Mexican authorities on March 4 announced the seizure of 119,000 tons of iron ore -- with an estimated value of $15.4 million -- along with 124 bulldozers, backhoes and trucks at Michoacán's Pacific seaport of Lázaro Cardenas, following tips about drug cartels exporting black-market ore to China. More than 400 federal police and military troops were involved in the coordinated raids on 11 processing facilities in the port city. Six Chinese workers at the sites were arrested, apparently on immigration charges. The federal security commissioner for Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo, told Periódico Digital that the ore is being tested to determine which mines it came from in order to crack down on the operation. In November 2013, the Mexican Navy took control of Lázaro Cardenas to cut off illicit exports for the Knights Templar drug cartel.
The Knights Templar have clearly been diversifying beyond cocaine, cannabis and meth, having recently seized effective control of Michoacán's avocado industry. They now appear to have followed the example of Los Zetas, who have long operated pirate coal mines in Mexico's north, as well as raiding the installations of Mexico's Pemex oil company to re-sell hydrocarbons on the black market. There have been similar reports from Burma, where the opium lords have seized control of the jade industry -- with China the principal destination for the contraband stone. But iron ore is obviously a resource more critical to China's heavy industry. It will be interesting to see if Mexican authorities can now coordinate with their Chinese counterparts to determine the destination for the back market iron.