The agrarian rentier political economy: Land concentration and food insecurity in Colombia

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Why is Colombia, a country with fertile arable lands, increasingly importing its food supply as a consequence of shrinking lands dedicated to crop production, whereas land inappropriate for pasture and livestock has been expanding exponentially? The answer lies in the land laws approved since the 1930s, coupled with the state's economic policies, which have reduced the opportunity costs of investing in this sector. Both have provided an institutional matrix to transform parts of the rural economy from food production to a rentier political economy spearheaded by cattle ranching. This article explains why cattle ranching has become increasingly prominent since the 1950s for a segment of the dominant classes that is predisposed to invest in this endeavor despite the risks and low economic returns. More important, the article explains how the institutional matrix (laws and policies) and precarious property rights in rural areas provided the incipient narco-bourgeoisie, since the mid-1970s, with a pivotal incentive to choose cattle ranching as a favorite means to launder money, speculate, and exercise political power, consequently cementing rentier capitalism. © 2012 by the Latin American Studies Association.

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Latin American Research Review

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