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

FENTANYL / 9 NOV 2021

A recent seizure of fentanyl in Mexico has shed further light on the capacity of organized crime groups to mass-produce…

CONTRABAND / 30 APR 2021

A series of operations carried out by the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office against networks dedicated to trafficking Mexican poultry, shed…

BRAZIL / 9 DEC 2020

A spate of recent operations targeting wildlife trafficking rings in Brazil have highlighted the extent to which such groups have…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…