Cúcuta is a regional Colombian capital city that lies on the physical and social frontier of the country. Considered mid-sized for Colombian standards, the destiny of its nearly 1 million inhabitants has been closely tied to the geopolitical intricacies and tensions between Colombia and Venezuela.


The security situations and migration flows of recent years suggest that the dynamics and social contract of the city will be fundamentally different. In Edgelands we ask what forms these new social, coexistence and security dynamics will take: how they will change the life experiences of those who live in and transit through this border city. We have started many projects and activities to find answers to these questions! A city with a large, young and migrant population is interesting to be studied since these issues lay at the intersection of digital transformation, security and surveillance. Cúcuta showcases the broader challenges faced by a country in the process of urbanization that is relying on surveillance tools to improve urban security and social unrest.

About Cúcuta

Cúcuta is a dynamic city that has changed at an accelerated pace. Sometimes these changes are caused by the complex connections as a border city, affected by the political and economic transformations in neighboring Venezuela. On the other hand, the economic, social, and security challenges faced by a country in conflict like Colombia also exert direct force on the city that is home to a large immigrant population and depends on an open border for its daily dynamics.

When binational relations reached a critical point in 2015 the border was closed. Many Colombian families living in Venezuela were singled out and expelled from the country.  What had been a dynamic of open, fluid border crossing was abruptly closed, impacting Colombians and Venezuelans on both sides of the border. The prohibition of border crossings for people and goods interrupted daily life for thousands, shattering the fabric of people’s family and friendship networks built on both sides of the border. In the following years, Colombia experienced an unprecedented influx of Venezuelan migrants. In 2019 alone over 1 million Venezuelans entered Colombia, most through Cúcuta. Even when the border was officially closed, thousands crossed over through illegal paths controlled by gangs of human traffickers. The city became a kind of temporary foster home for thousands trying to make their way to other parts of the country and the continent and thousands of others stayed in Cúcuta. Tensions with the local population and the incoming migrants have put pressure on the social contract of the city.

Affected by the presence of all armed groups and criminal structures in the metropolitan area, different strategies have been put forward to address the city's security challenges. The interactions of the different actors are affected by the lack of coordination and connection between their institutions. Now, as police authorities call for higher investment and deployment of surveillance technology we ask what would the impacts be on the citizens and the city’s social contract when so many of Cúcuta’s citizens’ basic needs are yet to be met. The way the city has adapted and navigated these challenges made it a relevant choice for study and intervention.

Cúcuta is in need of long-term strategies to adapt to its multiple changing dynamics with digital tools that transform the urban social fabric and its municipal, departmental and binational connections. As a city besieged by so many factors, security control and regulatory bodies are unable to fulfill obligations that correspond to dynamics that are not the direct responsibility of the city. At the same time, citizens, social organizations and international NGOs are creating a new commitment to the city and collaborating in the transformation of its needs.

Our work in Cúcuta

1. Surveillance and Migration

The Edgelands Institute focused on studying the complex interplay between surveillance practices and migration dynamics in the city of Cúcuta, Colombia. Cúcuta, located on the country's northeastern border with Venezuela, has become a critical site for understanding the social, political, and technological aspects of migration and surveillance.

Starting by conducting a deep literature review on the city’s current security policy and border dynamics as well as the current events and hot-button issues in the city, we conducted interviews with more than 20 key stakeholders from all backgrounds and experiences: academics, community organizers, public servants, international organizations and local NGOs. The goal of these interviews was to understand the main security and structural challenges faced by people in Cúcuta, and the changing dynamics from a restricted border, increased migration and deteriorating security situation. Another goal of our activities in Cúcuta was to bring to the forefront what often lies on the peripheries and reveal power relations within the context of surveillance and migration.

As a result, we condensed and analyzed this data into a Cúcuta Diagnostic Report. Our goal was to investigate and analyze the impacts of surveillance technologies and strategies on migrant populations, as well as the broader implications for society, human rights, and policy-making.

The findings and insights generated by the Edgelands Institute contribute to a deeper understanding of the intersection between surveillance and migration, shedding light on the challenges faced by migrants and the implications for societies grappling with increasing global migration. Our research outputs inform policymakers, civil society organizations, and international institutions, guiding evidence-based approaches to migration management and fostering dialogue on the responsible use of surveillance technologies.

2. Security and Community Building

Another strong topic of research at Edgelands Institute in Cúcuta revolved around two key areas: security and community building. We delve into the social and political effects of surveillance, exploring issues of privacy, trust, and self-perception among people. Through our research, we aim to shed light on the experiences within the surveillance landscape and advocate for policies that protect people’s rights. We recognize the importance of building strong and inclusive communities in Cúcuta, and we explore how surveillance practices can either hinder or facilitate this process.

By engaging in dialogue with social organizations in the city, we aim to understand the diverse perspectives and experiences of the community. Through our research activities, we seek to foster a critical understanding of power dynamics and promote community-driven solutions that prioritize the well-being and agency of individuals and groups affected by surveillance practices. In other words, to bring to the center what lies on the peripheries and to reveal power relations. During the pop-up we met key actors in the city and engaged in conversations and dialogue with  social organizations in the city such as Frontera Morada, Derecho a No Obedecer, and Fundacion El Pilar.

In addition to our research endeavors, we conduct a range of activities focused on the social contract in relation to surveillance in Cúcuta. We organized and facilitated Edgelands Maps workshops in collaboration with allied organizations. These workshops were conducted at various times and involved the participation of different communities, primarily focusing on city youth. The primary objective was to explore how these communities perceive security and surveillance in both their physical and digital environments. During the workshops, we delved into the implicit and explicit agreements that shape the city's dynamics, considering the perspectives of locals, immigrants, and those governing formal and informal authority at the border.

This exploration helped us gain a better understanding of the intricate social contracts within the city. Our activities aim to promote awareness, foster critical thinking, and encourage the development of responsible and ethical approaches to surveillance and its implications for the community. Through our research, dialogues, and activities, the Edgelands Institute strives to contribute to a more just and inclusive society.

3. Digital transformation in the city

In our endeavor to understand and navigate the ongoing digital transformation in cities in relationship with security and social contract, we have established a unique space where city students engaged in research and dialogue. Through student-led research projects, we launched and hosted the Research Sprint with Universidad Francisco de Paula Santander to provide an opportunity for the city's student population to explore and analyze emerging issues that directly impact their lives and the concerns of citizens in the city. By empowering students to lead these projects, we tap into their fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and intellectual curiosity, ensuring that the research outcomes reflect the experiences and aspirations of the next generation.

These student-led research projects shined a light on various aspects of the digital transformation process. Students collaborated with experts, including academics, industry professionals, and community leaders, to foster a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the complexities of digital transformation in Cúcuta. This collaboration allowed for a rich exchange of knowledge and experiences, enriching the research process and broadening the perspectives considered.

Besides the research sprint, we launched the Diagnostic Report on security, surveillance and its technologies in Cúcuta. The report was presented in the Edgelands-hosted forum: “Border, Technologies, Security and Surveillance: ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Cúcuta’” with the collaboration of Universidad Libre. This event brought together city officials, researchers, Venezuelan professors, members of the Metropolitan Police, students and representatives of civil society organizations to discuss the main security challenges affecting the city.

Ultimately, by combining academic rigor, student-driven projects, and expert collaboration, we wanted to foster a powerful approach to digital transformation in Cúcuta. This approach recognizes the diverse needs and aspirations of our city's population and strives to ensure that the digital transformation process will be inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.

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