MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday it mourned the murder of a Mexican employee of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services.
Prosecutors in the northern border city of Tijuana said Edgar Flores Santos was killed by drug traffickers who may have mistaken him for a policeman. Flores Santos’ body was found last week near Tijuana and a suspect in the killing has been arrested.
The U.S. inspection service, known by its acronym APHIS, said “we mourn the loss of a bright agriculturist with a budding career.”
In 2019, APHIS had threatened to withdraw inspectors in Mexico’s avocado belt after they were threatened at gunpoint. But the service said the murder of Flores Santos would not affect its work in Mexico.
Baja California state prosecutors said Flores Santos worked out of the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, and APHIS said his job was “to conduct detection and eradication activities supporting our fruit fly and citrus pest and disease programs in Northern Mexico.”
Prosecutors said a 24-year-old suspect had been arrested in the case. The suspect, who was not named, had been caught with methamphetamine. He is in custody and faces charges of illegally burying a corpse, apparently that of Flores Santos.
Prosecutor said Flores Santos used to go to the area where he was killed, known as Valle Redondo, at least three times a week, on plant inspection work.
But in late September, he was allegedly shot to death by the suspect and other unidentified accomplices. Flores Santos suffered nine bullet wounds.
“He was probably mistaken by these men for an employee of a police force,” the Baja California prosecutors’ office said.
The last violent incident occurred in mid-2019, when APHIS said a team of inspectors was “directly threatened” in Ziracuaretiro, a town in the western state of Michoacan. While the agency didn’t specify what happened, local authorities say a gang robbed the truck the inspectors were travelling in at gunpoint.
At that time, the U.S.D.A. wrote a letter to Mexico saying:“For future situations that result in a security breach, or demonstrate an imminent physical threat to the well-being of APHIS personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities.”
Such a move could have blocked shipments and devastated Mexico’s avocado export industry.
However, this time around APHIS said in a statement that “APHIS is fully cooperating in the ongoing investigation in Mexico. However, we don’t anticipate any impact to our ability carry out the APHIS mission in the area.”
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