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The guardians of Mexican avocados
Tancitaro, a town in Michoacan, is known as Mexico's avocado capital. This municipality, which has some 30,000 people, produces enough avocados to meet all of California's demand.
Mexico generates around 45% of the world's avocados and Michoacan is the biggest producing state in the country. This region exports almost 2 billion avocados to the United States each year.
Since it is a lucrative business, it is the target of organized crime.
The war on drugs in Michoacan began in 2006. The strategy was launched by the president, Felipe Calderon, and his goal was to end the drug cartels by sending in troops.
However, far from solving the problem, the cartels fragmented and violence increased when rival factions fought each other for control of drug trafficking.
According to the mayor of Tancitaro, Arturo Olivera Gutierrez, "armed people started to arrive in the area in 2007."
In the absence of an effective police force, the communities armed themselves to guarantee the safety of their cities, which led to the appearance of self-defense groups in Michoacan in 2013. The same thing happened in Tancitaro.
In other parts of the state, the self-defense groups were taken over by organized crime or dismantled by the government. However, the residents of Tancitaro did something different.
"The self-defense groups freed the municipality from organized crime and then, together with the government, we worked with the avocado producers to recruit policemen," stated Jose Hugo Sanchez Mendoza, the head of CUSEPT. "The first requirement was that the force be composed of people of this municipality."
The police force is, in part, financed by avocado producers, who pay a percentage of their profits depending on the number of hectares they own. The municipal government also contributes and its members receive training from federal forces.
Everybody in CUSEPT is connected to the trade in avocados in some way, something that the Mayor of Tancitaro considers is a recipe for success. People have a lot to lose and want to protect it, he said.
Publication date: 12/20/2017
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