After a threat to inspector, the United States suspends Mexican avocado imports

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Avocado exports are the latest victim to the drug cartel turf wars and extortion of avocado farmers in the state Michoacan.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has confirmed that the U.S. government had suspended all imports from Mexico of avocados following a threat by a U.S. safety inspector in Mexico.

Late Saturday, on the eve the Super Bowl, was the surprise suspension. This is the largest sales opportunity for Mexican avocado growers.

Avocado exports are being targeted by the drug cartel turf wars and extortion of avocado farmers in Michoacan (the only Mexican state that is fully authorized to export to America).

After a U.S. plant safety inspector in Mexico received an threatening message, the U.S. government has suspended all imports from Mexico of avocados.

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The Mexican Avocado Growers and Packers Association’s Super Bowl ad revealed the import ban on the same day. Mexican exporters have removed the ads for nearly a decade to try and associate guacamole with a Super Bowl tradition.

The ad for this year shows Julius Caesar with a group of gladiator lovers outside what appears to have been the Colosseum. They are enjoying avocados and guacamole, which seems to calm their seemingly violent differences.

The ban affects an industry that exports almost $3 billion annually. The association didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. Avocados for the Super Bowl were however already exported in the weeks before the event.

The United States also produces avocados. U.S. inspectors visit Mexico to make sure that avocados exported don’t have diseases that could harm U.S. crops.

The ban on Mexican avocados was in effect since 1914. It was lifted in 1997 to stop a variety of pests, weevils, and scabs from entering U.S. fruit orchards.

These inspectors are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.

This is not the first instance that violence has been reported in Michoacan, where the Jalisco cartel is engaged in turf wars with a group of local gangs called the United Cartels. Avocados are the most valuable crop in the state.

The USDA warned of the potential consequences of attacking or threatening U.S. inspections after a previous incident in 2019.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection team was “directly endangered” in Ziracuaretiro (a small town west of Uruapan) in August 2019. Although the agency did not specify the circumstances, authorities in the area claim that a gang stole the truck the inspectors were travelling in at gunpoint.

In a letter, the USDA stated that “For future security breaches or imminent physical threats to the well-being APHIS personnel, the USDA will immediately suspend all program activities.”

Many Michoacan avocado growers claim that drug gangs threaten their families with death or kidnapping if they don’t pay protection money. Sometimes, it can be thousands of dollars an acre.

APHIS’s Mexican employee was murdered near Tijuana, the northern border town of Tijuana on Sept. 30, 2020.

Mexican prosecutors claimed Edgar Flores Santos, a drug trafficker, killed him. A suspect was also arrested. According to the U.S. State Department, investigations concluded that Mr. Flores was in the wrong place at wrong time.

Mexico’s avocado ban was the latest threat to its export trade. It stemmed from the government’s inability of reining in illegal activities.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office filed a complaint against Mexico on Thursday for failing to prevent illegal fishing to save the critically endangered vaquita Marina, the world’s smallest Porpoise.

According to the office, it requested “environment consultations” from Mexico. This is the first case under the U.S.-Mexico/Canada free trade pact. The first step in the dispute resolution under the trade agreement is consultations, which were in effect from 2020. It could lead to trade sanctions if it is not resolved.

Mexico’s government has abandoned efforts to establish a fishing-free zone in an area where vaquitas, or the Sea of Cortez, are believed to be living. Vaquitas are drowned by nets that were illegally set for another fish, the Totoaba.

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that Mexican fishing boats from the Gulf of Mexico would be “prohibited” from entering U.S. ports. This was in response to the illegal poaching of red snapper by Mexican boats for years in U.S. Gulf waters.