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A-war-cado: Whats on the Mexican Cartel’s menu?

Published by Foreign Affairs Bulletin by IDSA on

Mexico is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine avocados. Exports of the “green gold” from the state of Michoacán, which produces 90% of Mexico’s avocados, were worth $2.4 billion last year.

 

Verisk Maplecroft, a risk analytics group, has warned that the Mexican super fruit risks becoming the next “conflict commodity”, akin to blood diamonds and conflict minerals. In their analysis they examined a range of factors, including the growing involvement of cartels and the associated violence, the use of forced and child labor in farming, as well as illegal deforestation, logging and forest clearing.

 

Consumption of avocados in the US alone has doubled in the last ten years. They have been lauded for their high nutritional content and good fats. The industry’s popularity can be explained by their profit. It pays up to 12 times the Mexican minimum wage.

 

The cartels have turned to other activities in the face of the government’s tightening war on drugs. These illegal goods still play a role, but the business model has shifted toward extracting profits from whichever commodity is locally available. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, it’s much easier, as they don’t have to bribe people, think about transportation, nor any personnel can get arrested or killed. Secondly, there is no state actor capable or willing to keep a criminal group from going after licit crops.

 

They engage “in both extortion and direct cultivation, usually on lands taken over from local farmers or carved out from protected woodlands” Verisk Maplecroft’s analyst, Christian Wagner, says in the report. That is due to the recent explosion of demand and prices on global markets.

 

At least 12 criminal groups are operating in the region, which more closely resemble micro warlords than criminal organizations. Some local packers and growers have responded by recruiting their own defense forces. This increases the risk of both more violence and the potential for human rights abuses.

 

Falko Ernst, International Crisis Group senior analyst for Mexico, said avocados have been a prominent item in Mexican organized crime groups’ portfolio.

 

“It’s not only avocados. Mexican organized crime has long mutated away from ‘just’ drugs trafficking,” he said. “Today, the model is this, you control a given territory, and within it you exploit whichever commodity is locally available. That includes avocados, but also limes, papayas, strawberries, illegal logging and mining, to name but a few.”

 

As conflict avocados are but a symptom of larger dysfunction, a boycott would do more harm than good. Avocado production sustains thousand of hard-working, peaceful families in Mexico. No longer consuming what they produce would be equal to pulling the rug out from under their feet. Nonetheless, it would most likely prompt criminal groups to prey on civilians even more aggressively to make up for their loss.

— Szebasztian Simity is an Associate Editor at the FA Bulletin, currently majoring in Political Science at the University of Szeged —


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