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Hungry for profits, Mexican cartels dominate the avocado trade

By Yong Ooi Apr. 7, 2022

The day before the Super Bowl—when Americans consume over 8 million pounds of avocados—the U.S. enacted a seven-day ban on avocado imports from Mexico, resulting in a spike in avocado prices. With Americans demanding an explanation, the event called attention to the strong grip that cartels have over Mexico’s avocado industry.

Dana Lim Art

The avocado ban was instituted out of concern for the safety of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector working in Michoacán—the only Mexican state fully licensed to trade avocados with the U.S.—who received a threat from a cartel in mid-February for refusing to authorize the shipment of an incorrectly labeled avocado carton. With 80% of all avocados consumed in the U.S. imported from Mexico, according to The Conversation, the suspension created a severe backlog in the American avocado inventory.

Every year, Michoacán transports nearly $2.8 billion worth of avocados to the U.S. In total, Mexico exports roughly $3.2 billion worth of the fruit annually, making their avocado market worth more than that of tequila and beer. The high demand for avocados worldwide began attracting local cartels looking for lucrative businesses to infiltrate in the late 1990s.

The number of avocado cartels only grew in the late 2000’s, when Mexico began cracking down on drug trafficking; avocado trafficking became a less risky way to make even larger profits.

Various parts of Mexico’s avocado industry have moved in and out of gang control ever since, making cartel violence against federal officers commonplace. The Associated Press writes that a group of USDA inspectors operating in Ziracuaretiro, a region in Michoacán, were robbed and threatened by a cartel in 2019. It further reports that in 2020, a Mexican USDA employee was killed in Tijuana by a local cartel.

Aside from USDA workers, avocado growers, pickers, investors and truck drivers are also frequently threatened by the various cartels in the region. Cartels initially entered the avocado industry by promising security services for farms in exchange for a land tax. However, these services have dwindled over time, while the tax remained in place. Eventually, some cartels started illegally deforesting land to start their own avocado farms, and residents in avocado-growing communities would be caught in the crossfire between rival gangs.

“The avocado ban is justified, but it was a bit extreme. The U.S. should start combating the gang violence in more effective ways, such as increasing domestic production of avocados to decrease reliance on the gang-controlled orchards,” Freshman Jay Li said.

The Los Angeles Times adds that as organized crime groups fight for greater control over the avocado trade, they kill, threaten and sometimes even kidnap members of competitor gangs as well as civilians in Michoacán. Moreover, these cartels have repeatedly coerced avocado farm workers to provide free labor for them, often at gunpoint. Despite this and the incidents with the USDA officers, Mexican President Andrés Lopez Obrador only blamed politics and American dislike of Mexican avocados for the recent ban.

“The Mexican president used a red herring to sweep the issues with cartel violence into the shadows. He should have sent in military personnel to ensure the safety of avocado workers or begun repairing the avocado industry’s infrastructure in response to the ban,” Senior Vedanth Iyer said.

Overall, the avocado ban highlights the political and social instability in the center of a business that fuels the Mexican economy and supplies Americans with one of their most beloved food products. As cartels maintain their strong hold on the industry, avocado farmers in Michoacán continue to live in the midst of dangers including street violence and extortion, sometimes even pushing them out of their homes.


About the Contributors

Yong Ooi

Viewpoint Editor

Yong Ooi is a senior at Leland High School and is the Viewpoint page editor. She likes language and travel. Recipe experimentation is a particularly favourite side effect of traveling. The kitchen is always a mess.

Dana Lim


Dana Lim is currently a freshman at Leland High School and is serving as an artist for The Charger Account. Some of her interests are listening to music, watching thriller shows/movies and of course sleeping.

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