Securing territory : state interests and the implementation of ethnic land rights in the Americas
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Why do states implement ethnic communal property rights (ECPR) in some places, and at certain times, but not others? Conventional wisdom holds that transnational activism drives ECPR implementation. Other commonly held views are that economic interests and state weakness hinder implementation. In contrast, I highlight an alternative understudied motivation for implementation. State elites implement ECPR and install communal property regimes to prevent ethnic insurrections and reinforce the state’s power in peripheral regions. State interests shape ECPR implementation in crucial ways. Two factors activate state interests: internal threats or external pressure. When faced with high levels of internal threats, state elites implement ECPR quickly and systematically to reinforce state power in vulnerable localities. In this situation, state elites act proactively to guarantee internal order and reinforce control over a specific territory. Under conditions of heightened external pressure, the weaker stimulus, state elites guarantee sovereignty concerns first before implementing ECPR in peripheral regions to build state capacity over time. State elites respond to external pressure selectively, deciding how and where ECPR implementation will take place. In both cases, state interests are a central component of the explanation: they serve as a catalyst in the face of internal threats and a crucial conditioning factor under external pressure. I develop the argument through comparative case studies of ECPR implementation in three Latin American countries since the 1980s. I draw on original elite opinion surveys, in-depth elite interviews, administrative records, newspaper archives, and secondary literature. These sources of information corroborate the importance of state interests in the implementation of ethnic land rights. The contribution of this study is to show how state interests shape ECPR implementation and transform ethnic land titling into a governing mechanism akin to indirect rule. By regularizing ethnic lands, the state creates new arrangements to monitor and manage rural people in a top-down fashion. The broad implication is that state elites subject people that self-identify as indigenous to a new hierarchical system that perpetuates their social and economic marginalization.