UNU-MERIT/MSoG joint seminar: “The Unintended Consequences of Decentralization in Colombia”
Decentralization — widely defined as the increase in political, fiscal and administrative autonomy of regional governments — is often proposed as an effective conflict resolution strategy.
In this seminar, Dr. Mario Chacón (NYU Abu Dhabi) presents a paper that explores a particular threat to the effectiveness of decentralizing reforms in war-torn countries: i.e., the incentives of illegal armed actors to capture local governments as they become independent. The study argues that these incentives are influenced by the reliance on local rents by different armed organizations. In particular, non-state groups whose main interest is to not combat the central government, but other insurgencies, may be boosted by the increase in local resources associated with decentralization. The study explores the relationship between political autonomy and conflict using micro-level data on violence targeted toward local authorities in Colombia during the 1990s, a decade in which fiscal and administrative autonomy was greatly increased.
Although the evidence suggests a negative association between decentralization and violence against civilians, it also shows that the increase in public resources is associated with higher murder rates of local authorities and politicians. These effects are stronger in municipalities with more electoral competition, higher urbanization and potentially higher state capacity. The positive relationship between political violence and fiscal resources is consistent with the rent-seeking strategy of paramilitaries and guerrillas during the period.
The Colombian experience calls attention to theories placing decentralization as a simple, one-dimensional strategy against insurgencies and terrorist organizations.
For more information, see the Calendar of upcoming events on the UNU-MERIT website.
Mario Chacón is Assistant Professor of Political Science att NYU Abu Dhabi. His main research interests are comparative political economy and political development, particularly in Latin American nations. He is currently conducting research on the relationship between political decentralization and armed conflict on the institutional determinants of secession, and on the long-run impact of political violence in Colombia.