US suspends imports of Mexican avocados following threats against factory safety inspector; Mexico denounces plot behind ban

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president said Monday that the U.S. suspension of avocado imports and recent environmental complaints are part of a plot against his country by political or economic interests.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has advanced the conspiracy theory after the US suspended imports of Mexican avocados on the eve of the Super Bowl following a threat against a US factory safety inspector in Mexico .

In fact, the US move was prompted by years of fear that drug cartel violence in Mexico’s western state of Michoacan – where gangs extort money from avocado and limes by threatening to kidnap and kill them – turned into threats against US inspectors.

Uncontrollable violence in Michoacan reached a new high on Monday, when prosecutors said they were investigating what appears to be the first civilian death caused by landmines laid by drug trafficking gangs.

The district attorney’s office said the 79-year-old farmer was killed in Tepalcatepec Township when his pickup truck ran into an improvised explosive device over the weekend. Her 45-year-old son was injured.

Cartels fighting for control of Michoacan — the only state that exports avocados to the United States — have previously used trenches, pillboxes, homemade armored cars, rocket-propelled grenades and modified drones to drop small bombs.

But last week, an army vehicle was disabled by an IED planted on a road, and 10 soldiers were injured by mines or other weapons. This was the first known successful use of IEDs against a military target in Mexico.

López Obrador played down the violence, and he sought to do the same with the avocado ban, saying Monday that the avocados for match day itself had already been shipped north and consumed. “The truth, Mexican avocados have already been exported,” he said during his daily press briefing. “They have already appreciated the lawyers.”

Avocados are offered for sale in the Michoacan market in Mexico City, Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. Mexico’s president said a U.S. suspension of avocado imports and recent environmental complaints are part of a plot against his country by political or economic interests, after the United States suspended imports of Mexican avocados following a threat against a US factory safety inspector in Mexico. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

On the other hand, he said producers who wanted to compete with Mexican products, or political factors, played a part in the decision.

“In all this, there are also a lot of political interests and political interests, there is competition; they don’t want Mexican avocados to enter the United States, that’s true, because they would rule the United States because of their quality,” said López Obrador.

He did not explain what those interests were, but noted ominously: “There are other countries that are interested in selling avocados, as in the case of other agricultural products, so they make lobbying, they are looking for senators, public relations professionals and agencies, to put up barriers.

In fact, the United States grows about half of the avocados it consumes and, to protect domestic orchards from pests, inspects imported avocados, nearly 90% of which have come from Mexico in recent years.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the United States lifted a ban on Mexican avocados that had been in place since 1914 to prevent a range of weevils, scabs and pests from entering American orchards.

Inspectors work for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.

On Saturday, the US government suspended all imports of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after one of its inspectors in Mexico received a threatening message.

Mexico’s agriculture ministry said in a statement that “U.S. health authorities … made the decision after one of their officials, who was carrying out inspections in Uruapan, Michoacan, received a threatening message on his official cell phone. “, wrote the department.

US officials say the suspension of safety-related inspections does not necessarily suspend all exports. Theoretically, Mexican avocados already inspected before Saturday could still be exported.

A customer chooses fresh avocados at the Michoacan market in Mexico City, Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. Mexico’s president said a U.S. suspension of avocado imports and recent environmental complaints are part of a plot against his country by political or economic interests, after the United States suspended imports of Mexican avocados following a threat against a US factory safety inspector in Mexico. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Avocado growers in Mexico have been victims of turf battles with drug cartels and extortion in the western state of Michoacan, the only state in Mexico fully authorized to export to the US market. After a similar incident in 2019, the USDA warned Mexico that it would suspend the program if the safety of inspectors was not guaranteed.

But the avocado ban was just the latest of several actual or potential sanctions last week on Mexican exports due to the Mexican government’s failure to curb illegal activity.

On Thursday, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office filed an environmental complaint against Mexico for failing to stop illegal fishing to protect the marina of the critically endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise.

And on Monday, Mexican fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico were “prohibited from entering U.S. ports, will be denied port access and services,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, in response to years of Mexican boats illegally poaching red snapper in the United States. Gulf waters.

López Obrador dismissed these moves as part of the same plot.

“If it’s not this thing (the threatened American inspector), it’s another thing, the marina vaquita, or the dolphins,” López Obrador said. “But the truth is that there is always something else behind it, an economic or commercial interest, or a political attitude.”

López Obrador has been accused of a cavalier attitude toward environmental standards and has criticized foreign or nonprofit environmental or civic groups.

“We don’t need foreigners telling us what to do or sanctioning our country’s fishermen,” López Obrador said last year.

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