Commentary: What the Taliban and Mexican drug cartels have in common | Comments from DW Reviewers and Guest Contributors | DW

Many experts have long called the Taliban a “drug-terrorist organization.” Its strengthening after the seizure of power in Afghanistan will force other participants in the global drug market, including Mexican drug cartels, to rebuild.

The drug trade brings money and power

Although Mexico and Afghanistan are very far from each other and differ greatly historically, socially and religiously, the Taliban and the Mexican cartels have two things in common: both organizations depend on the drug trade and expand their territories and political influence through violence. So, before the elections in Mexico in June 2021, drug cartels intimidated and killed candidates they disliked, financed election campaigns and bought votes, doing this even more openly than before.

Mexico’s June 2021 elections took place amid intimidation of candidates and vote-buying by drug cartels

Back in October 2009, a US Congress report highlighted the danger posed by the Taliban and Mexican drug cartels as “multinational drug trafficking companies,” and pointed to dangerous similarities that have increased since then.

The authorities are involved in the drug trade

Mexico, Afghanistan and Myanmar account for up to 95 percent of the opium poppy drug production, heroin and other opioids, and their trade. In Mexico, this is done by cartels with the support of individual officials. In Afghanistan, according to the US and UN, there are groups directly related to the Taliban. These groups are also involved in drug trafficking with the support of the government, including the past, which enjoyed the support of the United States. According to a 2009 US Congress report, drug revenues then accounted for up to 50 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.

Drug production drives up drug use in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s official attitude towards drugs has always been ambiguous: consumption was prohibited, and production and trade were permitted. Most of Afghanistan’s opium poppy was grown in Taliban-controlled regions, according to a US State Department report released in early 2021. The organization generates significant income from the drug trade. This leads not only to conflicts, but also undermines the rule of law, promotes corruption and develops drug use in the country, the document said.

A UN report released in April this year also points to a direct link between the Taliban and the opium poppy industry. In 2019-2020, the area on which poppy is grown in the country increased from 163 thousand to 224 thousand hectares.

Taliban and Mexican cartels can complement each other

In Mexico, the drug business has spawned a number of cartels. The largest now is the Sinaloa cartel, which controls the highest-yielding opium poppy in the country. This should have turned the cartel into a competitor to the Taliban, but the two organizations serve different markets, so they can complement each other.

Mexican journalist and publicist Anabel Hernandez

Anabel Hernandez

According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (US), Sinaloa is a de facto monopoly on the US heroin market. In addition, this Mexican cartel trades drugs in 60 percent of the countries in the world – in West Africa, Europe, as well as in Russia, India and China – countries that also sell drugs from Afghanistan. However, Sinaloa mainly markets cocaine from South America and synthetic drugs there. This will not be the first time that groups that actually have to compete with each other have come together to increase profits and political influence. And, as a rule, their political influence grows along with income.

Journalist and publicist Anabel Hernandez has been writing about drug cartels and corruption in Mexico for years. Due to death threats, she had to leave Mexico for Europe, where she now lives. In 2019, Hernandez was awarded the “For freedom of speech” (Freedom of Speech Award), which is awarded Deutsche wave at the conference Global Media Forum in Bonn.

The commentary expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editorial staff and Deutsche Welle in general.

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