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Drug cartels used government databases to kidnap and extort Mexican avocado farmers: Report

November 2, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Drug cartels used government databases to kidnap and extort Mexican avocado farmers: Report Photo: Reforma

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A new probe carried out by Mexico’s attorney general revealed that drug cartels employed government databases to track down, extort and even kidnap avocado farmers for decades.

The investigation, which was first published by Mexican daily Reforma on Sunday, gathered that organized crime cells in the 1990s illegally got their hands on agriculture ministry records of avocado farmers, then used them to find and coerce the farmers into giving the cartel a percentage of all earnings or risk being abducted.

“This was a system of intelligence that involved reviewing records from the agriculture ministry to know who the farmers with the avocado production were, where their orchards were, and how much they reported their sales,” the investigation noted.

Established by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the group Los Cuinis, the method of extorting avocado farmers became a popular strategy for diversifying the incomes of the most powerful cartels.

Mexican avocado farmers became a target of organized crime in the 1990s when the industry was just beginning to experience booming growth

The battle for the control of Mexico’s booming avocado industry has been continuing since the mid-’90s, when the North American Free Trade Agreement raised import restrictions on Mexican avocados in the U.S., leading to a boom in the avocado business.

Mexican avocado exports are up 400% since 2005. As a result, avocado  made $2.2 billion in profit in 2016. They also created unwanted attention from Mexico’s infamous cartels.

In Michoacán, where the avocado business stimulates the local economy, blood has been shed in the fight to control Mexico’s “green gold.” For years, the area was under the command of La Familia Michoacana, a violent gang led by Nazario Moreno González, also known as El Más Loco (the Craziest One). After González was killed by state authorities, in 2010, the Familia fell due to infighting, leaving the area open for another cartel to take over.

Then, Los Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, came in. In what has been referred to as a “methodical” approach, the Knights Templar extorted avocado producers thanks to information received by local officials. The Knights Templar would ascertain how much each producer was required to pay the cartel. The going rate was reportedly $100 per hectare and 10 cents per pound of avocado. Those who rejected had their family members abducted.

Mexican authorities suspect that Knights Templar make $150 million a year through extorting avocado farmers.

Since 2013, local militias have forced the cartel out of many areas in the state. But reports from Michoacán reveal that violence and extortion still prevalent.

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