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Tancítaro’s Avocado Protection Force

The town created a paramilitary group to ward off Mexican cartels.

It's locals versus cartels in this feud over money-making avocados.
It’s locals versus cartels in this feud over money-making avocados. Kristina/CC BY-ND 2.0

Farmers in the town of Tancítaro, Mexico, had a deadly problem. In the region, avocados are king. Over a million dollars’ worth of the fruit is shipped out every day, and avocado mania abroad has made locals rich. But this economic bonanza also attracted danger.

As the BBC reports, a crackdown in 2006 on drug cartels drove criminals to seek new opportunities. Cartels such as the Knights Templar started threatening, kidnapping, and murdering Tancítaro locals, especially those in the avocado business. They even jockeyed for control of the avocado orchards.

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The avocado producers of Tancítaro decided to fight back. In 2013, they created their own paramilitary. In Mexico, there are a number of local protection forces, but few are as well-equipped as CUSEPT. Members of CUSEPT, a Spanish acronym for “Public Security Corps,” wear uniforms with body armor and carry high-powered weapons. Checkpoints and regular patrols give residents an increased sense of security while warning cartels away. To keep things local, participants are required to be from the area, and the avocado producers provide nearly half of their funding. The government picks up the rest of the bill, and provides training.

While some townspeople fear that a semi-private police force can only be a temporary solution, avocado farmer and CUSEPT member Lorena Torres told the BBC that the town is safer now. She epitomizes what Tancítaro officials say is spurring local action: a desire to protect the town’s green, growing prosperity.

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