A new report suggests that two organized crime groups in Mexico initially funded their criminal enterprises through extorting and kidnapping avocado farmers, shedding new light on how these now-powerful players got their start in the underworld.
Throughout the 1990s, Mexico's Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (Cartel Jalico Nueva Generación - CJNG) and the Cuinis criminal group pioneered the extortion and kidnapping of wealthy avocado farmers to fund their expansion, according to a report from the National Center for Planning, Analysis and Information for Combating Crime (Nacional de Planeación, Análisis e Información para el Combate a la Delincuencia - Cenapi) of Mexico's Attorney General's Office, Reforma reported on October 29.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
The criminal groups reportedly had an "intelligence system" that targeted wealthy avocado farmers by using information obtained from records from Mexico's now-defunct Agriculture Secretariat (Secretaría de Agricultura).
After being targeted, the farmers were then charged an extortion fee. If they refused to pay, the criminal groups proceeded to kidnap or kill the farmers and their families. This turned large-scale avocado producers into "parallel financial sources" that supplemented income from drug trafficking, according to the report.
InSight Crime Analysis
The report provides additional insight into the different criminal activities that CJNG and the Cuinis -- now two of Mexico's most powerful organized crime groups -- used to build their criminal operations.
In subsequent years, other crime groups, like the Knights Templar and Familia Michoacana, have used extortion of the avocado industry as a source of financing.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles
This pattern underscores how organized crime in Mexico has been fueled by US demand for products other than illicit drugs. And the size of the growing industry suggests it will continue to be a target for extortion by criminal elements.
Avocado exports earned Mexico more than $1.5 billion in 2016. The embattled southwestern state of Michoacán, particularly the city of Tancítaro, is at the heart of this industry. The state is the world leader in avocado production and produced about 80 percent of the country's avocados in 2016.
The United States accounted for nearly 80 percent of Mexico's avocado exports in 2016. Moreover, imports and per capita use of avocados in the United States has steadily increased since 2000.
(Graphic courtesy of Newsweek)
Between 2009 and 2013, organized crime groups earned an estimated $770 million from Michoacán's avocado business, around $154 million annually. In response to the extortion, vigilante groups of avocado growers have taken up arms to attempt to fend off criminal groups trying to capitalize on the lucrative industry.