Land reform & violence in Mexico

The economic inefficiency of Mexico’s ejido system  (rural land that is held communally) led the federal government to implement serious land reform in 1992.  [Click here for a video I created for Marginal Revolution University about the creation of the ejido system].

In an interesting forthcoming paper in JEBO called Land Reform and Violence: Evidence from Mexico (here’s an undated working paper version), Tommy Murphy and Martín Rossi study the effects of the 1992 reform on municipal homicides.  In motivating the paper, they write that:

“Bandiera (2003) has convincingly argued that the lack of proper enforcement of land rights by the state played a crucial role in the rise of the mafia in 19th century Sicily. But violence not need be channeled only through organized crime, and it is indeed plausible that different land tenure systems lead to extreme forms of violent crime, such as murders.”

Indeed, the authors find for the case of Mexico “that clearly specified and consistently enforced land rights reduce gains from violence, leading therefore to lower levels of violence, as measured by the number of murders.”



Female leaders and violence

Adam Nossiter had a recent article in the NY Times entitled “Woman Chosen to Lead Central African Republic Out of Mayhem.”  The piece details the ascension of Catherine Samba-Panza as interim president of the Central African Republic.  What was most interesting to me about the article was the emphasis on gender and what that might mean for the future of the CAR.  Here are some examples:

“Female spectators broke into joyful shouts, cheers and trilling. The consensus, in the chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead it out.”

“Everything we have been through has been the fault of men,” said Marie-Louise Yakemba, who heads a civil-society organization. “We think that with a woman, there is at least a ray of hope.”

“Our country is at the brink of implosion,” Ms. Samba-Panza acknowledged to the assembly on Monday. “The situation is catastrophic. More than ever, the country needs someone who can bring it together.” She pointed to her “sensibility as a woman” as the crucial ingredient that could lead to peace.”

“’As a woman, she can understand the sufferings of the people, and as a mother, she will not tolerate all of this bloodletting,’ said Annette Ouango, a member of a Central African women’s group.”

“’The men have done nothing but fight,’ said Judicaelle Mabongo, an 18-year-old student in downtown Bangui. ‘The men, they are fighting. But they are only destroying the country. This woman, she might be able to change things.'”

This got me thinking about the relationship between female leadership, violence, and economic development. Is it true that women leaders are associated with less violence and more development?  Or have there just been too few women to make a fair comparison? I turned to one of my favorite colleagues at OU, Dan Hicks, who has written a lot on gender and economics (click here to see his research).

Dan has a paper (co-authored with Joan Hamory Hicks and Beatriz Maldonado) called “Female Legislators and Foreign Aid.”  Here is what they found:

Research has shown that increased female representation in government can alter the scale and scope of national expenditure because of differences in median preferences between men and women. We investigate whether changes in the gender composition of national legislatures in donor countries impact the level and pattern of foreign aid. We show that as donors elect more female legislators, they increase aid both in total and as a percentage of GDP. These increased flows occur predominately through bilateral aid and reflect a redistribution of aid towards developing countries and for humanitarian purposes in particular. While the election of women to political offices is potentially correlated with the preferences of the electorate, we present evidence that female representatives exert a causal influence on aid through the inclusion of fixed effects and a series of quasi-experimental checks.

As to the questions of gender and violence, he pointed me to these two papers:

Mary Caprioli and Mark Boyer “Gender, Violence, and International Crisis“, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2001, vol. 45, no. 4, 503-518.

Women work for peace, and men wage war—cooperative women, conflictual men. These images pervade conventional wisdom about the efficacy of women in leadership roles and decision-making environments, but imagery is not always grounded in reality. Feminist international relations literature is examined to understand how domestic gender equality may help predict a state’s international crisis behavior. The authors use the record of female leaders as primary decision makers during international crises and then test the relationship between domestic gender equality and a state’s use of violence internationally. The International Crisis Behavior (ICB) data set and multinomial logistic regression are used to test the level of violence exhibited during international crises by states with varying levels of domestic gender equality. Results show that the severity of violence in crisis decreases as domestic gender equality increases.

and Erick Melander’s Gender Equality and Intrastate Armed ConflictInternational Studies Quarterly 49(4), 2005, 695-714.

In this article, I examine to what extent gender equality is associated with lower levels of intrastate armed conflict. I use three measures of gender equality: (1) a dichotomous indicator of whether the highest leader of a state is a woman; (2) the percentage of women in parliament; and (3) the female-to-male higher education attainment ratio. I argue that the first two measures in particular capture the extent to which women hold positions that allow them to influence matters of war and peace within a state. I further argue that all three measures, but especially the last two, capture how women are valued relative to men in a society, that is, the relative degree of subordination of women. Whereas female state leadership has no statistically significant effect, more equal societies, measured either in terms of female representation in parliament or the ratio of female-to-male higher education attainment, are associated with lower levels of intrastate armed conflict. The pacifying impact of gender equality is not only statistically significant in the presence of a comprehensive set of controls but also is strong in substantive terms.

So the answer to whether female leaders lead to less violence, the evidence seems to be mixed.  It is interesting though to see that more gender-equal societies tend to have less conflict.

Sticks and stones?

Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald has an interesting article called “Miss Venezuela’s murder reveals culture of violence.”  In the last 15 years, Venezuela has become a very dangerous place to live.  Its homicide rate has gone up by 400%, from “19 per 100,000 people to 79 per 100,000, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-government group that tracks violent crimes.”

While news of homicides are nothing new in the country, the recent murder of former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear has rocked the country to the extent that President Maduro has reached out to longtime opponent Henrique Capriles to look for solutions.  Ms. Spear, who became a beloved actress as well, was shot and killed with her ex-husband in front of their 5 year old daughter while vacationing in Venezuela (Kevin and I actually went to Venezuela on our honeymoon but I wouldn’t consider it nowadays).  I personally was shocked by the news as I had enjoyed watching Ms. Spear in a couple of Venezuelan telenovelas, which I watch to practice my Spanish.  She seemed to have had a spunk, intelligence and a feistiness that is often lacking in telenovela stars.

Interestingly, instead of blaming the increasing violence on video games or movies, Oppenheimer instead points the finger at the government itself, accusing it of using “rhetoric that glorifies violence.”  Obviously the evidence is only anecdotal but he makes a thoughtful case.

So how has the government contributed to this surge in violence?

a. Chávez himself in 2007 took his oath of office proclaiming “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!” In his speeches, he turned former coup plotters and guerrillas into “martyrs,” promoted the creation of paramilitary “people’s militias,” and urged the people to support him in a “war” against “the fascist oligarchy.”


b. “In Venezuela’s official rhetoric, government supporters are not sympathizers, but “combatants.” Merchants are not business people, but members of the “parasite bourgeoisie.” Political adversaries are not opponents, but “scum” and “enemies of the fatherland.”

c. “In November, Maduro called for the ‘’occupation’’ of department stores that were allegedly failing to comply with government price controls. When thousands of looters ransacked department stores, even the military were seen loading their motorcycles with television plasmas”

d. “Chávez installed the idea in society that stealing is not necessarily bad, and that criminals are not necessarily bad people, because they are victims of the capitalist system. That has contributed to the current epidemic of robberies and murders,” according to Alfredo Romero, head of the Caracas-based Foro Penal Venezolano, a non-government anti-crime group.

Oppenheimer hopes that Ms. Spears’ death may cause the government to tone down its rhetoric. Whether that directly affects crime rates or not, it would certainly be a good thing.


A round up of interesting news articles

1. Mexico bets on reforms to boost wages, but no quick fix (indeed, if there was one, I think they would have already tried it)

2. Young India irony: 75% will vote but 52% support dictatorship

3.  In the Violent Favelas of Brazil (“There is a de facto sharing of power between the legitimate organs of the state and the gangs, the militias. The police cannot safely enter a large part of Rio by land or by air.”)

4.  Anarchy along Mexico’s southern border crossings (“Unmonitored goods and migrants cross the Suchiate River all day long in southern Mexico, where criminals and corrupt officials lie in wait.”)

5.  When Liberian Child Soldiers Grow Up (“This desolate stretch of land is known as Poto Corner in the local Liberian-English vernacular, meaning a place for those without use. It is situated within Monrovia’s largest slum, West Point, on a peninsula home to migrants, fishermen, crack addicts, street kids, and many Liberians who fought and were displaced by the successive and complex civil wars that ravaged the country during most of the 1990s”)

A sad state of affairs: violence in Latin America

1. To avoid crime, Venezuelans run together “Pereira still jogs at night. But she goes with friends, plenty of friends — as many as 300 of them, a huffing, heaving mass of people who chug in unison along darkened streets three nights a week.”

2. A Never-Ending Mission: Soldiers as Police in Mexico “In mid-May, the residents of La Ruana and other towns in Mexico’s western state of Michoacan lined roadsides to cheer the arrival of thousands of soldiers to their territory. ‘After three months of fighting, we can sleep peacefully in our homes,”‘enthused the leader of a group of townspeople who had formed a self-defense militia to defend against the violent drug trafficking organizations blatantly controlling the area.”

3. How Drug Cartels Conquered Mexico  “Viridiana Rios and Michele Coscia of Harvard University created a program called MOGO that searches specialized blogs, local newspapers and Google News for references to the different cartels, their locations and their influence between 1999 and 2011.” Excellent maps showing the evolution of drug cartels in Mexico (I’m late to this news but I post it anyway because it’s really innovative and interesting).

4. A weeklong look at violence in the region by NPR. Here are some of the ones I found most interesting:

Once Home To A Dreaded Drug Lord, Medellin Remakes Itself

Mass Kidnapping Puts Mexican Legal System On Trial

Honduras Claims Unwanted Title Of World’s Murder Capital

Extortion Common For Latin American Businesses


and lastly, the piece that really floored me:

4. The Most Dangerous Job in the World: How did 900 bus drivers end up dead in Guatemala City? “Over the next few years, some 40 Libertad drivers would be killed, and the company would pay more than $600,000 in extortion. And Libertad wasn’t the only company under threat. All over the city, cheap cell phones appeared in bus-company offices. Anonymous voices demanded money. In almost all cases, it was paid. And still the killings continued.”