HomeNewsBriefYucca Cacti Theft Illuminates Mexico’s Hidden Plant Trafficking Problem
BRIEF

Yucca Cacti Theft Illuminates Mexico’s Hidden Plant Trafficking Problem

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 16 SEP 2020 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

Theft of yucca cacti from indigenous communities in Mexico’s northwestern state of Baja California for export is reportedly accelerating, underscoring the silent issue of plant trafficking in the country.

Indigenous communities in the municipality of Ensenada have raised alarm about the continuing theft of yucca, a plant on which they are economically reliant, from reserves, according to El Universal. Representatives of the Kumiai, Cucapás, Kiliwas and Paipai communities met with federal officials to report the systematic plundering of yucca allegedly carried out by armed "mafias" for years and sold illegally in the port of Ensenada at greatly lowered prices.

The Kiliwas chief and representative at the meetings, Elías Espinoza Álvarez, stated that the community sells yucca at $450 a ton for use in a number of industries but that the thieves sell it on at just $100 a ton.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus Has Not Slowed Looting of Latin America's Maritime Species

It was announced by federal authorities that a permanent checkpoint would be set up in the area to be manned by National Guard troops and police in order to stop trucks carrying yucca out of the Indigenous reserve. To date, however, this checkpoint has still not been established. Furthermore, the Kiliwas claim their community has set up patrols in the past to no avail, since captured thieves are allegedly quickly released without charge by public prosecutors.

While yucca theft has not been widely reported on in Mexico, it is not a new phenomenon. The Federal Prosecutor's Office for Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente - PROFEPA) has tracked numerous seizures of illegally cut yucca in the municipality of Ensenada over the years. In 2016 alone, it reported a total 71 tons of yucca (28 tons in April, 6 tons and 11 tons in October and 26 tons in December).

But according to Espinoza, the problem has only worsened since 2018, the same year that the legal global trade in medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) reached a record-high of $3.3 billion, having almost tripled in two decades.

InSight Crime Analysis

The smuggling of Mexican cacti is a multimillion-dollar industry, leading some conservationists to rank cacti “just below drugs and guns as the most popular goods smuggled out of Mexico.”

While this is probably an exaggeration, it does attest to the relative importance of illegal plant trafficking, which is often overlooked in Mexico when compared to the trafficking of wildlife such as totoaba fish, sea cucumbers and crocodiles. But conservationists argue the illicit trade in flora can be just as environmentally harmful as that of fauna.

Most cacti grow extremely slowly and are near-exclusive to the Americas, creating an imbalance between surging global demand and limited regional supply. As with other commodities, this imbalance significantly raises their monetary value, creating an incentive for smugglers.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Environmental Crime

Yet while the smuggling of cacti, including yucca, often seems to be structured, it is unlikely to be the work of sophisticated criminal groups. Dr. Tanya Wyatt, a professor of criminology at Northumbria University in the UK, says Mexico’s illegal wildlife trade displays “limited evidence of widespread involvement of organized crime.” That is not to say, however, that "these groups would not move into trafficking of yucca or other plants when the risk is low and the profits are high," she told InSight Crime.

This idea has precedent. For example, the Sinaloa Cartel and Juarez Cartel have in recent years become involved in illegal logging in Chihuahua, using their territorial control to profit from a secondary industry besides drug trafficking.

Similarly, the municipality of Ensenada, from where the yucca is stolen and smuggled, serves both as a drug trafficking hub -- due to its strategic proximity to Tijuana and the US border, as well as its importance as a maritime nexus -- and fertile terrain for poppy and marijuana plantations. As a result, both the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación — CJNG) have a presence in the municipality.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BELTRAN LEYVA ORG / 18 NOV 2020

Authorities in Mexico will face one of their biggest anti-corruption tests yet after a bombshell deal was brokered with the…

MEXICO / 28 NOV 2017

The decline of the Caballeros Templarios has left Michoacán at the mercy of a tangle of rivals, none of whom…

BARRIO AZTECA / 3 JUL 2018

The recent arrest of a top Barrio Azteca leader in Mexico offers additional insight into the criminal and drug trafficking…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…

THE ORGANIZATION

Coverage of Fallen Paraguay Prosecutor Makes Headlines

20 MAY 2022

The murder of leading anti-crime prosecutor, Marcelo Pecci, while on honeymoon in Colombia, has drawn attention to the evolution of organized crime in Paraguay. While 17 people have been arrested…