After a threat was received by a US plant safety inspector in Mexico, Mexico has revealed that the US government has halted all imports of Mexican avocados.
The unexpected temporary restriction was announced late Saturday on the eve of the Super Bowl, the largest sales opportunity of the year for Mexican avocado producers — but it would have no impact on game-day consumption because the avocados had already been sent.
Avocado exports are the latest casualty of drug cartel turf wars and extortion of avocado producers in Michoacan, Mexico’s only completely permitted state for exporting to the US market.
Following a threatening message received by a US plant safety inspector in Mexico, the US government has halted all imports of Mexican avocados “until further notice,” according to Mexico’s Agriculture Department.
“The decision was made when one of their officers, who was conducting inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, got a threatening message on his official cellphone,” the agency stated.
The import prohibition was announced on the same day that the Mexican Avocado Growers and Packers Association debuted its 2019 Super Bowl commercial. For over a decade, Mexican exporters have paid for the expensive advertising in an attempt to establish guacamole as a Super Bowl tradition.
This year’s commercial depicts Julius Caesar and a raucous group of gladiator fans outside what looks to be the Colosseum, guacamole and avocados easing their ostensibly violent disputes.
A request for comment from the group on the restriction, which affects a sector worth over $3 billion in yearly exports, was not immediately returned. Avocados for this year’s Super Bowl, on the other hand, had already been exported in the weeks leading up to the game.
“Facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the United States and ensuring the safety of our agricultural inspection workers go hand in hand,” the US Embassy said.
“We are working with the Mexican government to ensure security circumstances that will allow our workers in Michoacan to continue operations,” the embassy said on Twitter.
Because avocados are grown in the United States, inspectors from the United States travel to Mexico to guarantee that exported avocados are free of viruses that may harm American crops.
The United States only repealed a ban on Mexican avocados in 1997, which had been in effect since 1914 to keep a variety of weevils, scabs, and pests out of American orchards.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services of the United States Department of Agriculture employs the inspectors.
Avocados, the state’s most profitable crop, have been threatened before by the violence in Michoacan, where the Jalisco cartel is conducting territory conflicts against a coalition of local gangs known as the United Cartels.
The USDA has warned about the potential implications of striking or intimidating US inspectors after a prior incident in 2019.
A team of inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture was “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a hamlet west of Uruapan, in August 2019. While the agency did not explain what happened, local officials said the inspectors’ truck was robbed at gunpoint by a gang.
“For future circumstances that result in a security breach, or reveal an impending physical threat to the well-being of APHIS workers, we shall immediately cease program activity,” the USDA stated in a letter at the time.
Many avocado producers in Michoacan claim that drug gangs threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay tens of thousands of dollars per acre in protection money.
A Mexican APHIS employee was slain near the northern border city of Tijuana on September 30, 2020.
According to Mexican authorities, drug smugglers assassinated Edgar Flores Santos after mistaking him for a cop, and a suspect was detained. Investigations “concluded this sad occurrence was a matter of Mr. Flores being in the wrong location at the wrong time,” according to the US State Department.
The avocado prohibition was simply the most recent danger to Mexico’s export commerce as a result of the government’s incapacity to control unlawful activity.
The US Trade Representative’s Office filed an environmental complaint against Mexico on Thursday, alleging that the country failed to prohibit illicit fishing in order to conserve the critically endangered vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise.
The request for “environmental discussions” with Mexico, according to the agency, is the first of its kind under the US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement. Consultations are the initial phase in the trade agreement’s dispute settlement procedure, which will begin in 2020. If the issue is not resolved, trade sanctions may be imposed.
The Mexican government has largely abandoned efforts to enforce a fishing-free zone around a region in the Gulf of California, often known as the Sea of Cortez, where the last few vaquitas are thought to dwell. Vaquitas are drowned by nets placed illegally for another fish, the totoaba.
In the Gulf of Mexico, Mexican fishing vessels were “prohibited from entering U.S. ports, would be denied port access and services,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in reaction to years of illegal red snapper poaching by Mexican boats in U.S. waters.