The Private Avocado Police of Mexico
The rise of hipster eating habits, health food enthusiasts, and people being more aware of global food trends means that avocados are now everywhere and have permeated into the public conscious as a sort of edible status symbol that signifies wealth, health and nose for a trend. This growth in interest of the humble avocado has ballooned the avocado growing industry and, as such, seen a massive rise in avocado crime!
Yes, that's right, that delicious green fruit that stays really hard for ages, then is ripe for all of a day before becoming brown and inedible, and is perfect to have with poached eggs, has caused a bit of a crime wave in its country of origin as organized crime syndicates clamor to get a slice of the money the green gold is bringing into the Central American nation.
Many drug cartels operate in Mexico due to its location, being a gateway to both North and South America, it is a channel for traffickers to smuggle narcotics and other contraband which is grown in South American countries to the massive and far more lucrative market in North America and as such, Mexico has found itself at the forefront of a burgeoning drug war between authorities and drug smuggling syndicates.
Although Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations, have existed for several decades, their influence has increased since the demise of the Colombian Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the wholesale illicit drug market and in 2007 controlled 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.
It didn't take long for these cartels to seize upon how much money the avocado growing industry was bringing into Mexico with it earning the nation more than $1.5bn in exports in 2016 alone. They saw a way in which they could then exploit this export industry to supplement their own and thus began to intimidate, extort and kidnap landowners for ransom. Some have even seized orchards whilst others have bussed in poor fruit pickers and seized their wages in a form of modern slavery.
This was then exacerbated when in 2006, the then-president of the country began a heavy-handed crackdown on the cartels with aggressive military maneuvering that saw a significant loss of life and considerable bloodshed throughout the country. Far from solving the problem, this tactic just caused cartels to fracture and become more violent in their pursuit of territory and market share as rival factions fought tooth and nail for more of what the government was trying to take back. In response to this, communities began to arm themselves.
One such region where this is particularly prevalent is Michoacán state, the same state where the 2006 war on drugs began, as avocado growers began to organize and form their own self-defense forces to fight fire with fire but this was problematic in itself as Mexico has strict laws banning civilians from carrying military weapons, and the governor of Michoacán passed a law explicitly banning armed civilian police.
Where these forces persisted, they were often infiltrated by cartels and turned to their own nefarious ends or disbanded by government forces, all except for one town.
Tancítaro's public security body (CUSEPT) rose from the civilian police movement and actually receives government backing, at least at a local level, as they consider themselves council workers. Working in conjunction with avocado producers, a private police force was recruited, with it being partially funded by avocado farmers, who pay a percentage of their earnings depending on how many hectares they own. The first prerequisite of joining the force is that you must be from the local municipality meaning that everyone in CUSEPT is connected to the avocado trade in some form thus ensuring they have a level on self-interest in protecting the avocado farms and are not infiltrated or turned by gang members.
Other members of the community have set up armed roadblocks and checkpoints around the town that vary in protection, from basic sandbag stops patrolled by elderly residents to solid fortifications with heavily armed guards, and the federal government has shown little interest in stopping this from going on, but why, when they went out of their way to disband other defense forces?
Well, for one thing, Tancítaro is the center of the avocado growing industry in Mexico, and the federal government is wary of disrupting a billion dollar trade, even if it does mean a heavily armed militia is allowed to patrol the streets. For another thing, CUSEPT has been relatively successful in its pursuit of protection for avocado farmers where other places saw avocado lords with ties to cartels. There has been some rumor that this may also be happening here too but while the money continues to roll in and the casualties remain minimalized, the central authorities remain reluctant to make a move.
But this in itself is starting to create a somewhat feudal society where the avocado landlords are living like landed gentry as they remain protected by a well equipped, highly trained police force, often with a close family or personal connection to themselves. This, even CUSEPT admit, is a fragile existence that cannot remain in place permanently. Stuck between the government and organized crime, the people here must continue to tread the line between law-abiding and vulnerable or criminal yet protected. They have no wish to see themselves become like the very cartels they are trying to fight.
So the next time you consider avocado on toast or a guacamole dip, perhaps lend some thought to where that fruit has come from and the great pains it has gone through to get to your plate. No one ever expects their meal to come with an armed escort.