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The Perversion of Land Reform by Landed Elites: Power, Inequality and Development in Colombia


  • Marta-Juanita Villaveces
  • Jean-Paul Faguet
  • Fabio Sánchez


Over two centuries, Colombia transferred vast quantities of land, equivalent to the entire UK landmass, mainly to landless peasants. And yet Colombia retains one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in the world. Why? We show that land reform’s effects are highly bimodal. Most of Colombia’s 1100+ municipalities lack a landed elite. Here, rural properties grew larger, land inequality fell, and development improved. But where land is concentrated in the hands of a rural elite, distributed land was diverted to bigger farms, resulting in fewer small and more large farms, greater land dispersion, and lower levels of development. We show that these effects – positive and negative – flow through political participation, competition, and policy-making. Landed elites use patron-client ties to distort local and national politics to their benefit. Land reform’s secondary effects, on the distribution of power, are more important than its primary effects on the distribution of land. *** Desde la independencia, Colombia ha transferido una vasta cantidad de tierra, equivalente al área del Reino Unido, principalmente a campesinos desterrados. Sin embargo, Colombia mantiene hoy en día uno de los más altos niveles de concentración de la tenencia de la tierra en el mundo. ¿Por qué? En este artículo mostramos que los efectos de la reforma agraria son bimodales. La mayoría de los más de 1100 municipios no cuentan con una élite terrateniente. En estos municipios, la propiedad rural creció y la desigualdad de la tierra se redujo. Pero, donde la tierra está concentrada en manos de una élite rural, la distribución de la tierra se orientó hacia los beneficios de los grandes terratenientes, con mayor dispersión en la tierra y menor nivel de desarrollo. Mostramos que estos efectos –positivos y negativos- se vinculan a la participación política, la competencia y la implementación de políticas. La élite terrateniente utiliza los vínculos patrón-cliente para distorsionar los beneficios de la política local y nacional. Los efectos secundarios de la reforma agraria en la distribución del poder, son más importantes que los efectos primarios en la distribución de la tierra.

Suggested Citation

  • Marta-Juanita Villaveces & Jean-Paul Faguet & Fabio Sánchez, 2018. "The Perversion of Land Reform by Landed Elites: Power, Inequality and Development in Colombia," Documentos de Trabajo, Escuela de Economía 17015, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, FCE, CID.
  • Handle: RePEc:col:000178:017015

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    Land reform; inequality; development; latifundia; political competition; Colombia;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior

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