Democracy in the countryside: The rural sources of violence against voters in Colombia

DOI10.1177/0022343318802986
Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Democracy in the countryside: The rural
sources of violence against voters
in Colombia
Camilo Nieto-Matiz
Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Abstract
What are the subnational variations of violence against voters? This article studies the effect of land concentration on
electoral violence in the context of armed conflict in Colombia. My central argument is that electoral violence tends
to be higher in municipalities where landowners are a relevant social actor. More concretely, in areas where violent
groups dispute territorial control, higher levels of land inequality – a proxy for landowner prominence – have a
positive effect on electoral violence. However, actors do not make the simple choice between violence or no violence
but may also resort to fraudulent tactics. Because electoral fraud requires greater cooperation and coordination with
the state, I argue that violent groups with stronger links to state officials and political elites are more likely to engage
in fraudulent tactics compared to anti-government actors. To estimate the effect of land inequality on electoral
coercion and fraud, I exploit the levels of soil quality as an instrumental variable for land concentration in Colombia
between 2002 and 2011. This article contributes to the literature on the politics of land inequality; elections and
electoral manipulation; and the use of violence in democratic settings.
Keywords
armed conflict, armed groups, Colombia, electoral fraud, electoral violence, landed elites
Introduction
What accounts for the use of violence during electoral
contests? A common explanation holds that incumbents
and contenders resort to coercion when they fear that
electoral results will diminish their chances of keeping or
attaining political power (Hafner-Burton, Hyde &
Jablonski, 2014; Wilkinson, 2006). Other accounts,
acknowledging the high levels of land inequality in devel-
oping countries, suggest that the problem of land tenure
and redistribution lies at the heart of violence and is an
obstacle for democratization. Indeed, because land-
owners derive much of their power from land, electoral
contests cannot be fully understood without accounting
for patterns of land inequality (Ansell & Samuels, 2014;
Albertus, 2017).
The presence of non-state armed groups adds another
layer of complexity. In Mexico, subnational democrati-
zation and the alternation of political parties at the
regional level produced the breakdown of informal
government protection and motivated drug cartels to
create their own private armies (Trejo & Ley, 2017).
In Brazil, while the state initially tolerated paramilitaries
when it was electorally profitable, it then found itself
unable to eliminate them (Hidalgo & Lessing, 2015).
To the extent that they maximize territorial control,
violent actors – insurgents, paramilitaries, drug cartels,
and gangs – have the capacity and incentives to shape
political order through the electoral process. Certainly,
the collusion of political officials and violent actors influ-
ences the electoral landscape (Albarracı
´n, 2017).
It follows that electoral competition is part of politi-
cians’ calculations, but whether there is electoral violence
or not is largely shaped by armed groups and landowners.
What accounts for the geographic variation of electoral
violence and fraud in contexts of land concentration?
Corresponding author:
cnietoma@nd.edu
Journal of Peace Research
2019, Vol. 56(2) 264–278
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0022343318802986
journals.sagepub.com/home/jpr

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