The Grisly Reality Behind Soaring Lime Prices

Mexican cartels are making the citrus more expensive in the United States.

Marco Carmenatis prepares a box of limes that have been imported from Columbia for shipping to a customer at Marco produce on March 26, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Mr. Carmenatis said they hadn't received any lime imports from Mexico for the last three days as a tight supply in Mexico has driven up the availability as well as the prices for the citrus in the United States. 
National Journal
Elahe Izad
April 15, 2014, 8:42 a.m.

The lament of in­creas­ingly ex­pens­ive limes has be­come wide­spread among Amer­ica’s mar­gar­ita lov­ers and guacamole fiends.

But while we in the United States may be up­set at the up­tick in lime prices — which have jumped to $100 from $25 for a 40-pound car­ton in just a few months — the in­creased strain on wal­lets masks a very grim state of af­fairs in Mex­ico, which provides nearly all of the limes con­sumed in the U.S.

A spike in price — caused in part by heavy rains and a cit­rus dis­ease hit­ting a prime lime-grow­ing area in Mex­ico — has at­trac­ted the at­ten­tion of crim­in­al car­tels, which have been look­ing to ex­ert con­trol over the lime eco­nomy.

Re­ports of ex­tor­tion, vi­ol­ence, road­b­locks, and in­tim­id­a­tion have been trick­ling out of the biggest lime-grow­ing areas of Mex­ico. These re­gions also hap­pen to have a large pres­ence of the bru­tal Knights Tem­plar drug car­tel.

The Knights Tem­plar have branched out from drug traf­fick­ing and now make more money from min­ing, log­ging, and ex­tort­ing mostly lime and avo­cado pro­du­cers. A Mex­ic­an gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial es­tim­ates the car­tel earns $800,000 to $1.4 mil­lion a week from ex­tor­tion — and that the or­gan­iz­a­tion con­trols the whole­sale dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ter, where lime grow­ers sell their products to the world, and where lime prices are set.

It’s got­ten so bad that people in­volved in lime pro­duc­tion have be­gun to fight back. “For lime grow­er Hipolito Mora, it was time to or­gan­ize and pick up arms when a pack­ing com­pany con­trolled by a bru­tal drug car­tel re­fused to buy his fruit,” the AP re­por­ted in Novem­ber. Mora, along with oth­er lime grow­ers, pick­ers, and ranch­ers, is part of a mi­li­tia formed to fight against the car­tel.

Crim­in­al in­volve­ment in pro­duce is not new in Mex­ico. A 2011 Chris­ti­an Sci­ence Mon­it­or re­port doc­u­ments how the drug wars ex­acer­bated a spike in lime prices back then. “Be it ex­tort­ing farm­ers, at­tack­ing pro­duce trucks, or caus­ing more time-con­sum­ing bor­der in­spec­tions, crim­in­al gangs are af­fect­ing al­most every link in the pro­duce sup­ply chain,” the news­pa­per re­por­ted.

So the next time you be­moan the pricey lime in your shop­ping cart, you may want to dial back your com­plaints. For Mex­ic­ans, that price tag stems from a dan­ger­ous and deadly set of cir­cum­stances.

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