Environment and Development Economics

Theory and Applications

A model of rural conflict: violence and land reform policy in Brazil

a1 University of Illinois, NBER
a2 University of Arizona, NBER
a3 Universidade de Brasilia, SQN 215 Bloco C Apt. 609, Brasilia DF 70874–070, Brazil. Phone/Fax: 55 61 307–3204, E-mail: [email protected]


This paper analyzes the underlying determinants of rural land conflicts in Brazil involving squatters, landowners, the federal government, the courts and INCRA, the land reform agency. A model is presented whereby squatters and landowners strategically choose to engage in violence. Landowners use violence as a means of increasing the likelihood of successful eviction of squatters, and squatters use violence to increase the probability that the farm will be expropriated in their favor as part of the government's land reform program. The model's predictions are tested using state level data for Brazil for 22 states from 1988 through 1995. It is shown that the government's land reform policy, which is based on expropriation and settlement projects, paradoxically may be encouraging both sides to engage in more violence, rather than reducing conflicts.