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Assault on US avocado inspectors in Mexican state led to suspension of inspections

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Assault on US avocado inspectors in Mexican state led to suspension of inspections
News

News

Assault on US avocado inspectors in Mexican state led to suspension of inspections

2024-06-19 08:38 Last Updated At:08:40

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Two employees of the U.S. Agriculture Department were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants in the Mexican state of Michoacan, prompting the U.S. government to suspend inspections of avocado and mango shipments, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said Tuesday.

Ambassador Ken Salazar said in a statement that the assault occurred while the employees were inspecting avocados in Michoacan. He said they were no longer being held.

U.S. officials had confirmed the pause in inspections Monday citing security concerns.

The employees work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Because the United States also grows avocados, U.S. inspectors work in Mexico to ensure exported avocados don’t carry diseases that could hurt U.S. crops.

“To guarantee the safety of our agricultural inspection teams, APHIS has suspended the avocado and mango inspections in Michoacan until these security problems have been resolved,” Salazar said.

Michoacan is Mexico’s biggest exporter of avocados.

Michoacan Gov. Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla told Mexico's Radio Formula Tuesday that the inspectors had been stopped in a protest by residents of Aranza in western Michoacan on June 14. He downplayed the situation, suggesting they were never at risk. He said that he got in touch with the U.S. Embassy the following day and that state forces were providing security for the state's avocado producers and packers.

“I hope we have good news in the coming hours,” he said, referring to a potential resumption of inspections.

Inspections in other Mexican states are not affected, Salazar said.

Mexico’s Producers and Packers Association said in a statement Tuesday that it was working closely with government officials from Mexico and the United States to resume avocado exports from Michoacan.

It said the incident that spurred the suspension was “unconnected to the avocado industry.”

Many avocado growers in Michoacan say drug gangs threaten them or their family members with kidnapping or death unless they pay protection money, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars per acre.

There have also been reports of organized crime bringing avocados grown in other states not approved for export and trying to get them through U.S. inspections.

In February 2022, the U.S. government suspended inspections of Mexican avocados “until further notice” after a U.S. plant safety inspector in Michoacan received a threatening message. The halt was lifted after about a week.

Later that year, Jalisco became the second Mexican state authorized to export avocados to the U.S.

The new pause in inspections won’t block shipments of Mexican avocados to the United States, because Jalisco is now an exporter and there are a lot of Michoacan avocados already in transit.

Salazar said he would travel to Michoacan next week to meet with Bedolla and the producers and packers association.

Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

FILE - Avocados from Mexico are for sale at a grocery store in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Feb. 17, 2022. The U.S. government has temporarily suspended inspections of avocado and mango shipments, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said Tuesday, June 18, 2024, after two employees of the United States Agriculture Department were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants in the Mexican state of Michoacan. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

FILE - Avocados from Mexico are for sale at a grocery store in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Feb. 17, 2022. The U.S. government has temporarily suspended inspections of avocado and mango shipments, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico said Tuesday, June 18, 2024, after two employees of the United States Agriculture Department were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants in the Mexican state of Michoacan. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

LOND POND, Pa. (AP) — Ryan Blaney popped some bubbly and hopped off a stage in victory lane so he could spray it at all the fans who stuck around to celebrate on a steamy day at Pocono Raceway.

They might need to bust open a few more bottles of the good stuff at Team Penske.

Moments after Blaney slid out of his No. 12 Ford after he secured his second Cup Series win in five weeks, the 2023 NASCAR champion learned that Will Power won the IndyCar race for Team Penske at Iowa Speedway. Penske driver Scott McLaughlin won Saturday at Iowa, giving team owner Roger Penske three wins in two days across 990 miles -- with all directions pointing toward championship runs.

“Penske sweep!” Blaney blurted out.

Pretty impressive.

The pressure is on, though, for the follow-up. NASCAR heads to Indianapolis this week for the anticipated return of the Brickyard 400 on the historic oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track is owned by Penske, the 87-year-old team owner who already has all three of his NASCAR drivers in the playoffs and has Power and McLaughlin in hot pursuit of points leader Alex Palou for IndyCar's open-wheel crown.

Ask any Penske driver, there’s nothing like winning at Indy.

“The big one is next week,” Blaney said. “How do we kiss the bricks with the captain? That’s like a dream come true for me."

Penske drivers Blaney, Austin Cindric and Joey Logano are on a tear in NASCAR, dating to the June 2 race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois. Blaney appeared to be on his way to his first win of the season in that one until he ran out of fuel with the lead coming to the white flag. No worries. Cindric zipped ahead and earned his first win since the 2022 Daytona 500. Logano won four races later at Nashville Superspeedway and Blaney won the inaugural Cup race last month at Iowa Speedway.

Penske drivers have won four of the last seven Cup races.

Why does that make any of the trio a contender to win a Cup championship? Because Logano won it in 2002 and Blaney followed last season, setting up a nice championship blueprint to follow.

“We’ve won the championship with Joey and Ryan the last two years, and it’s all about using that system to be able to get to the next round each time,” Cindric said. “Whether if that’s winning races late in the playoffs or having enough points, our guys have been able to really execute in that round of eight and propel themselves into a position to be in the championship four.”

Blaney already knows the importance of getting hot late in the season. Blaney turned up his performance last season in the No. 12 Ford in the playoffs. Over the final six weeks, Blaney racked up two wins, two runner-ups and didn’t finish lower than 12th.

At Pocono, he put the field on notice a repeat could be in the works.

“We are in a better spot at this time this year than where we were last year at this point,” Blaney said.

It’s the end that counts, of course.

Penske -- and NASCAR -- is celebrating a new beginning of sorts at Indy. NASCAR will return to the 2.5-mile oval for the traditional Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis this weekend rather than the 2.439-mile road course it used the last three seasons.

The last NASCAR driver to win on Indy’s oval was Kevin Harvick in 2020, who retired at the end of last season. The inaugural Brickyard 400 was held on Aug. 6, 1994, and NASCAR raced on the oval through 2020.

“I’m super excited. I think this was a decision that a lot of drivers wanted,” Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron said. “I think the track is fun to make laps on. I’m sure it will be tricky with the Next Gen car. Probably a little bit edgy. But I think it will be everything we want as drivers, to be back on the oval with the history that it has.”

Penske driver Josef Newgarden won the Indianapolis 500 in May, giving the owner his trio of NASCAR drivers a chance at a season sweep.

The 30-year Blaney felt at Pocono like he had come full circle on the tri-oval track after winning at the site of his first Cup win in 2017. He will take wins at any track, but there’s just something about Indy.

“We’re going to enjoy this and appreciate it and celebrate it,” Blaney said. “But that is the one we have circled. We don’t even talk about it in our camp. You know that is a huge one for RP. It is full speed ahead for Indy.”

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line to win a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney crosses the finish line to win a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates his win with a burnout after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates his win with a burnout after a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Ryan Blaney celebrates in the victory lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Pocono Raceway, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

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