Mexican Drug Cartels Are Extorting Avocado Farmers, Making ‘Guac’ Prices Rise

According to an investigation led by Mexico’s attorney general, Mexican drug cartels have been using government databases to find, extort, and kidnap avocado farmers. Mexican newspaper, Reforma, broke the news this Sunday.

Reforma wrote that organized crime cells from the 1990’s illegally obtained agriculture ministry records of avocado producers. They then used that data to track the farmers down and force them to pay a percentage of their earnings or risk getting kidnapped.

“This was a system of intelligence that involved reviewing records from the agriculture ministry to know who the farmers with ample avocado production were, where their orchards were located, and how much they reported their sales by export,” read the report of the attorney general.

This whole scheme of extorting the farmers was started by the Cartél Jalisco Nueva Gerneración (CJNG) and Los Cuinis – a criminal group led by Abigael González Valencia. Univision once called them the richest cartel in Mexico.

The bloody war for the control of Mexico’s avocado industry has been claiming victims since the mid-90’s. The NAFTA deal lifted custom duties on the avocados being sold to the United States, leading to a never-before-seen ‘boom’ in the industry.

Mexican avocado exports have gone up 400% since 2005, according to USDA, and as a result, its producers generated $2.2 billion in 2016. But this attracted attention from the greedy cartels that want to make a money at the expense of hard-working farmers.

Image credit USDA

In the failed state of Michoacán, avocados drive the economy. Unfortunately, many lives have been lost in the fight to control Mexico’s “green gold.”

For decades, the people of Michoacan have struggled with the ruthless Familia Michoacana, led by Nazario Moreno González, known as El Más Loco (the Craziest One). After the notorious criminal was killed in 2010, the drug organization collapsed under its own weight, but this left the avocado farmers vulnerable to attacks from other cartels.

Los Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, were the ones to claim the territory left behind by La Familia. In what has been described as a “methodical” approach, they started extorting avocado producers in collaboration with local authorities who provided the Templars with the necessary information.

It became a very profitable business for these criminals, who charged $100 per hectare and 10 cents per pound of avocado sold. If producers refused to pay, they would resort to kidnapping just like their predecessors.

Mexican authorities estimate that this practice earns the Knight Templars an estimate of $150 million a year. Since 2013, local militias have formed in the area to drive out the cartels from the state.

The militias are led by the iconic Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, who was arrested in 2014 for violating Mexico’s federal law of firearms and explosives as presented on Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land. Since he was taken out of the picture by the federal government, cartels have managed to continue with the violence and the extortion.