Colombia: Democratic but Violent?
Colombia is a Latin American outlier in that it has traditionally been a very violent country, yet at the same time remarkably democratic. This chapter explores Colombia’s puzzle from a political economy perspective, shedding light on the broader relationship between democracy and violence. The chapter studies some of the most important democratization reforms since Colombia’s independence 200 years ago. It argues that the reforms often failed to curb violence and sometimes even actively, though perhaps unintendedly, exacerbated violent political strife. Democratic reforms were unable to set the ground for genuine power-sharing. They were often implemented amidst a weak institutional environment that allowed powerful elites, the reforms’ ex-ante political losers, to capture the State and offset the benefits of the reforms for the broader society. We conclude by highlighting the implications of the argument for other countries facing democratic reforms, as well as for Colombia’s current peace-building efforts.