Four competing drug cartels are extorting avocado producers in Michoacán, Mexico. This really shows how the fruit is becoming an increasingly important source of illicit profits in the context of shifting criminal dynamics in the state.
The Jalisco Cartel New Generation, the Nueva Familia Michoacana, the Tepalcatepec Cartel and the Zicuirán Cartel are all involved in this growing criminal economy, says Michoacán's attorney general.
Michoacán produces over 80% of Mexico's avocados, with an annual export value of around $2.4 billion, earning the fruit the nickname "green gold."
The cartels charge a monthly protection payment from avocado producers, calculated per hectare cultivated or kilogram exported. Those who fail to make the payments may be kidnapped or killed. In addition, avocado theft is rampant. At least four truckloads of the fruit are stolen every day in the state.
Competition for these criminal profits has fed into the wave of violence currently engulfing Michoacán. In August 2019, 19 people were massacred in Uruapan, the center of Michoacán's avocado industry. Their bodies were displayed in three locations around the town.
Authorities linked the atrocity to a territorial war between the CJNG and the Viagras, the armed wing of the Nueva Familia Michoacana, for control of the town's criminal economies.
Michoacán and neighboring Guerrero have long been prized by criminal groups as the center of Mexico's heroin production. However, the rise of synthetic opioids has caused the price of opium to plummet to under a third of its 2017 value, leaving drug cartels scrambling for alternative income streams.
As reported on businessinsider.com¸ the value of Mexico's avocado industry has quadrupled over the last decade due to the fruit's growing popularity in the United States and Europe. The country's avocado exports to the US market alone rose by 16% between 2018 and 2019.
Several of the state's criminal players are experienced at shaking down the avocado industry.