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.

The US Has Issued New Security Warnings About Travel To Mexico And Here’s What You Should Know

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The US Has Issued New Security Warnings About Travel To Mexico And Here’s What You Should Know

Is Mexico safe? That’s the question many travelers are asking in light of the recent murders of nine Americans who were gunned down in a remote region about 100 miles from the U.S. border. The chilling incident comes on the heels of other highly publicized murders, including an American couple who was killed in front of their 12-year-old son this summer in Guerrero, and 27-year-old honeymooner Tatiana Mirutenko, who was caught in stray gunfire while emerging from a Mexico City bar last December.

Last year, Mexico had the highest number of homicides in the country’s history, with an average of 91 deaths a day — and 2019 is on track to break the record. Drug cartels and criminal organizations are running rampant throughout the country, with lethal results.

So what’s a visitor to do when faced with such grim stories? This is where the US government has stepped in.

The US has increased its warning level for US citizens traveling to Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expanded its list of places it does not recommend its citizens visit because of widespread cartel violence. DHS has now expanded its ‘Do Not Travel’ list to six states (up from five) and suggests travelers reconsider visiting 11 others.

The Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas make up the black list that the U.S. government has asked US Citizens to avoid (including tourist, family, and business visits).

The Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. Department of State extended the security alert in force since last April, due to “increased criminal activity” in the state of Chihuahua, where nine members of the LeBarón family were massacred. Chihuahua capital already had a travel restriction for U.S. government officials, who could only use Highway 45 and were prohibited from crossing the neighborhoods of Morelos, Villa and Zapata.

Beginning April 9, the U.S. State Department alerted its citizens to the high crime rates and kidnapping risks in the states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas.

Now most all of Mexico is at a Level 3 or above warning level (on a scale of 1-4).

Even on its travel information page, more than half of Mexico’s territory is listed at level 3, which means a “high risk of violence,” prompting U.S. citizens to reconsider their trips. The rest of the states are at level 2 and the U.S. government advises them to take precautions during their travels because the risk of illegal activity has increased.

Much of these additional warnings come on the heel of several high-profile violent incidents.

There are places that are clearly dangerous, like the border towns. But even some of the bigger resort destinations have had issues. Formerly peaceful Los Cabos has been called the murder capital of the world. An attack in a bar in Cancún in February killed five people, and last year, eight dead bodies were discovered just outside of Cancún’s hotel zone. And on the beaches of Acapulco, people have been getting gunned down in broad daylight while tourists lounge on the beach nearby.

Ok, but despite these warnings you should still feel comfortable traveling to Mexico.

Mexico has long been a popular tourist destination for travelers from the United States. From Spring Break parties in Cancun and Puerto Vallara to hipsters and influencers taking over the beaches of Tulum or the colonial pueblo of San Miguel de Allende, Americans flock to Mexico in huge numbers.

And despite years of ongoing violence that has racked the country, Americans have continued to enjoy all the incredible natural beauty, food, and culture that Mexico has to offer. And none of this necessarily needs to change.

Mexico received # visitors every year from the US and the vast majority of them return home perfectly fine with wonderful stories and souvenirs from their trip. The warnings from the US State Department are simply saying to exercise increase caution and to avoid areas where known illegal activity has occurred.

In Latin America, only a handful of countries receive the State Department’s Level One warning.

Beginning in January 2018, the U.S. government established a new security alert system for travelers, which classifies countries around the world according to their level of danger. It is a tool aimed at tourists and business people who plan to travel abroad.

The ranking of Travel Recommendations of the State Department establishes level 4 as the most dangerous, in which they are labeled with the recommendation “Do not travel” destinations such as Syria, North Korea or Somalia.

At the time of 2018, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia were placed in category 2 and advised U.S. citizens to exercise caution and be aware of the risks of insecurity.

Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Ecuador are in category 1 of the ranking drawn up almost two years ago. For all of these countries, the U.S. recommends “exercising normal precautions: this is the lowest warning for insecurity. There are risks in all international travel.

As Violence Rages On In Tijuana, One City Newspaper Has Started Publishing A ‘Deathometer’

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As Violence Rages On In Tijuana, One City Newspaper Has Started Publishing A ‘Deathometer’

The border town of Tijuana has long been a hot spot of criminal activity due to the proximity with the United States. This port of entry is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. The city is also a convergence point for migrants from all over the world who wish to get to the United States, and criminal gangs, sometimes aided by corrupt authorities, have taken advantage of this situation. These factors, of course, brings numerous challenges when it comes to achieving a much needed and wished for stability. 

But illegal markets for drugs, prostitution and all sorts of illicit activities have made security a real challenge for tijuanenses. And today the consumption of meth has boomed in Tijuana. Drug related violence in Mexico is usually attributed to external markets, but today Tijuana is facing what experts call a meth epidemic. Academics blame this surge in the local market for the ever-increasing body count in the city. 

Murder numbers have not been lowered by the authorities and the bloodshed seems to have no end.

Credit: Balacera Sacude

Regardless on who sits in the presidency (casualties of the cartel wars have not gone down during the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration, as many had hoped), criminality is hard to curb in Tijuana. Since the days of the once untouchable Arellano Félix brothers, two of the most powerful drug lords in Mexican history, networks of corruption and crime have dug deep roots into the city’s political and social life. This has made it an inhospitable territory for anyone who dissents, from activists to journalists who are constantly targeted.

Today, a Tijuana newspaper even has a Deathometer: there have been 1,800 murders in 2019 alone.

It might sound as a joke to some, but a Deathometer is an indication of hopelessness, an acknowledgement that the savage dogs of war will continue to be fed. A Deathometer is a sort of acceptance of defeat.

As recently reported in an investigative journalism piece in The Guardian, 2019 has been a particularly deathly year in the city, with murders expected to reach 2,000 by the time 2020 arrives. As the Guardian reports: “Tijuana has seen a methamphetamine-fuelled murder epidemic which produced a record 2,518 murders in 2018 and looks set to cause even more this year”. In Mexico overall, there are 100 murders per day on average. Those are wartime statistics. 

Women, men… no one seems to be safe.

Tom Phillips visited Tijuana for a week to write his piece in The Guardian. And he encountered a grisly scenario in just his second day. He writes: “At 6am a man’s body was found dumped in the eastern neighbourhood of EmperadoresAt 11.35am a decomposing pair of legs were spotted on wasteland in the city’s south. And at 2.45pm an unidentified killer barged into a home on Calle Tamaulipas, pulled out a gun and brought an unidentified male’s life to an end”.

This is the daily life of a city of 1.3 million inhabitants and other handful of millions of visitors per year. The authorities have stated that the murder rate has not affected the vibrant and growing economy, but critics say that this is basically tapar el Sol con un dedo (covering the Sun with a finger, a traditional Mexican saying). 

The high cost of impunity: only 10% of crimes end in actual sentencing.

Crime and impunity are like two monsters that feed off each other. In Mexico, about 90% of crimes go unpunished. This is a scandalous statistic that puts into question the efficacy (if any at all) of the judiciary system. Sometimes criminals are found and then set free due to a lack of evidence, corruption or fear of retaliation.

The AMLO government is predicating a strategy based on fixing the social fabric of the country to fight crime. “Abrazos no balazos” (hugs, not bullets) has been used as a mantra when it comes to the new government’s approach to crime. However, as the bloodshed in Culiacan to liberate Ovidio Guzman (El Chapo’s son) and the wave of killings in states like Guerrero and Michoacan have proved, so far this strategy has proven ineffective. 

Let’s not forget that for years Tijuana has been used as a frat boy playground by gringos.

Of course, the influx of American tourism is not the only or most important culprit for the inestability in Tijuana, but it is certainly a factor. Thousands of US citizens cross the border every year to party hard and with very little repercussions. This has led to a constant demand for drugs, but also to human trafficking and child abuse.