Blood Avocados:Cartel Violence Over Licit Industries in Mexico
Megan Erickson & Lucas Owen
June 9th, 2020
Has growing demand for licit goods caused an increase in violence among Mexican criminal organizations? We theorize that cartels enter licit markets to supplement and diversify revenues from the drug trade, and that the incentive to do so changes with revenues in licit markets. Given their comparative advantages in agricultural production and violence, we expect cartels to react to increasing demand in agricultural markets by fighting to maximize territorial control and monopolize production. Using adifference-in-differences design, we test the hypothesis that a positive shock in demandfor avocados from municipalities in the states of Michoacan and Jalisco led to an increase in cartel violence. We ultimately find the opposite of what we expect. The enactment of a U.S. phytosanitary policy in June of 2016, which extended U.S. demand for avocados to municipalities formerly unable to export to the United States, led to asignificant decrease in cartel homicides compared to municipalities that were unaffectedby this policy. Given that cartels were present in most areas of Michoacan and Jalisco before the policy, we interpret this result as coming from cartels anticipating increased territorial contestation. Since cartels expect others to challenge their territory, they bolster their defenses, reducing incentives for territorial contestation.