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Mexico: A cartel takes control of the avocado business

The hills of Michoacan have an almost Mediterranean charm. Avocado plantations occupy much of Mexico and the rows of small trees remind people of the olive groves in southern Europe.

Millions of kilos of avocado for consumption in North America are grown in these idyllic plantations. However, there is a dark story hiding under the fresh fruit's green skin (and the guacamole bowls it produces): the Knights Templar, a drug cartel that has infiltrated the avocado sector and controls the local market from production to distribution.

In Mexico, the avocado has been a basic food for thousands of years. It is also the main export of Michoacan, where 72% of all of the Mexican plantings of this fruit are. Over 80% of the avocados from Michoacan are exported to the United States (mainly the oil Hass variety). The U.S. imported avocado worth nearly a billion dollars in the latter half of 2012 and early 2013. Not surprisingly, the avocado has been dubbed the green gold as it produces more profit than any other crop, including marijuana.

Few here know more about avocados than Jesus, a 50-year-old man whose family has grown and seen avocados grow for generations. Like many other avocado growers, Jesus fears the Templars.

"The avocado made us very rich, a trader could make up to 1,500,000 pesos per year (U.S. $113,000) with one hectare that was harvested every six months. During the good years, I could easily make a million and a half dollars a year."

Those good years that Jesus speaks about are the decades of the 80s and 90s, when Jesus' family was among the wealthiest families in Michoacan. Those days are gone; last year, Jesus had a total profit of $15,000 dollars. At one time he had more than 100 workers and now he only has seven. "The Templars have ruined my business," he says. "I do not know how long I have before going broke."

For decades, rich drug dealers have purchased avocado plantations to launder money or to legitimize their income. However, it was not until seven years ago that the Templars became more involved in the fruit business.

Source: Vanguardia

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