In Michoacan, a state in western Mexico, seven farm workers belonging to the same family were assassinated Thursday morning on an avocado farm, according to Mexico's Sin Embargo publication.
Although the bodies were not found until after 9 a.m., witnesses in several locations heard detonations of firearms at around 7 a.m., Sin Embargo reported.
As investigations continue into the murders, criminal investigators are looking into the possibility that they might have been carried out by drug trafficking cartels. Extortion of avocado farm owners in the region has become increasingly common in the region.
Avocados, which farmers began referring to as “green gold” in recent decades due to its skyrocketing price, are the largest cash crop in the western Mexican state. This has been the case since the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, into effect in 1994, removing trade restrictions on Mexican avocados.
The rising prices of avocados driven by reduced trade restrictions and the extreme popularity of the fruit in the U.S. appealed to local drug cartels, most notably a cartel called the “Knights Templar." Concentrated in Michoacan, violent cartels have expanded beyond the drug trade to also exert their influence on avocado farmers.
Violent attacks have become increasingly common, as cartels extort a “tax” from farmer through threats of assassination and kidnapping of family, in order to control production of the lucrative crop.
Michoacan is one of the states with the highest cartel activity in Mexico, with attacks on farm workers and journalists on the rise. So far, 2017 has been one of the most violent years in Mexico since 2011, with at least 2,020 murders recorded in the month of March alone.