactics.

Between 2001 and 2018, average annual U.S. consumption of avocados increased from 2 pounds per person to nearly 7.5 pounds and Michoacán produces over 80 percent of Mexico’s avocados with an annual value of $2.4 billion. The surface area devoted to avocado plantations has expanded by 200 percent, El País reports, and caught in the midst of the battle for land between orchard owners and cartels are the laborers.

Mayco Ceja said his team of dozen men who pick the fruit were summoned to a farm that turned out to be run by gang members, the LA Times reports.  “They came at us with pistols,” he said. “They forced us to pick for seven hours and didn’t pay us.”

In August of this year, 19 people were massacred in Uruapan, some bodies hung from an overpass and the other were hacked or dumped near the road – on the overpass, a banner read “Be a Patriot, Kill a Viagra,” CTV News reports.

Producers joined forces with the local avocado trade association to arm their own civilian police force and built guard towers at the entrances to every town. The idea of shutting down is not an option as the avocado industry has helped parts of western Mexico out of poverty in the last decade, CTV News reports.

“This has everyone worried,” Mayor Jose Rodriguez Baca told CTV News. “If they close the door on us in the United States, everything would come crashing down.”

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