By Michael Albertus, University of Chicago

2021 AJPS Best Article Award Honorable Mention for the research entitled “Land Reform and Civil Conflict: Theory and Evidence from Peru”

The distribution of land to the landless has directly affected well over one billion people since World War II in countries around the world. It continues advancing in Colombia, India, the Philippines, South Africa, Venezuela, and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

Land reform in many countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Guatemala, Myanmar, Peru, and the Philippines overlapped with or immediately preceded civil war. How does the distribution of land impact civil conflict?

I examine this question using original land transfer data from Peru’s land reform program from 1969-1980 and data from the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on rural killings during Peru’s internal conflict from 1980-2000. Using a geographic regression discontinuity design that takes advantage of Peru’s regional approach to land reform through zones that did not entirely map onto major pre-existing administrative boundaries, I find that greater land reform dampened subsequent conflict. Districts in core areas of land reform zones that received intense land reform witnessed less conflict relative to comparable districts in adjacent peripheral areas where less land reform occurred. Land reform mitigated conflict by facilitating counterinsurgency and intelligence gathering, building local organizational capacity later used to deter violence, undercutting the Marxist political left, and increasing opportunity costs to supporting armed groups.

The findings suggest that major redistributive social policies such as land reform can cohere communities to act collectively to repel external threats and can build government links with society that can be leveraged for a range of governance ends. Framed against other findings on land reform, this suggests lessons for relationships between citizens and the state that are shaped by the nature and depth of state interventions into society.