Institutional Scholarship

Land, Violence and Empowerment: Post-conflict Land Reform in Central America

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dc.contributor.advisor Isaacs, Anita, 1958- Sells, Cameron 2013-10-17T15:55:48Z 2013-10-17T15:55:48Z 2013
dc.description.abstract This thesis examines how land reform can contribute to transitional justice by preventing a recurrence of violence in post‐conflict societies. One common assumption about redistributive land reform is that it can reduce rural violence and “substitute” for revolution by correcting the economic and social inequalities that are often at the root of civil conflicts. However, empirically, land reform has had an uneven record in conflict‐prevention, and several major land reforms implemented in the 20th century were closely followed by an escalation of civil war or peasant rebellion. The central objective of this thesis is to explain why land reform does not always succeed at reducing rural violence. I argue that in order to be an effective conflict‐prevention mechanism, land reform must do more than correct an unequal distribution of land; it most also empower the peasants by encouraging them to organize politically and by giving them the dignity and political agency that they need in order to voice their demands and hold their governments accountable. Peasants have both economic and political goals, and land reforms that offer them land but keep them excluded from the public realm cannot truly substitute for revolution. I demonstrate this by comparing three Central American countries' experiences with land reform in the late 20th century. I show that the land reforms implemented in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s failed to prevent the escalation of these countries' civil wars because these reforms neglected the peasants' political grievances. However, after these civil wars ended in the 1990s, both countries revisited the land question and implemented new land reforms that mobilized and empowered the peasants. This has contributed to the peace‐building process in post‐conflict rural El Salvador and Nicaragua because now that the peasants have political standing, they no longer need to turn to violence to make their voices heard. By contrast, Guatemala neglected to implement land reform after its civil war ended in 1996, and as a result, the Guatemalan peasants remain marginalized and powerless compared to their counterparts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Guatemala's failure to address its peasants' grievances after its war ended is one of the reasons why it has seen much greater rural violence than the other two countries over the last two decades.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of Political Science
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Land reform -- El Salvador
dc.subject.lcsh Land reform -- Nicaragua
dc.subject.lcsh Land reform -- Guatemala
dc.title Land, Violence and Empowerment: Post-conflict Land Reform in Central America
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Haverford users only

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