Lime prices have been climbing for months now, and while many people have blamed the problem on a bad harvest, that is not all that has caused the lime shortage. A bloody war has been raging between Mexican farmers and drug cartels. That is right; the shortage is linked to the Mexican drug cartel called the Knights Templars, who have repeatedly attacked farmers and their lime shipments.
Approximately 98 percent of limes consumed in the United States are imported from Mexico, but due to a lime shortage prices continue to skyrocket, and many restaurants and bars have been forced to get creative. Some restaurants have chosen to “eat” the extra cost to keep customers coming back, while others have chosen to remove margaritas from their happy hour menus. Some bars have even started substituting lemons for limes in cocktails.
Last March, the price of a single lime was 21 cents. This March, the price climbed to 53 cents per lime, and now they cost 99 cents each, which has led many to refer to the citrus fruit as “green gold.” One restaurant owner is so fed up with the lime shortage that she says she simply refuses to play the game any longer. Instead, she has decided to remove all limes and drinks that contain limes from her menu in hopes the drug cartels in Mexico will have nothing but rotting limes and will be forced to sell drugs again instead of making money by hijacking hardworking farmers.
The combination of a severe drought followed by the spread of a citrus tree bacterial disease called huanglongbing, and then the polar vortex of this winter, has hit Mexican lime farmers hard, hurting their crops and resulting in a poor harvest. However, another link, a more sinister problem, is the escalating violence from Mexican drug cartels that has also had a huge effect on the lime shortage.
Lime farmers located in Michoacán have been hit hardest by the drug cartels, who hijack their trucks and demand hefty ransoms in order for the farmers to pass the cartel checkpoints with their harvest. Due to the lime shortage, a truckload of the citrus fruit is now valued at approximately $300,000; therefore, many farmers pay the cartel’s extortion fee without resistance and go on about their business. However, other farmers are fed up with the cartel cutting into their profits. As a result, they have decided to wage war to protect their livelihood. In many cases, those farmers who do not submit and pay up as the cartel demands are often killed during a fight to the death battle.
Vigilantes have also risen up to take a stand against the cartel, and while the Mexican government was initially against the vigilantes, they soon joined forces in an effort to combat the Knights Templars. Leaders of the cartel have since retreated and are reportedly hiding in caves.
Now, sources say a new problem is on the rise and fear the true intention of the vigilantes. With heavily armed local militia groups numbering 15,000 to 20,000, sources say that some of them, who have ties with other drug cartels, are now issuing their own demands on the farmers. It seems to be a never-ending cycle of violence and intimidation for hire with no immediate end in sight.
Because the lime shortage is linked to the Mexican drug cartel, it is unclear when it will all be over. For now, all anyone can do is pay the ridiculously high price for limes or simply do without the citrus fruit and hope that an end to the violence, intimidation, and killing will come soon so prices can get back to normal.
Opinion By Donna W. Martin