Things That Matter

Mexican Cartels Are Turning To Avocados And Innocent People Are Falling Victim To Extreme Violence

When someone mentions Mexican cartels, we immediately think of drug trafficking. It’s inevitable – especially after the strict diet of cop shows we’ve ingested over the years. But what if we told you that there’s something else that’s probably just as valuable to the Mexican cartels? Something that, in their minds, justified the killing of 19 people last week. Something like … avocados?

Guacamole is good, but not that good.

Instagram / @duascontrauma

Sure, when you said to your amigas the other day that you’d kill for some good guac, you probably weren’t thinking on this scale. Thursday morning saw the residents of Mexico’s Uruapan awaken to the aftermath of a massacre. Nine semi-naked bodies had been strung across an overpass. Another seven bodies, which had suffered a combination of dismemberment and decapitation, were discovered underneath a nearby pedestrian bridge. And, three other bodies were unceremoniously piled on the side of the road. All of the victims were found with gunshot wounds.

The city of Uruapan is ground zero for this new outbreak of violence.

Instagram / @viviana.falcon1

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) took credit for the grisly scene by hanging a banner on the bridge where the bodies were found, warning locals of a similar fate, should they think about helping the gang’s rivals. “Kind people, go on with your routine. Be patriotic, and kill a Viagra,” the banner read. And no – they weren’t talking about a certain pleasure enhancer. One of the CJNG’s most notorious rivals are the Viagras gang.

But where do the avocados come into the story?

Instagram / @avocado.aj

While some authorities have connected the gruesome killings to the region’s drug trade, one International Crisis Group researcher, Falko Ernst, has suggested that there may be more to it. “The big magnet here is avocados,” said Ernst in an interview with the Guardian. The murders were intended to intimidate not only Mexican authorities, but also rival gangs and their families. The aim was to discourage their involvement in both the drugs and avocado trade.

With soaring prices, avocados have become big business in Mexico.

Instagram / @hassdiamond

It’s understandable why anyone would want a piece of the avocado pie, so to speak. It’s the lifeblood of Latinos and avocado-toast toting millennials worldwide, which makes it big business. Mexico itself produces 45 percent of the world’s avocados. The state of Michoacán, where Uruapan can be found, is where most of the avocados within Mexico are produced. In fact, Michoacán’s avocado industry is worth about $1.5 billion. Chances are its value is only going to increase, since the world’s supply of avocados is currently at a low.

This is wild! How are the locals coping?

Instagram / @viajaxmichoacan

At this point in time, there are three main groups struggling for control of the city of Uruapan. These are the Knight Templar cartel, Los Viagras, and of course, the CJNG. This means that it can be risky for locals to work in the industry, who may get caught in the crossfire between the gangs as they battle it out for control of the avocado supply. As many as four avocado trucks are stolen every day, presumably by the cartels operating in the region. It’s gotten so out of hand that the area’s avocado companies appealed to the gangs through an ad in a June edition of the local paper, saying, “It’s impossible to continue taking these losses … failing to stop the theft of these trucks will have an irreparable impact on the avocado industry.”

Locals are dealing with all sorts of violence, extortion, threats, and worse.

Instagram / @avocado.aj

Aside from stolen trucks and products, locals also have to contend with CJNG-linked extortion. A local tequila producer, Eduardo Pérez, closed his business in 2015, as he was unable to keep up with the cartel’s monthly payment demands. “They warned me that if I didn’t pay, then I’d be in trouble,” Perez said in an interview with VICE. That’s the reality of living in an area where gangs like the CJNG operate – and these recent murders have done nothing to quell any tensions in the area.

Brutal killing sprees like those that happened last week were designed to get as much attention as possible, and serve as a warning to anyone and everyone that the CJNG is unafraid of retaliating against people who would threaten their illicit activities. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that there’s some relief for the locals, soon.

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The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Things That Matter

The Colombian City Where Body Parts Wash Up On The Shore So Often It’s Become Normal

Credit: Fernando Vergara / Getty Images

Colombia has made incredible progress since the 1990’s when the country was a hotbed for international drug trafficking and guerrilla warfare. Today, modern bustling cities are home to shopping centers, museums, and hordes of international visitors.

However, despite the advancements, the country is still in a delicate peace deal with the main guerrilla oppossition – Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – and there are many other paramilitary groups that still operate across the country, including in the main port city of Buenavista.

The city of Buenavista is seeing an uptick in body parts washing up along its shores.

In mid-January, an arm washed up on the city’s shore. It was quickly assumed, by local media reports, that the arm belonged to one of three local fisherman who had most likely been rounded up, killed, and dismembered. The arm had a tattoo on it, connecting it to one of the missing men, Armando Valencia.

And it wasn’t the first time this has happened. According to residents, body parts washing up on beaches is a tragically familiar occurrence. “There were some reports of body parts washing up at La Bocana [a nearby tourist spot]. A head, a leg, an arm,” said María Miyela Riascos, a social leader from Buenaventura, in a statement to VICE News. “Also, they found a man and a woman dismembered in the rural area of Bajo Calima.”

Violence has been rampant in Buenaventura for decades. The city has some of the highest rates of forced displacement and homicide in the country. But seldom has it been confronted by the levels of brutality experienced in the past year.

Criminal groups have long terrorized the city but things seem to be out of control.

So many different criminal groups have terrorized the slums of Colombia’s main Pacific port that residents rarely bother to learn the name of the latest clan in control. They simply call the warring gangs los malos or the bad guys.

Three people have been killed or disappeared daily, and conflict between organized crime has displaced as many as 6,000 people. Videos on Twitter show people fleeing their homes and young men and women patrolling with assault weapons. #SOSbuenaventura has been trending.

Community leaders see darker interests behind the violence, saying the areas where most crimes occur are the same where plans have been laid for a waterfront project, an airport and seaport terminals. “I see the violence as a means of pressure to get us off this area so they can build their projects,” Armando Valencia told The Guardian.

Criminals use “chop houses” to dismember their victims.

Colombian navy special forces on patrol among stilted waterfront shacks in Buenaventura
Credit: Fernando Vergara / Getty Images

The criminals recruit children, extort businesses, force people from their homes and dismember live victims, scattering their remains in the bay or surrounding jungle. Dozens of wooden huts balanced precariously on stilts over the bay have been abandoned by terrorized citizens and taken over by the gangs for use as casas de pique, or chop houses, where they torture and murder their victims.

The chop houses are the most gruesome consequence of a deeply flawed attempt to dismantle rightwing militias, which originally emerged to combat leftwing guerrillas in collusion with state security forces and drug traffickers.

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Mexico City Celebrates Its 500th Birthday Amid A Pandemic And Mounting Violence

Culture

Mexico City Celebrates Its 500th Birthday Amid A Pandemic And Mounting Violence

Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Most of us are looking to 2021 with optimism, but for Mexico, this upcoming year won’t just be about saying goodbye to 2020. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) says 2021 will be the “year of independence and greatness” for Mexico, celebrating not only 500 years since the founding of Mexico City, but also 200 years since Mexico achieved its independence from Spain.

As Mexico City turns 500, the city faces many challenges and reasons to celebrate.

Pretty much the entire world was waiting for 2021 to arrive, so that we could all say adiós to 2020. But few places were as eager to welcome 2021 as Mexico was.

You see, it was in 1321 that the ancient city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) was founded by the Aztecas, in 1521 the city was conquered and rebuilt by Spanish conquistadors, and in 1821 the nation gained independence from Spain. So you can see why 2021 is such a major year for Mexico.

President AMLO presented a plan to commemorate two centuries of Mexico’s Independence, the 700th anniversary of the founding of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and the 500th anniversary of the fall of the city that became the country’s capital city.

“Next year is the year of the Independence and the greatness of Mexico,” the president said, joined by Mexico City Head of Government Claudia Sheinbaum. In a detailed report on the year’s celebrations, IMSS head Zoé Robledo pointed out that the whole program includes 12 national events including tributes to national heroes, commemoration of relevant dates, exhibitions, parades and the traditional Independence celebration known as El Grito. Other events and celebrations are also expected in 65 cities across 32 states, starting on Feb. 14 in Oaxaca and ending on Sept. 30 in Michoacán.

The nation’s capital has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and faces other serious challenges.

Like many major cities, Mexico City has been severely impacted by the pandemic. It’s the epicenter of the health crisis in Mexico with more than 500,000 confirmed cases and nearly 25,000 deaths. In recent weeks, hospital occupancy has surpassed 90% meaning there’s little to no room for people to be treated. Meanwhile, the government has come under fire for a lack of any economic security to those who have been forced to go without work as the city of more than 20 million people was placed under lockdown. 

In addition to the health crisis, a growing issue of cartel violence has plagued parts of the capitol – a city once thought immune to the cartel wars that rage in other corners of the country. In 2020, violence in the capital broke records with brazen attacks on elected officials and bloody turf wars between long standing gangs and the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación.

But the city also has many reasons to be optimistic in 2021.

Mexico City remains the epicenter of progressivism in the country and that can be seen in the many policies put forward in recent months. With a focus on protecting women’s safety and health and empowering the LGBTQ community, Mexico City is emerging as a safe space for some of the country’s most maligned citizens. 

The city is also undergoing a rapid transformation to a greener society with bans on single-use plastics and a move towards greener policies. From the city’s southern districts to its historical center, the city is also seeing major beautification works to help increase its draw to international tourists – of whom the city has come to rely on for the much needed tourist dollar.

“2021 will be a remarkable year for the city — a city that welcomes all and provides a home for people of all ages and nationalities, which has resulted in a unique cultural hybrid,” says Paulina Feltrin, director of marketing and communications at The St. Regis Mexico City. “I hope this becomes another reason for international and domestic travelers to come celebrate with us.”

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