Four Mexican Cartels Battling for Control of Avocado Trade

Four cartels are battling it out for the lucrative US$1.5 billion dollar avocado trade in western Mexico, the office of a state attorney general has revealed.

Avocado farmer e1Avocado farmer (Source: US Department of Agriculture)Their war over avocados has seen dozens of dead already.

Michoacan’s top prosecutor’s office says the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the New Michoacan Family, the Tepalcatepec Cartel and the Zicuirán Cartel are all fighting for the control of the fast growing industry, according to Clarin.

But Falko Ernst, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group focusing on Mexico, says it’s more complicated than that.

Ernst says there are actually several subgroups operating on the ground level in the Michoacan region, with alliances to the four cartels changing on potentially a weekly basis.

“What were seeing from the outside is big cartels, but on the ground it’s a lot messier than that,” he said in an interview with the OCCRP.

Ernst says the battle over avocados has made headlines, but it speaks to the changing nature of organized crime in Mexico and across Latin America.

“Avocados are a catchy thing,” he said. “But I think it speaks more of a wider mutation of how organized crime operates in Mexico and Latin America. It’s not only about drugs anymore, it’s about the territorial control and controlling the commodities.”

As previously reported by OCCRP, the CJNG has established itself as one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels in recent years and the US Justice Department labels it “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.”

Unnamed farmers, fearing for their safety if their identities were revealed, told Mexican outlet Clarin they face charges of a monthly quota by either the CNJG or the New Michoacan Family cartel, depending on the size of their cultivated crop or amount exported.

State official Humberto González Villagómez says farmers are being forced to pay or face losing the ability to ship their crops.

The threats for payment inevitably led to violence against farmers and distributors.

One distributor told El Pais his son was gunned down just outside their office after refusing to pay the cartels.

“I got to see him bleed at the door,” he said.

The dispute claimed 19 deaths in August, with nine bodies found hanging from a bridge in Urapan, a banner alongside threatening those who helped similar people.

Attorney general Adrián López Solís blames the killings on a territorial war between the CJNG and the armed wing of New Michoacan Family, dubbed Los Viagras.

Mexico’s avocado export rose by 16 percent between 2018 and 2019, and Michoacan accounts for 80 percent of it.

Forty-eight tons of avocados are stolen by gangs every day in the region - according to farmers.

But the violence and threats could potentially destabilize the money making industry.

The US Department of Agriculture is threatening to suspend its avocado certification program after several inspectors were threatened and robbed by cartel members.

But for those hoping there’s a quick end to the battle, Ernst isn’t optimistic.

“There’s no end in sight to any of this.”