'It is So Ordered'? The Judicial Enforcement of Land Restitution Rulings and the Politics of Compliance in Colombia (2011-2021)

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This dissertation explains how land courts enforce their rulings in Colombia’s ongoing land restitution program, and, in turn, why politicians and bureaucrats comply with these judicial decisions protecting property rights, while others do not. Our current understanding of enforcement is mostly derived from analyses focused on the political actors involved and the electoral incentives following a rational choice approach. Instead, the argument developed here proposes that to explain variation in compliance with judicial decisions, it is necessary to jointly examine the interaction between different levels of state capacity and the political will to comply with those decisions.

Based on this interaction, I propose a typology of patterns of compliance. On one hand, two ideal types, full and noncompliance, are observed when politicians are either committed to comply with those decisions in municipalities with higher state capacity where infrastructural conditions, as other presence of state institutions, allowed to fully comply with rulings protecting property rights; whereas noncompliance occurs when low state capacity conditions become the perfect excuse for those politicians who do not have any willingness to comply. On the other hand, they differ from patterns of partial compliance where external constraints condition the relative strength either of the levels of state capacity or the political will of elected officials. I expect that under high state capacity, low compliance will occur when politicians without political will, will lack the incentives to fully comply and will partly comply with judicial decisions as they are pressured by societal groups, namely, groups in favor of the victims. Finally, medium compliance will result when politicians, with political will, face constraints under low state capacity contexts that impede the full compliance with judicial decisions in favor of victims’ property rights.

In the first part, I further developed the mechanisms that explain the relevance of the interaction between state capacity and political will to explain both enforcement and compliance with judicial decisions. Chapter 1 offers an alternative conceptualization and measure of state capacity by bringing a neglected dimension of it: the legal capacity. I argued that the role of legal capacity, -observed as the presence of judges, attorneys, inspectors, watchdog agencies-, is a crucial constrain to politicians’ noncompliance. Chapter 2 instead puts politics front and center. Using a regression discontinuity design in close mayoral elections, the chapter causally identifies the role of political will in the implementation of the land restitution rulings.

After testing the empirical implications of the macro-level theory of compliance, the second part of the dissertation focuses on how land restitution judges achieve compliance with their rulings. Leveraging the institutional innovation by which land restitution courts preserve the competence over their rulings, I explain the effect of the oversight mechanisms on the compliance with these decisions. By exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges, I find that a ruling is more likely to be comply with if the case was assigned to a judge who is more active in taking post-rulings actions to ensure enforcement.

The final chapter assesses this gap between the legal definition of property rights and their actual enforcement on the ground at the household level. By using a conjoint experiment embedded in a rural household survey, I find strong support for the strength of prior property rights before the dispossession, and to lesser extent, the individual’s expectation of enforcement matter when deciding to bring a case.

To empirical evaluate this enforcement gap, I wield a broad variety of empirical tools, including computational methods to build original datasets, experimental and quasi-experimental research designs, original surveys, extensive fieldwork, and a close collaboration with state agencies over compliance outcomes.





Montoya, Ana María (2022). 'It is So Ordered'? The Judicial Enforcement of Land Restitution Rulings and the Politics of Compliance in Colombia (2011-2021). Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25298.


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