Masked Development: Exploring the Hidden Benefits of the Zapatista Conflict


Year: 2015 HiCN Working Paper No. 202

In 1994, the Zapatistas took up arms claiming for indigenous people rights in Chiapas, Mexico. After 12 days of civil war, the government called for dialogue. Nevertheless, since then, it has deployed a “low intensity war” over the Zapatistas. At the same time, the Zapatistas started to implement a new set of institutions, which have allegedly enhanced their socio-economic situation. The purpose of this study is to elucidate this ambiguous theoretical effect on the wellbeing of the communities under harassment. This paper generates a unique dataset, linking socio-economic variables from the Mexican Census with different measures of conflict intensity at the locality level, based on geo-coded influence areas. The present investigation controls for the endogeneity in the relationship between conflict and the socio- economic performance, instrumenting the former by the distance from each locality to a strategic military spot defined by the Zapatista Army. The results imply that the impact of the Zapatista institutions has surpassed the negative effect of the civil strive, suggesting that: i) bottom-up policies carried out by grass-root organizations, even in times of conflict, might represent an appropriate path for development; and ii) the Mexican government should recognize the Zapatista autonomy and its right for self-determination.

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