The Perversion of Land Reform by Landed Elites: Power, Inequality and Development in Colombia
49 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2019
Date Written: December 7, 2018
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.
Keywords: Land reform, inequality, development, latifundia, political competition, Colombia
JEL Classification: Q15, D63, O1, D72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation