TANCÍTARO, Mexico — The road to this agricultural town winds through the slums and cartel-controlled territory of Michoacán, ground zero for Mexico’s drug war, before arriving at a sight so strange it can seem like a mirage.
Fifteen-foot stone turrets are staffed by men whose green uniforms belong to no official force. Beyond them, a statue of an avocado bears the inscription “avocado capital of the world.” And beyond the statue is Tancítaro, an island of safety and stability amid the most violent period in Mexico’s history.
Local orchard owners, who export over $1 million in avocados per day, mostly to the United States, underwrite what has effectively become an independent city-state. Self-policing and self-governing, it is a sanctuary from drug cartels as well as from the Mexican state.