Narco-Frontiers in Latin America and Beyond

Authors: Teo Ballve*, Colgate University
Topics: Political Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Latin America
Keywords: drugs, frontiers, territory, illicit, Colombia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The drug trade has found fertile ground in frontier zones because they are already spaces in which the rule of law is contested, political authority is explicitly in question, and economic relations are already wrought by violence. And yet, paradoxically, as a growing body of research has found, drug trafficking networks often end up bolstering legal circuits of power and profit in these "hinterland" spaces. Drawing on historical and ethnographic research in Colombia, this paper develops the analytical concept of the “narco-frontier,” arguing it can help disentangle the confusing political economy of agrarian spaces wracked by the violence of the drug trade. From the countrysides of Colombia to Honduras, Afghanistan to Burma, narco-frontiers exhibit a common set of violent contradictions: perceptions of statelessness coexist with hyper-militarization; the law gets suspended to quell lawlessness; grinding poverty coincides with spectacular wealth; gangsters turn philanthropists and governments become criminals.

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