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drop by drop

Gota a Gota, Drop by Drop

Forced Displacement, Debt and Credit, and Life in the Aftermath of Conflict

For this research, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean coast. The urban economies in which the displaced people I worked with were involved were not “post-conflict” economies but economies that have formed in the aftermath of violence.


As people relocated to the peripheries of Cartagena, they sought temporary solutions to secure livelihoods, “solutions” which have become permanent. In a landscape of minimal government aid or other forms of credit, many displaced have come to depend on informal loans from narco-paramilitary lenders to work and to subsist. 


In turn, narcoparamiltary groups have transformed money from drug trafficking into credit for marginalized populations, capitalizing from the precarious urban economies where displaced people make a living.

The expansion of what I call “narcoparacredit” asks for a re-examination of how so-called informal economies in Colombia are sites of parallel financial systems. Far from idle capital in the hands of criminal organizations who profit from dispossessed and poor groups, my research shows how such credit and debt relations have resulted from long standing socio-economic inequalities in Colombia, fueled by the civil conflict, Cold War politics in Latin America, and the War on Drugs.

The research elucidates how the socio-economic spaces where displaced people make a living have formed; how the financial power of narco-paramilitary groups that emerged from the cauldron of civil war and drug trafficking has grown through forcible dispossession and class reorganization; and how such financial power shapes and is shaped by socio-economic relations in the urban peripheries as narco-paramilitary organizations consolidate as the creditors of poor populations. I argue that to grasp the complexities of credit and debt relations in displaced people’s lives we must examine their social relation as workers, not primarily as victims. Second, I argue that narco-paramilitaries profit from the incomes of precarious workers by filling a niche in providing credit services, and due to their monopoly over local businesses that sell essential goods.

Gota a Gota, Drop by Drop contributes to understanding migration as a financial process that involves complex entanglements of credit, debt, work, and criminalization. 

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Photo: Fabio Valiente & Sheyla Blanco

Flows of People, Flows of Credit & Debt

Examining Informal Financial Schemes among Latin American Migrants in Canada

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This multi-sited ethnographic project delves into the innovative, legal and illegal practices that socio-economically marginalized Latin American migrants to Ontario, Canada engage in to finance their migration project, deal with the costs of settlement, and find work to pay debt and send money back home.

How do Latin American migrants in need of credit and with limited access to formal banking institutions and products in Canada (e.g., credit cards, lines of credit) create and negotiate formal and informal (e.g., with friends, smugglers, moneylenders) credit and debt relations? How do these credit and debt relations cross borders? How are they connected to relations of labour in Canada and migrants’ home countries?

Since 2016 with the Trump’s presidency and the rise in anti-migrant sentiments and policies large numbers of Latin Americans have migrated to Canada from the United States.  These migrants represent different socio-economic and political complexities, as individuals and families arrive through regular and irregular channels. The regulated and unregulated credit and debt relations that migrants establish in their migration process to and settlement in Canada to address their financial needs, and the working terms and conditions they accept to pay back debt, remain understudied. This project seeks to fill this gap. In so doing, it addresses the specific situation of Latin American migrants in Canada and contributes to understanding the connections between migration, debt, and labour practices, and particular forms of financial inequality.


Socioecologies & Economies of Migration

Latin American-born Canadian researchers, artists, and activists working together to examine Latin American migration to Canada.

In August 2021 we held our first event, a non-credit, free four-day Summer Course funded by Mount Saint Vincent University and SSHRC. The course included a diverse group of participants, including undergraduate and masters' students, activists, scholars, and artists. Through the course, we engaged in conversations about debt, housing, environmental racism and more, learned from activists in Spain and Canada, and worked with our resident Artivist to co-create a mural representing our discussions. 


For more information on the collective and its events, please visit:

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Photo: Fabio Valiente & Sheyla Blanco

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