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Electing Displacement: Political Cleansing in Apartadó, Colombia

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  • Abbey Steele

    (Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, abbey.steele@gmail.com)

Abstract

This article highlights a nefarious effect of elections during civil wars by demonstrating that they can facilitate the displacement of civilians. In contrast to the perception of displacement as haphazard, the author argues that armed groups displace strategically when they attempt to gain control over a territory, and where they have information about civilians’ loyalties. Although inferring preferences is difficult in the context of civil wars, elections conducted before or during a violent conflict are one way that armed groups can identify local cleavages and ‘‘disloyal’’ residents. The author tests implications of the argument with original, microlevel quantitative and qualitative data from northwest Colombia. Using voter files and disaggregated electoral returns, the author shows that residents in urban neighborhoods that supported the insurgent-backed political party, the Patriotic Union (UP), were more likely to leave the city of Apartadó than were neighbors in other districts. However, residents of the nearby rural communities that supported the UP were the least likely to leave. The author traces the patterns of violence across the communities using local archival materials and interviews to assess how well the argument accounts for the variation observed, and to explore the unexpected outcome in the rural area. While the author finds that counterinsurgents attempted strategic displacement in both the city and the mountains, they only succeeded in the urban areas because residents of the rural hamlets were uniquely able to overcome the collective action problem that strategic displacement generates. The findings demonstrate that political identities are relevant for patterns of violence, and that cleansing occurs even in nonethnic civil wars.

Suggested Citation

  • Abbey Steele, 2011. "Electing Displacement: Political Cleansing in Apartadó, Colombia," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 55(3), pages 423-445, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:55:y:2011:i:3:p:423-445
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Iván Higuera Mendieta, 2017. "Control armado y comportamiento electoral: Un cuasi-experimento en el Caguán," Documentos de trabajo sobre Economía Regional y Urbana 256, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.
    2. Laia Balcells, 2012. "Violence and Displacement in Civil War. Evidence from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)," Working Papers 603, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    3. Laia Balcells, 2012. "Violence and displacement. Evidence from the Spanish civil war (1936-1939)," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 896.12, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
    4. Juan Carlos Munoz Mora & José Antonio Fortou & Sandra L Johansson & Jorge Giraldo-Ramirez, 2015. "This land is My Land: Understanding the Relationship between Armed Conflict and Land in Uraba, Colombia," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2015-17, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    5. Laia Balcells & Abbey Steele, 2012. "Warfare, Political Identities, and Displacement in Spain and Colombia," HiCN Working Papers 124, Households in Conflict Network.
    6. Leopoldo Fergusson & Pablo Querubín & Nelson A. Ruiz & Juan F. Vargas, 2017. "The Real Winner's Curse," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 015279, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.

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    Keywords

    displacement; civil war; Colombia;

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