A new crop threatens to overthrow marijuana as a leading source of contention between drug cartels battling for Mexican farmland. However, it’s probably not what you would expect.
The crop, referred to by locals in Michoacan state as “green gold,” has the potential to produce an even more profitable business for crime lords running illegal grow-operations than cannabis, the Times reported.
“It’s a myth that it’s only about drugs,” Falko Ernst, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said of the cartel violence.
And as the demand for avocados grows, it becomes increasingly obvious that the cost to human life is dramatically high — and climbing.
In western Mexico, multiple criminal groups are warring for the territory where avocado farming is most prominent, and every day, local orchard owners face an onslaught of threats both to their physical safety and to their financial freedoms.
Heavily weaponized cartels are daily seizing land, clearing acres of property, and targeting laborers and landowners, not to grow marijuana, but to plant field after field of avocado trees, according to the Times.
Additionally, “protection” fees and heavy taxes are demanded, as cartels siphon resource after resource from the farmers they have usurped and attacked.
That avocado you spread on your toast? It’s at the heart of Mexico’s latest cartel war.
Cartels in Mexico are moving on from marijuana and other long-favored crops to something potentially even more profitable: avocados.https://t.co/sQeWenW5pi
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) November 20, 2019
The shift in interest to avocados confirms that cartel violence is no longer centered solely around drugs.
Rather, organized crime in Mexico has started to diversify.
“Around the country, the cartels want land, forest and water,” Juan Madrigal Miranda, a professor at a nature center, explained to the Times.
“Now they are fighting for the keys to life,” he said.
In recent years, U.S. demand for avocados lifted hundreds of Mexican farmers out of poverty.
But with growing wealth came growing danger, and with the rise of new ventures outside of the realm of drug trafficking, organized crime has become much less exclusive, no longer controlled solely by those capable of maintaining business arrangements with criminal organizations in the U.S.
According to the Times, the change has given rise to smaller cartels operating locally, which pose a greater threat to ordinary citizens across the country.
“For many of those smaller groups, it’s far easier to prey on local populations,” Ernst told the Times.
The sheer number of criminal organizations has led to a greater number of conflicts within warring cartels. And innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire.
As a result, the number of homicides has reached a new high.
“The threat is constant and from all sides,” one citizen told the Times.
In response to the violence caused by the fight for power over the avocado industry, local farmers have formed a vigilante army tasked with keeping the cartels at bay.
Together, laborers and farmers are working to reclaim control of the region and protect their loved ones.
“There is an abject absence of law enforcement strategy,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said of the situation. “If you’re going to say what does not work, you have to say what will work.”
So far, their efforts have been met with some success.
However, the future looks uncertain, as the dynamics among cartels, local farmers and the demand for imported avocados continue to shift.
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