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The Intersection of Violence and Land Inequality in Modern Colombia


This dissertation examines the emergence and endurance of state-sponsored land reform in Colombia. Despite inadequate results from two previous rounds of land reform, Colombia's current president instituted a bill in 2011 that promised to return land to poor farmers displaced by a forty-year conflict that involved the military, anti-government insurgent groups, paramilitary organizations, and narco-traffickers. During the latter stages of this devastating conflict, 57% of Colombian municipalities saw land inequality increase. Even with two state land reform efforts implemented over the course of the twentieth century, the continued lack of success in diminishing rural inequality in Colombia motivates the research question: what factors contribute to the failure or success of land reform to impact land inequality? Drawing from sociological and political science perspectives on development and inequality, I focus on Colombia as a strategic case study. I utilize (1) longitudinal data set of census and cadastral survey data, (2) interviews with legislators, human rights advocates, and journalists, and (3) analysis of newspaper articles from liberal and conservative newspapers. Political institutions are central to the explanatory framework. I find that the Colombian state failed to consolidate the

monopoly of violence during the nineteenth century due to a nexus of geographic and institutional factors, during which time a categorical distinction emerged between landed elites and peasant settlers. In various periods during the twentieth century, civil conflict in Colombia was fought over political affiliation (e.g. during La Violencia), and over relationships profoundly changed by commercial agriculture (e.g. strikes by peasant workers on banana plantations in 1928 and the raids by ANUC in 1971-73). Violence changes relations between social classes on its own, irrespective of the penetration of capitalism into rural areas, and shifts alliances between different factions of elite groups. Colombian elites have at various critical junctures been successful in consolidating de facto power by hiring non-state armed forces, and have bypassed changes to the state's institutions. The dissertation therefore delves into one particular dimension of state capacity - its ability to enforce order - in perpetuating rural inequality.

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