Drug Cartels Capitalize on Lime Shortages in Mexico

October 19, 2016

In Mexico, the lime has long stood as a staple of popular food and culture. It is used by most Mexicans in everyday cooking and drinks but lately many have been forced to reduce their consumption. Lime prices have skyrocketed due to shortages, and on average have doubled every month this year.1 Various factors such as climate change, citrus diseases, and the on-going violence caused by drug trafficking have led to this shortage. Effects can be seen far and wide, from local price increases to the absence of that familiar garnish on your favorite Mexican dish.

Just by browsing the headlines from this lime crisis, one can see that of apparent concern is the fact that domestic margaritas may be a little more costly than usual. Bloggers have posted lists of new recipes to try during the lime shortage from the other side of the border. Mainstream media reports that bars and restaurants may be forced to live without limes or to lose profits. Many fail to mention that perhaps those who are hit the hardest are the locals who rely on limes for everyday needs. While some sources completely fail to mention the underlying causes for the shortage, others nonchalantly mention drug related violence’s role in the price increase, but focus on the effects for American bars and restaurants.

However, looking at the effects of the shortage in Mexico, limes have been the largest contributor to inflation. Market-goers have drastically decreased their purchase of the fruit, using it only for essentials. Part of this shortage has been caused by uncharacteristic weather caused by climate change. Last fall, severe rains removed the blossoms from lime trees, decreasing the resulting crop’s yield.2Additionally, a citrus disease has killed a large amount of Mexican lime trees. Although it is not uncommon for shortages to occur due to natural causes, there is another factor at work that has intensified the effects of the current shortage. Ongoing wars between vigilantes and drug cartels have caused corruption and violence, leaving some producers unable to distribute their crops.

In Michoacan, farmers do not want to risk sending delivery trucks through dangerous areas where they might become targets for drug cartels. Over the past few months, this state has been making headlines as the site where violence continues between vigilante groups and the famed Knights Templar cartel. Members of the cartel have been taking advantage of the shortage by hijacking trucks and extorting local farmers.3 While some farmers refuse to pay the cartels, others are simply afraid to risk their crops, leading to drastic supply shortages.

In contrast, the consumer protection agency complains that farmers simply wish to fix prices.4 The CPA also insists that the Citrus Growers Association of Apatzingan Valley limited their supply to gain a higher minimum price for their product.4 This organization denies that there has been any illegal activity, pointing to the fact that rainfall and disease in neighboring states have led to a smaller supply and therefore increased prices. As vigilantes and drug traffickers clash, corruption blurs the lines between extortion and price fixing, making it difficult to solve the shortage issue. As the prices of limes rise, producers who have not suffered from shortages and violence have gained from increasing profits. Both local farmers and the government are doing their best to increase the supply. Investment in new technologies for fertilization and irrigation will hopefully help the issue, reducing the incentive for drug cartels to exploit farmers.1

In the U.S., some restaurants have capitalized on the opportunity to sell drinks that have become newly rare. NY Daily News reports that Tacolicious, a San Francisco-based Mexican restaurant, has been advertising their “margarita del cartel” for $12.50.3 If customers want their drinks made with freshly squeezed Mexican limes, they have to pay the price. On the other hand, some have protested the shortage and its causes by refusing to sell limes altogether. Restaurant owner Alexeis Filipello stated, "I'm not playing that game [...] I hope Mexico has case upon case of rotting limes and the cartels are forced to sell drugs again instead of strong-arming lime farmers."3

While Americans may have to temporarily give up their favorite cocktail fruit, Mexican lime producers must struggle with extortion and violence in order to distribute their crops.




1) Parker, Nick. “Limes: Mexico’s new green gold.” CNN. CNN. 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.


2)Bennett, Drake. “If Science Solves the Lime Crisis, Will We Accept Genetically Modified Gin and Tonics?” BloombergBusinnessweek. Bloomberg. 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-11/if-science-solves-the-lime-crisis-will-we-accept-genetically-modified-gin-and-tonics

3) Hastings, Deborah. “Mexican drug cartel behind lime shortage in U.S.; margaritas feel pinch.” Daily News. News Wire Services. 01 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.


4) Porzecanski, Katia. “Cartel Battle Targets Limes in Inflation Face-Off: Mexico Credit.” Bloomberg. Bloomberg. 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.



About Author(s)

Madeline Townsend's picture
Madeline Townsend
Madeline is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Studies, with a focus on the Latin American region. She plans to present an honors thesis on visual representations of the internal conflict that occurred in Peru between 1980 and 2000. She also studies Portuguese and Film Studies as minors and works as one of the Panoramas interns.