Massive Avocado Farm Extortion Highlights Mexico Vigilantes’ Cause

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The Knights Templar and La Familia Michoacana took nearly 13 percent of profits from Mexico’s national avocado production over the course of five years, demonstrating the type of criminal incursion into the local economy that spurred the rise of self-defense groups.

Avocado producers in the municipality of Tancitaro, Michoacan, calculated that from 2009 to 2013 organized crime made around $770 million from the region’s avocado business, or $154 million annually reported El Universal.

Mexico’s Ministry of Agricultural Development (Sagarpa) estimates national avocado production over the past five years has risen to a value of over $5.86 billion.

Michoacan is the number one avocado producer in the world, supplying 85 percent of avocados consumed domestically and around 52 percent of the global supply. Tancitaro alone provides 25 percent of the international market’s avocados, while, according to the Wall Street Journal, Michoacan is the source of four of every five avocados sold in the US.

Criminal groups began to cash in on this market in 2009, according to El Universal, when La Familia Michoacana started extorting local avocado growers, killing farm hands and displacing farmers, and appropriating their property. By 2011 the Knights Templar had replaced La Familia in Michoacan, reportedly stealing 30 percent of avocado profits that year as exports exploded thanks to the inclusion of guacamole on the menus of Burger King and Subway in the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

The vast quantity of money stolen from Michoacan’s avocado growers through violence and extortion is a mark of how deeply involved in all aspects of society La Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar became. Instead of participating only in drug trafficking, these groups diversified their revenue streams, and began engaging in kidnapping, extorting, theft and the general harassment of local communities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico Vigilantes

It was this type of criminal activity affecting the economic and community life of residents, and not international drug trafficking or cartel turf wars, that was behind the rise of self-defense militias in Michoacan.

These groups have now broken the stranglehold of the Knights Templar in much of the state, and have started to redistribute farmland stolen by the Knights. However, with reports surfacing of vigilante leaders failing to return properties confiscated from the Knights, and of them extorting other business sectors such as mining, avocado growers and others like them may find the demise of the Knights Templar only leaves them in the hands of a different armed power.

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