Any of you who follow my posts know that I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. Which brings to mind a topic in civil war research: economics.

Politics and economics are intimately related. And when conflict strikes a country, economics have a significant impact. There is quite a bit of research that suggests economically robust countries handle internal conflict more effectively, and are less likely to experience civil war, than their poorer counterparts.

But what about the flip side of that equation?

If a country – even one with a robust economy – experiences conflict for an extended period of time, their economy is bound to suffer. If your home is a war zone, will you still be reporting to your job as a postal worker? Grocery store clerk? Businessperson? Or will you consider the risk to your home and family more important, and emigrate?

True accounts from conflict scenarios show individuals exhibiting both behaviors. The economy changes during internal conflict, but not necessarily across the entire country. Economic impacts can affect the way that insurgent groups are perceived within a country, as well.

During the Mexican revolution, Protestants provided stipends to converts. Protestantism spread like wildfire – a result of many factors, but in part influenced by the economic support that converts received. The revolution was a religious one, and the Protestants aligned with the liberals; the liberals eventually won, and Protestants were viewed favorably for several years, until Carranza came to power.

Economic grievances can aggravate conflicts, and provide fuel to the fires of conflict. In some countries, small guerilla groups use this in their favor. FARC, for example, is thought to have provided education, healthcare, and economic support to rural Colombians, hence increasing their influence and reach.

Taxing without representation was a primary grievance in the American war for independence.

Knowing the importance of a healthy economy to state stability, is it reasonable to assume that the increased economic instability that results from internal political conflict can also lead to a great propensity for civil war? Is prolonged political violence within key economic centers of a country a notable factor in civil war onset? How do economic sanctions affect a country experiencing internal conflict?

How do those questions relate to current events?

Just a little food for thought…

I’ll be back in about a week – my day job is providing a bit more work than I can comfortably manage at the moment…



Children at War

Living with a toddler, I’m inclined to think that my house resembles a war zone most of the time. And then I remember work. Child soldiers were the hot topic of the mid-late 1990s and the early 2000s. Books on their experiences, autobiographies, biographies, movies, and pop culture brought the phenomenon of child soldiering to the forefront of public interest.

There’s just one problem.

When examining the role of child soldiers in conflict, data is scarce. Most research has centered on the psychological, social, and political ramifications of child soldier use during conflict. Another clump of research looks at how and why children were recruited or forced into service during civil wars.

We’re on the verge of the 20 year anniversary of Rwanda’s civil war. The conflict left a damaging impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. As do all civil wars. Rwanda was also one of the first conflicts to call attention to the role of child soldiers in conflict.

I’ve yet to hear of a single paper that covers child soldiers as a variable on duration of a conflict, despite numerous reports of child recruitment and participation in political violence. For that matter, I’ve yet to read a paper that treats children as a variable in civil war. The data is scarce, which is one part of the problem, but a larger question is looming.

Are we failing to research children as a variable in civil war because the idea is disconcerting? Is it easier to ignore the concept of child soldiers as being relevant to a conflict’s duration or outcome?

The reality of child soldiering isn’t decreasing. In fact, we’ve seen child soldiers in conflict of all sizes for hundreds of years, but their use in civil war has increased in the past few decades. From abducted children being forced into slave-like conditions in insurgent camps to kindergarteners being trained as future suicide bombers, the role of the child in warfare and terrorism is unmistakeably important.

The effects on the children themselves, on their society, and on the creation of a lasting peace and the cessation of conflict are all variables worth evaluating. Just as the questions surrounding women in conflict is difficult to address due to the lack of reliable data, the same can be said of children in conflict.

Does  anyone know of a dataset with reliable information on special actors in civil conflict and political violence? If so, share the wealth. Comment below.

If not, isn’t it time to start one?

For more information on children in conflict, see the following resources:























You can tell that I’m passionate about this topic, right?

February of Horrors in Venezuela: A Venezuelan perspective

This post was contributed by Julia_1984. Many thanks to her for agreeing to share a Venezuelan perspective on the recent political events. Julia_1984 was born in Caracas. She has been blogging about the Venezuelan situation in English since 2007 at “The End of Venezuela as I Know it”. In 2012 she changed her country of residence, but her ties and interests about her home remain the same.

I was born and raised in Venezuela; and lived there all my life (28 years) until a year and half ago when a marriage proposal and career opportunities took me overseas. While I called Caracas, its capital, my home, I saw many things I wish I did not. I saw people making long lines to buy milk when it was available, I heard stories of relatives and friends being kidnapped and If not lucky enough, killed; I hid in a hotel lobby while a demonstration was dispersed by the police and quickly learned how to protect myself of the effect of tear gases. I saw politicians, Human Right defenders and just regular people being prosecuted for political reasons, I saw people losing the only property they had: that where they lived. I attended to many good bye parties feeling my group of friends was shrinking daily, as our system kept pushing young middle-class Venezuelans to find a better life elsewhere.  I saw it all but I never saw this. During this month, my country has experienced a scale of political violence that holds no parallel in its recent history.

The repression was especially high on two rather tragic days: February 12th and the night of February 19th. On February 12th three people were killed by gunshots in their heads (the pattern must not be taken as a mere coincidence); after a massive demonstration against the government of president Nicolas Maduro turned into violence. Many more were wounded, illegally detained and tortured. Rocío San Miguel, a Human Rights activist in Venezuela tweeted today: “the indiscriminate attack against civilians in Venezuela is the most serious since the 27F in 1989”, when a social uprising ended up in a massacre killing more than 300 people.

On February 19th; as the president spoke on TV, threatening its dissidents; a whole state was isolated staying for hours without Internet Service, Electricity and even water. This state was Táchira, where everything started.

Earlier this month, students in the Tachira state began demonstrations against an attempted rape case handled badly. Soon the protests were about anything else; being food and basic good shortages, now a routine after years of price controls, currency exchange controls and in general an economy poorly managed; and insecurity the main two topics (at least 24,763 people were killed  in the country just in 2013, according to a “conservative count” of an independent NGO: Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia). In parallel, a group of opposition leaders presented a proposal to the country called “La Salida” which consisted on street protests as a way to pressure for an electoral solution of the present crisis.  “La Salida” leader, Leopoldo López is now in prison.

Not only Tachira suffered an untold repressive violence that dreaded night of February 19th. Those cities that did had Internet service: Valencia, Mérida, Caracas… lost no detail on reporting the horror. People in motorcycles, dressed in black, members of either the National Guard or “colectivos” (paramilitary groups, government supported and armed), chase down protesters testing new limits. They shot tear gas bombs directly at apartment complexes, there are also videos of protesters being shot at the streets without not even an attempt of mediation first.

Many students and journalists hid in buildings, the National Guard and Collectivos entered those buildings damaging vehicles, stealing motorcycles and throwing even more tear gas bombs.  It is not your usual tear gas bomb, the one I learned how to handle by smelling a handkerchief impregnated with white vinegar. My friends tell me this gas is different: vinegar is no use, it is actually worse; they now need antacid to protect themselves from the gas effects. Is that even legal?  As my mother in law wrote to us about hearing gunshots from her house and we continued to read reports of the events, we prayed for the night to end.

(Two sources, out of many: http://caracaschronicles.com/2014/02/19/19f/, http://www.zoomnews.es/204779/actualidad/mundo/cronica-caracas-acorralada-disparos-gas-y-ballenas)

According to the General Prosecutor, 8 people have died and 137 have been wounded since the protests started and spread all over the country. The numbers, given the lack of independence of the Judicial Power, might be conservative. NGOs are still working to provide an accurate account of the victims including those detained which might be over 200. Another demonstration has been called for tomorrow. The opposition will demand the government to disarm the “colectivos” and stop Human Rights Violations but while the government continues to respond with violence and anger grows among protesters; my home will be more and more unrecognizable to me. Venezuela continues to experience political violence in a scale not seen before and this February of horrors does not seem to come to an end.

Friends of mine, in Kiev 2013. Photo courtesy of P. Filenko.

Friends of mine, in Kiev 2013. Photo courtesy of P. Filenko.

I’ve got contacts in Ukraine, and have contacted a guest blogger from Venezuela, as well. Keep an eye open for posts from people on site in the next few weeks. A view from the heart of conflict is a rarity in the academic world. Time to embrace it!

And in Current Events….

For those of you who missed the news this morning:




For those of you who read Russian: http://www.newtimes.ru/articles/detail/77630







Political and Natural Disasters

For those of you who don’t know me, my MA was based on work in Haiti – I have many friends on the island, and spent time in rural areas, as well as Port-au-Prince in 2009 and 2010. Originally (read, before the earthquake), I had planned a photography project in one of the capital city’s worst slums, hoping to use photography to help mitigate PTSD levels and future violence in the neighborhood. And then the earthquake struck.

What surprised me was how shocked the international community was by the damage. Anyone who had traveled to Haiti previously could have predicted the outcome – a lack of planning, infrastructure, and only one Haitian earthquake engineer (who incidentally was still a student at the time of the quake) made devastation a strong likelihood in the event of an earthquake. Tropical depressions, hurricanes, deforestation, and a lack of indoor plumbing heightened the risk for catastrophic health problems following the event.

On the ground, aid groups scrambled for attention following the tremor, and competed as often as they collaborated. In the rural location where I was working, some families had offers of three new homes, but others – facing comparable damage – received none. And this was WITH the help of the UN Shelter Cluster.

So what does all of this have to do with political violence? Quite a bit. The impact of natural disaster on political violence isn’t well understood. The research is conflicted, and fascinating. Slettebak and Theisen, for example, found increased political violence following climatic disasters, but decreased political violence after geologic disasters. Other researchers, such as Brancati , found links between earthquakes and political violence. Working on the problem from an economic perspective, numerous researchers have expressed concern that a state’s wealth may be a good predictor of post-disaster political violence. Haiti, it would seem, is the first place you might look for political violence.

Let’s add a little fuel to that fire – during my stay on the island, complaints about paid gangs posting slogans for one candidate or another were rampant. Politics was a tense topic. I knew individuals who were fleeing or had fled Port-au-Prince for fear of political violence, despite better access to aid. Haiti also has a significant history of violent political uprising – nearly as many Haitian presidents have been assasinated as have left the office peacefully.

So what happened? In one of the poorest countries in the world, with a strong history of political violence,  frequent climatic disasters, and a geologic disaster of epic proportions, immediately following the earthquake significant concerns were voiced. Berg drafted a report for the USIP suggesting that specific measures be taken to mitigate a growing threat of violence on the island. Former dictators and exiled Presidents battled over the right to return to the island, and the elections that did occur were viewed skeptically by many Haitians.

And yet, did political violence on the island continue to increase? Not at the level one might expect. Perhaps the aid presence on the island has helped to limit violence. Maybe Haiti’s position in the international spotlight provides hope for the population, but regardless of the reason, the island is quieter than might be expected. Even with discontent over elections, political violence has remained relatively controlled since 2011. The island now makes the news for public health crises and poor environmental conditions as often as it does for politics.

According to the Miami Herald,

Thomas Adams, U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti, said there has been visible progress in Haiti in areas such as housing and good economic growth.

“Health indicators are up, agricultural productivity has increased, security is getting better,” said Adams, noting that the police’s professional handling of anti-government demonstrations last year in the capital. “The HNP is getting more competent.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do think more research into the intersection of natural disasters and political violence is necessary. I also think a more robust perspective could be worthwhile. A study that looks into aid response, GDP, public health crises, international community involvement (other than direct aid), prior political stability, and natural disasters of various types, might be a good place to begin teasing apart the complex inter-relation of these topics.

If you’ve got more information on this area, please share!

Political Violence at a Glance published an excellent post on this topic earlier in the year – looking into Typhoon Hayian and the potential for unrest in the Phillipines.

More articles on this topic:

How Natural Disasters Affect Political Attitudes and Behavior: Evidence from the 2010-2011 Pakistani Floods https://www.princeton.edu/~jns/papers/FKMS_2013_Floods.pdf 

The Impact of Disasters and Political Violence on Mental Health in Latin America http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/newsletters/research-quarterly/V20N4.pdf

 Climatic Natural Disasters, Political Risk, and International Trade http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378009001009

Understanding Citizen Response to Disasters with Implications for Terrorism http://www.nifv.nl/upload/179141_668_1168610392500-perry-2003.pdf