US government inspections of avocados and mangoes in the Mexican state of Michoacán will gradually resume, the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, announced on Friday, a week after they were suspended over an assault on inspectors.

The US agriculture department inspectors “will gradually begin to return to the packing plants following recent aggression against them”, Salazar said in a statement. “However, it is still necessary to advance in guaranteeing their security before reaching full operations.

“In fact, more work still needs to be done so that the inspectors are safe and can resume inspections and thereby eliminate the impediments to the trade of avocado and mango to the United States from Michoacán.”

Last weekend, two US agriculture department employees were assaulted and temporarily held by assailants in Michoacán, Salazar said earlier this week. That led the US to suspend inspections in Mexico’s biggest avocado-producing state.

The employees work for the US agriculture department’s animal and plant health inspection service. Because the US also grows avocados, American inspectors work in Mexico to ensure exported avocados don’t carry diseases that could hurt US crops.

Earlier this week, the governor of Michoacán, Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla, said the inspectors had been stopped in a protest by residents of Aranza in western Michoacán on 14 June.

He downplayed the situation, suggesting the inspectors had never been at risk. He said that he got in touch with the US embassy the following day and that state forces were providing security for the state’s avocado producers and packers.

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

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

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

The new pause in inspections didn’t block shipments of Mexican avocados to the US because Jalisco is now an exporter and many Michoacán avocados are already in transit.

Salazar said he was optimistic things were moving in a positive direction but would not be satisfied until the inspectors can work without threats to their safety.

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