Violence, Crime, and Governance in Colombia’s Borderlands

How are civilians affected by the changing interactions of armed actors in the shared borderlands of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador?

Organised crime has risen significantly in the borderlands of Colombia since the end of the Cold War. Rebels, drug lords and people traffickers, among others, have established new regional dynamics, influencing the lives of thousands of people. Dr Annette Idler has published new research, investigating the impact of these actors on communities in the borderlands.

In her new book, Borderland Battles: Violence, Crime, and Governance at the Edges of Colombia's War, Dr Idler investigates how in the borderlands, these groups:

  • compete for territorial control
  • co-operate in illicit cross-border activities
  • replace the state in exerting governance functions.

Using extensive interviews and fieldwork, Dr Idler has drawn together a detailed overview of the key players in the borderlands: how they work together, against each other, and independently.

This research is particularly timely – Colombia shares a 1,378 mile border with Venezuela. The current political crisis in Venezuela has placed further stress on the complicated situation in the borderlands. An influx of around 1.5 million migrants into these communities has further stretched resources, leading to a rise in crime as people compete for basic necessities. As Dr Idler says, ‘Together with the xenophobic discourse of right-wing politicians, this becomes an explosive mix.’ Her analysis on the current Venezuelan crisis has been featured by The Washington Post, BBC World Service Newshour, World Update, and The Conversation, among others.


The post-cold war era has seen an unmistakable trend toward the proliferation of violent non-state groups-variously labeled terrorists, rebels, paramilitaries, gangs, and criminals-near borders in unstable regions especially. In Borderland Battles, Annette Idler examines the micro-dynamics among violent non-state groups and finds striking patterns: borderland spaces consistently intensify the security impacts of how these groups compete for territorial control, cooperate in illicit cross-border activities, and replace the state in exerting governance functions. Drawing on extensive fieldwork with more than 600 interviews in and on the shared borderlands of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, where conflict is ripe and crime thriving, Idler reveals how dynamic interactions among violent non-state groups produce a complex security landscape with ramifications for order and governance, both locally and beyond. A deep examination of how violent non-state groups actually operate with and against one another on the ground, Borderland Battles will be essential reading for anyone involved in reducing organized crime and armed conflict-some of our era's most pressing and seemingly intractable problems.

Dr Annette Idler is Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations and at Pembroke College; Director of Studies, Changing Character of War Programme