“Even nuns know that illegal means money.” A study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness in 2012 found that legalization would destroy about 30% of the drug cartels’ market. “They used to destroy our corn with the North American Free Trade Agreement, and now they’re destroying our marijuana with drug decriminalization.”
“Since many Western countries have accelerated the process of legalizing marijuana, growers and gangs in Mexico have suffered serious blows. A report in The Washington Post shows that as the global target market of Mexican gangs gradually legalized, the wholesale price of marijuana in Sinaloa State has dropped from $100 per kilogram a few years ago to less than $25.”
“American-grown marijuana in high-tech greenhouses has 3-5 times the potency of old Mexican dirt weed.” Another report from the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank in the United States, speculated in 2010 that if American marijuana companies were to squeeze Mexican marijuana out of the market, cartel profits could plummet by 85%.”
“In the past, American addicts relied on their sensitive sense of smell to search every potential dealer in dark corners. Nowadays, they just need to go to a specialty store and spend the same amount of money to get high-quality products. This is no different from going to Walmart to buy Trojan condoms. The principle of good money driving out bad is a reasonable law of market economics.”
“The average order value of avocados surpasses that of drugs. ‘You might have heard of the price of 10 grams of marijuana, but you won’t hear anyone buying 10 grams of avocados because they are only sold one by one,’ says Rodrigo Cilla, a farmer who has long worked in plantations. ‘Growing these damn weeds is no longer worth it, and the damn Americans should stop legalizing it,'” he told The Washington Post.”
This has led to avocados being dubbed ‘green gold’ (oro verde) by Mexican cartels and becoming the second economic pillar of Mexican drug lords, surpassing the marijuana industry from 2012 to 2013.
According to the Mexican newspaper El Sol de Mexico, farmers in the state of Chihuahua are abandoning marijuana cultivation and switching to growing avocados.
“The gang came with guns every day and forced us to harvest for seven hours without paying a penny,” said 28-year-old Mexican youth Mecco Seja, who had a happy childhood in California but became an avocado grower under the control of a Michoacan cartel in Mexico after turning 20.
In Michoacan, Mexico, which is also the world’s largest producer of avocados, there are about 12 different gangs vying for control of avocado orchards and transportation routes. “Avocados are no different from US dollars, they are both green gold,” said a local resident.
International Crisis Group’s senior analyst, Falco Ernst, said that in the Michoacán region, there are actually four major cartels vying for control, which is much more complex than people imagine. “Avocado is an easy business to get into.” “This shows that the way organized crime operates in Mexico has changed, involving not only drugs, but also controlling land and commodity trade.”
Farmers will face monthly management fees from either CNJG or the Templar Knights organization, depending on their planting scale or export volume.
The CJNG, referred to by the US Department of Justice as “one of the world’s five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations,” is the most powerful presence among the four major cartels.
A plantation owner told a journalist from El Pais that his 26-year-old son was shot dead outside his office after refusing to pay management fees. ‘I had left the office and rushed back after receiving a call, only to find my son bleeding to death,'” he said.
The relatively weaker Templar Knights organization, by extorting avocado plantation owners, earns $150 million annually. They have also forcefully taken control of 5,000 acres of land, whereas there are only 56,000 acres of avocado orchards in Tancítaro. The manager of an avocado packaging plant said he pays the Templar Knights group a management fee of one cent per kilogram, which is about $2,200 per month, while the largest packaging plant in the city pays $15,000 per month.
For any business, creating innovative ideas and building new industry chain models is the way to grow and strengthen. The same applies to being a gangster – do whatever makes money, and go wherever the profits are. In the past, Mexican gangs were rapidly expanding their marijuana plantations, but now they have shifted their focus to the avocado industry.
As the main sales market for Mexican cartels, Americans have increased their consumption of avocados fourfold in the past two decades. There is no doubt that everyone knows that avocados are healthier and more delicious than drugs, and this product will never be rejected by consumers.
As Mexican drug cartels rely heavily on the US market, they are well aware that avocado is a healthier and more delicious product that will never be rejected by consumers. In order to maintain the growth of the avocado market, they even integrate industry resources behind the scenes and use media, advertising, and packaging marketing. The Mexican Avocado Importers Association and the Mexican Avocado Producers and Packers Association were brought together to establish the Avocado from Mexico Association, aimed at promoting Americans’ desire for avocado consumption.
Since its establishment in 2013, the association has aired 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl for six consecutive years.
This move successfully linked the Super Bowl with avocados, forming a habitual consumption pattern, just like how Japanese people always go to KFC during Christmas.
Although a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement costs up to $5.2 million, the conversion rate is astonishing. Americans consume about 120 million pounds of avocados during the Super Bowl, a 1400% increase from twenty years ago.
In the eyes of Mexican drug cartels, the advantage of avocados is irreplaceable compared to drugs. You will never see drug advertisements on any legitimate media platform, but avocados can appear anytime. Now Mexico’s avocado exports exceed 2.7 billion, and eight out of ten avocados eaten by Americans come from Mexico.
And among these eight, five are looted by Mexican gangs. A truck driver, who did not want to be named, said he had been kidnapped twice by gang members in the past six months and forced to transport avocados to the gang’s warehouse. “I have to obey them, or they will kill your whole family, including children.” “Sometimes I wonder if God will forgive me for what I’m doing? Then I realize that God left this place a long time ago.”
Consultancy firm Maplecroft’s analyst Christian Wagner says that everything happening with avocados in Mexico is eerily similar to the diamond conflicts in South Africa. “There is murder and slavery involved when Mexican drug cartels deal with avocado growers,” he said. “From cultivation to transportation, violence and crime pervade Mexico’s avocado supply chain, particularly in Michoacán, which is a long-standing hotbed of criminal violence.”
In Michoacán state, it is common for trucks loaded with avocados to be hijacked. Small criminal groups lacking the resources to extort farmers have turned to stealing avocado shipments. According to local police records, truck robberies and thefts increased from 50 to 300 cases between 2018 and 2019, a rise of 600%. “On average, four trucks are stolen every day, and exporters and growers face both the loss of stolen goods and the risk of employees dying or being injured,” said Christian Wagner, an analyst at consulting firm Maplecroft.
This not only disrupts the local avocado industry but also affects the unit price of avocados in US supermarkets. During the time when Mexican gangs take turns squeezing local growers, the price of a single avocado in US supermarkets can reach as high as 3 to 7 US dollars.
For any avocado lover, learning about the involvement of Mexican drug cartels and their heinous crimes of murder and trafficking in the avocado industry raises questions about the grim reality behind this fruit. This absurd reality, which challenges preconceived notions, has been widely covered by news media, tirelessly telling the story to the public. Since the release of the Netflix documentary “Rotten,” exposing the dark side of avocados, some Americans have started calling for a boycott of avocados.
Chef JP McMahon of the Michelin-starred Irish restaurant Aniar says, “Mexican avocados are full of sin.” That’s why there are no avocado products in his restaurant.
But in fact, the rationale for boycotting avocados, just like the saying “no trade, no harm”, is worth rethinking. Because for Mexican avocado growers, pickers, and transporters, boycotting avocados means cutting off the livelihoods of the innocent.
Please remember that they have found a livelihood in a country with a highly unstable economy, with wages in the avocado industry 12 times higher than the minimum wage in Mexico. If all of this is lost, then well-intentioned, voluntary boycotts will turn into punishment for the innocent.
How to cut off the evil hidden behind the avocado? The answer is self-help by the Mexican people. They will not rely on the corrupt government.
Chema Flores, a prosperous fruit farmer, has been involved in avocado cultivation since 1982. He never thought that the demand for avocados would make him so wealthy, but it has also brought him misfortune.
“A few days ago, they kidnapped my 16-year-old son and demanded one million dollars, but I only had 500,000.” “I have also been kidnapped twice.” Under the passenger seat of his pickup truck, there is always a long gun, and he hires four armed bodyguards to protect him and his son around the clock.
“As of now, it is safe here with a lot of security measures, but it is dangerous in other places. I don’t want to lie to foreigners,” Chema told the BBC reporter.
In the city of Tancítaro in the state of Michoacán, avocado growers have spontaneously created the CUSEPT defense force, which has bulletproof trucks and vests, as well as a significant number of AK47s and hand grenades.
The defense force is partially funded by avocado farmers, who pay a certain percentage of their income based on the land they own. ‘We are all made up of farmers and their families,’
Everyone in CUSEPT is somehow connected to avocado, which is the secret to our success,” said the captain of the team, Sanchez Mendoza.
Among them are women who have joined the fight, such as 36-year-old orchard owner Lorena Flores, who was fed up with being extorted by gangs.
She, among others, also includes women who have taken up arms, like 36-year-old orchard owner Lorena Flores, who was tired of being extorted by the cartels.
She works with the group from Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on escort missions, and rests in the plantation during the rest of the time. Despite being busy and dangerous, Lorena feels safer than ever.
“Stay close to your friends but closer to your enemies, so you can understand them better.” Lorena will never admit that The Godfather is a classic movie, because in her eyes, gansters always remain gansters.