Land reform and conflict resolution in Colombia
Nieswiadomy, Mark S.
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One of the leading arguments explaining the current rural conflict in Colombia is that it stems from deeply rooted peasant grievances over lack of land. This thesis examines to what effect, if any, a redistributive land reform policy implemented amid the ongoing rural conflict would have on its resolution. While social scientists have developed a multitude of theoretical explanations of "why peasants rebel," little attention has been given to how land reform implemented during intra-state conflict is to resolve peasant insurgencies. Devoid of a theoretical framework, policymakers have looked towards two well-known cases of land reform in South Vietnam and El Salvador to base much of their decision making on the merits of land reform in the Colombian case. Yet this thesis finds that these two cases do not provide sufficient evidence to suggest a similar failure of land reform in the Colombian case. Furthermore, this thesis confirms that there is a strong historical nexus between land and conflict in Colombia, and since the mid-1990s, the intensification of the rural conflict resulted from: (1) the phenomena of "reverse land reform" where narco-traffickers purchased vast sums of land attempting to launder illicit drug profits; (2) an increase in rural income inequality; and (3) a significant shift from illicit coca cultivation in Bolivia and Peru to Colombia. Ultimately, this thesis finds that as a "stand alone" policy, redistributive land reform will not only be a difficult agenda item for Colombia's president to find political support for, but its very implementation will be violently contested by guerrillas, paramilitaries, and narco-traffickers. This thesis concludes by offering potential alternative approaches or "paths" that make redistributive land reform feasible in Colombia, with special emphasis on a rural pacification, asset forfeiture, and post-conflict requirements.
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