IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Encomienda, the Colonial State, and Long-Run Development in Colombia


  • Faguet, Jean-Paul

    (London School of Economics)

  • Matajira, Camilo


  • Sanchez Torres, Fabio

    (Universidad de los Andes)


The Spanish encomienda, a colonial forced-labour institution that lasted three centuries, killed many indigenous people and caused others to flee into nomadism. What were its long-term effects? We digitize a great deal of historical data from the mid-1500s onwards and reconstruct the Spanish conquerors’ route through Colombia using detailed topographical features to calculate their least-cost path. We show that Colombian municipalities with encomiendas in 1560 enjoy better outcomes today across multiple dimensions of development than those without: higher municipal GDP per capita, tax receipts, and educational attainment; lower infant mortality, poverty, and unsatisfied basic needs; larger populations; and superior fiscal performance and bureaucratic efficiency, but also higher inequality. Why? Two mediation exercises using data on local institutions, populations and racial composition in 1794 shows that encomiendas affected development primarily by helping build the local state. Deep historical evidence fleshes out how encomenderos founded local institutions early on in the places they settled. Places lacking encomiendas also lacked local states for 3-4 centuries. Local institutions mobilized public investment in ways that doubtless suited encomenderos, but, over time, spurred greater economic and human development.

Suggested Citation

  • Faguet, Jean-Paul & Matajira, Camilo & Sanchez Torres, Fabio, 2024. "Encomienda, the Colonial State, and Long-Run Development in Colombia," Documentos CEDE 21078, Universidad de los Andes, Facultad de Economía, CEDE.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000089:021078

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Full text
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    Encomienda; institutions; forced labour; state capacity; extraction; colonialism; development; Colombia;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N36 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N96 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:col:000089:021078. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no bibliographic references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Universidad De Los Andes-Cede (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.