Police seize 20,000 contraband avocados at Panama border

May 12, 2016

Border police seized 20,000 apparently illegal avocados at the Panama border on Thursday afternoon, the latest in the ongoing avocado saga that began when Costa Rica banned Mexican imports a year ago.

A tip alerted border police at the Kilometer 35 checkpoint near Golfito, Puntarenas, that the guacamole-to-be entered Costa Rica illegally from Panama, according to a statement from the Public Security Ministry. Border Police Chief Allan Obando said the value of the shipment was “several million” colones, or several thousand U.S. dollars.

Think twice before you assume the police broke out tortilla chips: the Agriculture Ministry ordered the avocados destroyed, citing public health concerns. The ministry said the avocados could be contaminated with a plant disease or virus, like sunblotch, a topic that has divided the government and legal avocado importers.

News of the seizure comes nearly a year to the day after Costa Rica’s phytosanitary service banned avocados from Mexico and eight other countries in an attempt to protect domestic growers from the sunblotch virus. Importers have decried the move as unnecessary and said it is artificially driving up prices.

Randall Benavides, president of the Chamber of Perishable Goods Exporters and Importers, told The Tico Times last week that the ban has caused the price of avocados to rise as much as 87 percent above what the fruit cost this time last year. The government’s National Production Council estimates a lower, though still astronomical increase: 47 percent.

Benavides said his organization has denounced the appearance of contraband avocados at Costa Rican farmers markets. It appears avocados have joined liquor and cigarettes among the valuable goods smugglers move across the border.

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