Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


International Studies (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Elvira María Restrepo

Second Committee Member

Bruce M. Bagley

Third Committee Member

Elton Skendaj

Fourth Committee Member

Hillel D. Soifer


This dissertation explores the political discourse and military behavior of the “paramilitares” right-wing militia as well as of the local political alliances that sponsored and initially controlled these militias in the Magdalena Medio region, a rural periphery in Colombia, during the last decades of the 20th century. Previous literature explains these right-wing militias simultaneously as reaction of rural elites to the incapacity of the Central State to monopolize political violence and as the consequence of the rural elites fear of an agrarian reform. Yet, from a tradition Weberian perspective, it is impossible to present the state as both capable and incapable. To solve this contradiction, the dissertation employs a mixed method approach based in the “Sources of Social Power” theory, with an emphasis on the operationalization of quantitative variables measuring the capacity of the central state to penetrate society and territory. A mixed methods approach combines a panel regression at a municipal-year granularity modeling the effects of conflict intensity, public services provision, and sociopolitical mobilization on paramilitar activity against civilians with a discourse analysis on the contemporary political discourse on the paramilitares and by the paramilitar political allies. The results point to how the paramilitar violence against civilians has a positive relation to certain dimensions of State presence (Armed Forces activity, schooling) and to sociopolitical mobilization, but a negative relation to guerrilla activity. An original method to capture a time-series of the evolution of the transport network from cartographic sources into a GIS database is presented.


Colombia; Paramilitares; Armed Conflict; State Capacity; Magdalena Medio; Infrastructural Power