Dismantling from Below




Nieto-Matiz, Camilo. “Dismantling from Below: How Criminal Coalitions hinder State Expansion. Evidence from paramilitary politics in Colombia.” In progress.


While democratic institutions may increase state capacity – through the election of accountable officials – the presence of violent groups is likely to subvert this relationship and negatively affect the state's ability to consolidate its power. Yet violent groups do not operate in a vacuum, but instead may establish a myriad of relationships with sub-national elected officials. This paper studies how democratic institutions in the midst of violent conflict may hamper the prospects for a more capable state at the local level. In particular, it considers how the election of mayors with ties to paramilitaries and criminal actors had deleterious consequences for the consolidation of state authority in Colombia. The paper argues that, in their attempt to rule the territory, de facto violent actors and mayors set up governance structures that hinder the central state's ability to consolidate its power in the long run, both in the provision of security and fiscal institutions. The paper considers the role of mayors in the process of state consolidation in the context of the parapolitica scandal in Colombia, whereby elected officials established alliances with paramilitary groups. Using a sharp regression discontinuity design based on the 2007 mayoral elections, it finds that in municipalities where a pro-paramilitary party rose to power increased homicide rates by .97 standard deviations and decreased property taxes by 1.4 standard deviations in subsequent years. The paper contributes to the understanding of legacies of conflict for political outcomes, state consolidation in violent contexts, and the relationship between state and democracy.