Mexican avocado exports threatened by cartels

It’s a cold shower for Mexican avocado producers. Washington confirmed, Monday, February 14, the blocking of imports of the fruit from Mexico following mafia threats received by an American health inspector in the state of Michoacan (west), the world’s largest producer. The colossal windfall generated by the export of avocados, nicknamed “Mexico’s green gold”, is fueling the greed of drug cartels, threatening a key sector that employs more than 300,000 Mexicans.

“The suspension will continue for the time necessary to guarantee the safety of our staff”, justified, Monday, February 14, the US Department of Agriculture. Three days earlier, Washington announced the suspension of imports of avocados after one of its thirty health inspectors in Mexico was the victim of telephone intimidation by a cartel. The threat came as the officer inspected shipments of avocados in the town of Uruapan, where swaths of forest are streaked with avocado plantations.

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The stakes are high: more than half of the 2.4 million tonnes of avocados produced in Mexico in 2021 were destined for the United States, the leading importer of the Mexican fruit. Exports of the fruit to the United States even increased by 12% last year. And this product represents some 3.4 billion dollars (about 3.8 billion euros) in revenue for the country, constantly increasing over the last decade (268% over ten years). Originally from Mexico, the avocado is the third agricultural product exported by the country after beer and tequila.

Accelerated deforestation

The dietary habits of the 38 million Mexicans who live in the United States quickly spread to the rest of the American population, which caused prices to jump, causing a veritable rush for “green gold” responsible for accelerated deforestation. The State of Michoacan concentrates more than 75% of national production. With 170,000 hectares of avocado fields, it is the only region with phytosanitary certification allowing access to the American market.

The city of Uruapan is one of the areas most affected by clashes between rival cartels, equipped with rocket launchers and bomber drones

The seam quickly attracted mafia interests in this strategic area for the production of marijuana and synthetic drugs. “Several criminal groups began, in the early 2000s, to hold producers to ransom”, explains the public security specialist, Alejandro Hope, in a column published, Wednesday, February 16, in the daily Universal. Exasperated by these rackets, the inhabitants of several villages in Michoacan had created, in 2013, self-defense militias. In reaction, the government carried out a major police operation which resulted in the dismantling of the Knights Templar cartel.

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