Tancítaro, a relatively small town of 30,000 in the state of Michoacan, is known as the avocado capital of Mexico. Congratulations to them, right? Tancítaro and its outlying farmlands produce 80 percent of the avocados consumed in America, a daily million-dollar pay check that spikes even higher during peak times, like the Super Bowl. Some people don’t go to Super Bowl parties for the game – it’s all about judging the guacamole.
When there’s this much money involved, it’s expected that the avocado industry landed on the radar of some of Mexico’s infamously violent drug cartels and organized crime syndicates. Those cartels help fill the demand for another chief export from Mexico to the United States: drugs. With approximately 22 million drug users in the U.S., it’s an illegal billion-dollar manufacturing racket built on violence.
From the beginning of Mexico’s state-sanctioned war on drugs in 2006 until 2015, cartels flexing their muscles and working their way into the lucrative avocado trade resulted in 8,000 murders of farmers and their families. Rather than curb the drug trade, the war on drugs saw escalated levels of violence as cartels split into smaller factions and territorial disputes erupted. Avocado producers, some of whom are extremely wealthy, became targets of kidnapping and ransom demands – in some instances of their children.
Not helping the situation were local authorities and government officials being bribed to look the other way, leaving small towns across Mexico to the mercy of the cartels. This lead to the formation of Tancítaro’s own privately funded security force (which goes by the Spanish acronym CUSEPT) of 80 heavily armed and armoured paid officers, in addition to 16 volunteer crews. This police force is now partially funded by the state government impressed by the results, along with avocado producers who contribute money based on how large their farm is.
Although not exactly a peaceful solution, this organized resistance to the cartels has meant extortion of farmers has almost disappeared and kidnappings have stopped. Having so many guns on their streets is seen as a suitable trade off by residents of Tancítaro, just as long as their in the hands of the good guys.
Story by Jay Moon
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