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Cucumber cartels: it’s a war out there

In Campeche and Yucatán, the navy is on full alert for the cucumber wars

In many states in Mexico, rival gangs fight over the lucrative drug trade. But in Yucatán and Campeche, they fight over cucumbers.

These are not your garden-variety cukes but those found on the sea bottom, a sea animal whose popularity in China is fueling piracy and smuggling to the point where cucumber-related crime is now worse than drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion combined.

To make matters worse as far as the authorities are concerned, civil defense groups are springing up as they did in Michoacán, as fishermen seek to protect their lucrative businesses.

How lucrative? Isla Arena fisherman Felipe Narváez, and one of the civil defense leaders, pulls a sea cucumber from a sack, and a reporter notes that in all probability it’s not something you’d expect to find among the planet’s great riches.

“We’re all going to end up dying in a hail of bullets over this thing,” Narváez laments, as he holds up three large specimens, whose sale on the black market in China might net him enough to buy a wide-screen plasma television, or a motorcycle, perhaps.

That black-market price is 10,000 pesos a kilo, according to prices posted on alibaba.com. In Mexico, prices are a fraction of that, anywhere between 30 and 300 pesos per kilo.

But their value is still high enough to Mexican fishermen that it has led to cucumber trafficking and piracy, enmity between citizens of the two states, battles on the high seas.

“If we weren’t here, they’d kill each other,” says a Navy official of the new cucumber cartels. From a base in Campeche, marines patrol constantly with launches and helicopters, keeping the protagonists apart in an exercise that’s been going on for three years.

Fishermen’s boats have been attacked with molotov cocktails or stolen, and fisheries inspectors assaulted with harpoons.

On top of that, there has been environmental damage and social disintegration.

In Mexico City, Congress has taken note. A bill is expected to be presented in October that will make illegal fishing of sea cucumber a more serious crime than the illegal carrying of firearms, with penalties of up to nine years in prison and fines up to 10,000 pesos.

It’s probably time something was done. Otherwise, it might not be long before the real cartels get involved, if they haven’t already done so, and things could a whole lot uglier.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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