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AMLO’s Problems: Avocados and Organized Crime

Aguacates, El American

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It’s been almost two weeks now, but it’s important to remember that the Super Bowl was stolen. That final series that the referees tried so hard to prolong with penalties until the Rams scored is a sample of how dishonest professional sports can be at times, besides being an interesting way to cover up the controversy surrounding the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, who showed his hypocrisy when he was photographed without face masks in a stadium full of people, putting “Magic” Johnson at risk (considering that he has been an advocate of mandatory face masks in his state).

An ordinary Sunday

Many of the people who tune in watch the halftime show and commercials. The commercials that air during this game are big productions and putting them on the air, in 2022, cost $5.6 million per 30 seconds. One of the ones we were able to see, starring Andy Richter, was for the Avocados from Mexico Foundation, an organization that promotes Mexican avocados in the United States.

They do not advertise a specific farm or importer, only the idea of the Mexican avocado in a market in which, by 2017, 900 thousand dollars a month were spent just on the famous avocado toast, the favorite dish of the American millennial.

Two days before the commercial aired, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the suspension of Mexican avocado imports into the United States. A USDA inspector was receiving threatening calls from organized crime on his official phone.

“…they tasted the avocado.”

President López Obrador (AMLO), when questioned about the suspension, explained his hypothesis: for him, it is probably the American avocado producers themselves who are conspiring to keep Mexican avocados out of their country or some other avocado exporting country that wants to take Mexico out of the competition.

It is true that the U.S. government has used any excuse at hand to limit the importation of Mexican products, such as tuna that had restrictions from 1992 to 2008 because it was not “dolphin-safe.” The case of avocado is very different, American producers do not have the capacity to face the demand of their own market.

In the United States, 206 tons of avocado were produced in 2020, according to AgMRC data, one-tenth of Mexican production, 2 million 394 thousand tons, with a value of about 31.5 billion dollars, according to the Agri-Food and Fisheries Information Service, of which 77% are exported to the United States.

AMLO could recognize the real cause of this suspension, the control of organized crime over a good part of the agricultural land in states such as Michoacán, where 100% of the avocados imported to the United States come from. But this would also imply accepting that his alleged strategy to combat organized crime has failed.

Neither giving them hugs instead of shooting and refusing to arrest capos, nor inviting criminals to behave themselves and think about how it hurts their mothers that they do that, nor saying “yuck, ew” to crime, have worked as expected… or rather they have worked exactly as anyone expected, increasing the climate of impunity and reducing the opportunity cost of becoming a criminal.

Avocados are missing

Harassing journalists is a very important and full-time job that does not allow the president to deal with such trifles as restrictions on the country’s third most important export. So, while the president denied the crisis, 8 days went by in which Michoacán farmers lost millions of dollars.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on February 18 that the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the National Agri-Food Health, Safety and Quality Service and the Association of Avocado Producers and Packers and Exporters reached an agreement to increase the safety of USDA inspectors in Mexico, resume avocado inspections by the USDA and with it the flow of avocados to the United States.

It was a temporary solution, but problems will arise again. It is not enough to prune the branches of the tree, you have to go to the root, but the Mexican government lacks avocados to recognize the problem they have on their hands.

José Torra is an economist, Research Coordinator at Caminos de la Libertad, co-author of the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of North America Index, and co-host of the podcast Libertad Aquí y Ahora // José Torra es economista, Coordinador de investigación en Caminos de la Libertad, coautor del índice Economic Freedom of Northamerica del Fraser Institute, y co-conductor del podcast Libertad Aquí y Ahora

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