In Mexico, ‘green gold’ brings both riches and violence

Fruit Hass Avocado Harvest Avocados Picked Green
Fruit Hass Avocado Harvest Avocados Picked Green

10/23/19 – AP News

Mark Stevenson

Small-scale avocado growers armed with AR-15 rifles take turns manning a vigilante checkpoint to guard against thieves and drug cartel extortionists in this town Michoacan state, the heartland of world production of the fruit locals call “green gold.”

The region’s avocado boom, fueled by soaring U.S. consumption, has raised parts of western Mexico out of poverty in just 10 years. But the scent of money has drawn gangs and hyper-violent cartels that have hung bodies from bridges and cowed police forces, and the rising violence is threatening the newfound prosperity. A recent U.S. warning that it could withdraw orchard inspectors sent a shiver through the $2.4 billion-a-year export industry.

21 Mexico Police Arrested for Kidnapping, Extortion of Migrants

10/17/16 InSight Crime

federal police mexicoNearly two dozen municipal police officers were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and extortion of migrants in Mexico‘s Chiapas state, highlighting the rise of police violence against migrants along this key transit route.

A total of 21 municipal police officers in the town of Chiapa de Corzo were arrested for allegedly attempting to extort 19 undocumented migrants on October 11.According to El Universal, the accused intercepted a bus carrying migrants — including seven minors whose ages ranged from two to fourteen years — and proceeded to transfer the victims to the police station where they were subsequently held.

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Drug cartels have turned social-media sites like Facebook into one of their most potent weapons

4/13/16 Business Insider

facebookDrug trafficking has been the primary focus of Mexican cartels, providing most of their obscene profits and motivating much of the bloodshed they’ve caused.

But as cartels have expanded into other areas of operations, and as law-enforcement efforts have forced them to seek new moneymaking ventures, those cartels have started kidnapping and extorting Mexicans with more frequency.

And social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been a boon to these new criminal endeavors.

“Well, the extortion business is a profitable one for organized crime. And in countries like Mexico, it’s sadly pretty common that people get these threats,” Tom Wainwright, the author of “Narconomics” and the Economist’s former reporter in Mexico City, told Business Insider.

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7 Mexican federal police detained on extortion allegations

03/13/15 The Washington Post 

policemanMexican authorities said they detained seven more federal police officers Thursday in the northern border city of Matamoros in connection with an extortion investigation. A statement from the National Security Commission said the seven were taken into custody at the Matamoros airport. On Saturday, Mexican officials said soldiers and marines had detained 14 other federal police officers in Matamoros for kidnapping a businessman and demanding a $2 million (31 million peso) ransom. One was later released.

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Mexico’s rising threat: extortion

currency - coinsChristian Science Monitor, 3/19/14

When the phone rang at a small community center in a poor Mexico City suburb, the voice on the other end of the line belonged to a member of the criminal group, La Familia Michoacana – or so the caller claimed. He was demanding money, and when the director of the center, Raúl Solís Pineda, said he had none, the extortionist said he wasn’t asking for “millions” and that Mr. Solís Pineda must pay. This type of call is common in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, or Neza, as the locals refer to it.

The poor municipality is located in the State of Mexico, which wraps around three sides of Mexico City. It had the highest number of reported extortions in 2013 – a year when that crime surged in the country as a whole. Although Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has pointed to successes in his country’s fight against organized crime, extortion has become more common, as has kidnapping. In fact, the number of reported incidences for both of these crimes was higher in 2013 than any other year in the last decade. The small sums frequently demanded in these anonymous calls, as well as their unknown origin, often mean police are slow to react – if they pursue the allegation.

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Mexico Charges Ex-Anticorruption Official

handcuffsThe Wall Street Journal, 01/22/2014

A Mexican former official once in charge of fighting money laundering has himself been arrested and charged with extortion, Mexico City’s prosecutor’s office said.

José Luis Marmolejo, who in 2007 and 2008 worked as the top federal prosecutor tracking the flow of money from organized crime groups, was taken into custody and charged last week, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office in Mexico City said on Wednesday. She declined to give further details on the case; prosecutors will announce more details in coming days, she said.

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Mexico seminary joins list of extortion callers’ targets

cell-phone-imgaeThe Los Angeles Times, 12/2/2013

It is a distressingly common part of life in modern Mexico: the bullying phone call demanding that the person who answers pay up — or else. Businesses get the extortion calls. Families get them.

And now, apparently, so has the country’s main Roman Catholic seminary.

In a sermon Sunday, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera announced that a vice rector at the Conciliar Seminary of Mexico received a number of threatening phone calls Nov. 20-21. The callers, the cardinal said, demanded 60,000 pesos — about $4,500 — “in exchange for respecting the lives of the superiors of that institution,” according to a statement issued Sunday evening by the Archdiocese of Mexico.

“Last week we were meeting in the seminary; they called numerous times, and identified themselves as La Familia Michoacana,” Rivera said, according to the news service Milenio, referring to a drug cartel based in Michoacan state. “But who knows?”

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Juarez: The sequel

Global Post, 11/1/13

ciudad juarezNot long ago, all headlines out of Ciudad Juarez screamed bloody drug war murder. Now something unexpected is happening in the Mexican border town. Homicides have plummeted. Some who fled have returned.

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In Mexico, Extortion Soars Amid Crackdown On Drugs

gun - crime sceneThe Huffington Post, 10/14/2013

When the threatening phone calls demanding $20,000 in protection money began in December, Dr. Roman Gomez Gaviria shrugged them off, believing his clinic on the outskirts of Mexico City couldn’t possibly be of interest to criminal gangs. A few months later, his sense of security was shattered when three armed men barged into his office screaming “Dr. Ramon, you bastard, where are you?”

“They tried to tackle me, to take me out of the clinic, when I saw that each one had a pistol tucked into his belt,” said Gaviria, recounting the ordeal. “They thought that, because I’m a doctor, I wasn’t going to resist.”

Such shakedown rackets have long targeted businesses in the most violent corners of Mexico. Now the practice is spreading. One anti-crime group estimates that kidnapping across the country has jumped by one-third so far this year compared to 2012. And as the extortion industry expands, it has drawn both experienced criminals and imitators.

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US Chamber Study: Extortion on Rise in Mexico

mystery manAP, 5/30/2013

There has been a huge increase in the number of businesses reporting extortion attempts by drug cartels in Mexico, according to a survey by the American Chamber in Mexico. The survey of 541 members of the American group as well as the British and Japanese chambers of commerce in Mexico showed the percentage of firms reporting cartel extortions has doubled. Such problems were reported by 18 percent in 2012, but the number jumped to 36 percent this year even as reports of most of other types of crimes declined.

“Obviously that’s one of the ones that really jumped out when we were studying the graph, because almost all of the other tendencies were down,” Thomas Gillen, chairman of the AmCham Security Committee, said Wednesday. Companies reported fewer thefts of shipments or supplies and fewer threats or attacks on employees in the most recent survey. As for the rise in reported extortion cases, “People might be becoming more comfortable in reporting it, or criminals might be getting better at extorting businesses,” Gillen said.

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