UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Essays on the economics of crime and violence Albuquerque, Gustavo Tovar


This thesis investigates crime and violence in Latin America. Each chapter tackles a different aspect of this overarching theme. Chapter 1 examines the long-term impact of state violence on homicide rates. I analyze the case of Guatemala’s civil war massacres, assembling data on their locations, and linking them to recent homicide rates. Exploring precipitation variation as an instrument for massacres, I provide evidence of an inverse relationship between past victimization and 2016-2019 homicide rates. I find that generalized trust is higher in municipalities with more massacres, which suggests increased local cohesion as a channel connecting past violence with reduced crime rates. In Chapter 2, I investigate police behaviour in Guatemala from 1970-1985, a period marked by authoritarianism and limited state capacity. By applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, I scrutinize over 300,000 scanned documents, creating a valuable dataset for future research. I find that power transitions were followed by an increase in detentions, but these were not targeted against political dissidents. One explanation for this pattern is that the State, when weaker, provided more crime-fighting services to the population, possibly as a way to win public support. Analyzing the civilian demand side of police work, I find that a significant portion of civilian-initiated interactions focuses on lost ID pieces, rather than regular or political crimes. In Chapter 3, I investigate the divergence in homicide rates between Indigenous and non- Indigenous areas following the surge in violence due to the drug war in Mexico. Since 2007, a significant disparity emerged in homicide rates between municipalities with a majority Indigenous population and those without. I show that the presence of Indigenous majority is associated with resilience against major Drug Trade Organizations (DTOs). I present a theoretical model showing that elevated entry barriers in specific territories reduce their attractiveness, making them less prone to host DTOs and the conflicts they bring. I hypothesize that political and cultural barriers to entry may be particularly elevated in areas with ethnic autonomy institutions. In accordance with the model, I find that, within Indigenous-majority areas, those with autonomous institutions reported smaller increases in homicides.

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