RESEARCH

Working Papers

“Survival and Resilience to Repression” (under review)

Why do some opposition groups survive government repression while others get eliminated? This paper argues that a group’s ideology conditions its organizational structure and underground organizing capacity, in turn affecting survival. Extreme groups tend to develop a compartmentalized structure with militants skilled in underground organizing. Compartmentalization and underground organizing decrease the probability of capture, as well as mitigate the downstream effects of captures. Using a novel dataset of individuals on Pinochet’s wanted lists and the victims of the Chilean dictatorship, this paper demonstrates that the victimization of ultraleftists is significantly lower than that of more moderate—but similarly targeted—groups. Archival and interview data show that differences in survival are due to organizational structure and skills, and that these characteristics flow from ideology. In contrast to other research on repression, this study compares the intended-to-repress and repressed populations to better understand the heterogeneous effects of violence.

“The Hydra Effect: When Repression Creates New Opposition against Authoritarianism”

State repression has been found to demobilize the opposition, in other cases it has a positive effect on mobilization, and in yet other studies, dissidents have been found to avoid repression altogether. Rather than adjudicating between these findings, this paper takes the position that repression has a multiplicity of effects, and that observing certain patterns over others depends on the conditions. Repression causes new nonviolent and public opposition when potential dissidents are able to secure some level of protection from local protector institutions. “Protector” institutions are those that the government needs for legitimacy and that are willing to lend some safeguards to the opposition. I test this hypothesis in the case of Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989) using a novel time-series dataset. After geocoding all the Catholic temples in Chile, along with the political tendency of each head priest, and providing indicators for whether or not new opposition groups formed, this paper finds that the likelihood of mobilization dramatically increases when the group can count on the support of a local Catholic priest, controlling for repression, the opposition group’s ideology, the political party of the mayor, and whether the locality is mainly rural or urban. Interview and archival data also show that in communities where the local priest was pro-Pinochet, opposition groups were not able to organize even though they attempted to do so.

“How Nonviolent Action Works: Evidence from Field Experiments in Nicaragua and Venezuela” (with Maria J. Stephan)

What explains that some mass nonviolent movements are organizationally successful while others are disorganized and fragmented? Organizationally successful movements are able to 1) grow their membership base, 2) maintain nonviolent discipline, 3) build and strengthen crosscutting alliances, 4) forge perceptions of self-efficacy, and 5) remain resilient to repression. In collaboration with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), we conducted the first field experiments designed to causally identify the effects of capacity trainings on the organizational success of movements. In particular, we involved activists from the pro-democracy movements in Nicaragua and Venezuela to receive a five-day interactive training and subsequent mentorship for one month in order to improve their capacity on the ground. We find that learning and being mentored in strategic nonviolent action and peacebuilding increased the capacity of the movements. Nonviolent action works by boosting the self-efficacy of leaders, making cross-cutting alliances more likely to emerge, and reducing the likelihood that activists use violence during protests. We measure these outcomes through survey instruments, by tracking the online presence of opposition organizations on Facebook and Twitter, as well as by analyzing media coverage of the movement.

“Repression and the Onset of Nonviolent and Violent Movements”

Do levels of government repression condition the tactics that opposition groups use to wage political struggle? Conventional wisdom suggests that popular uprisings against repressive regimes are more likely to be violent than nonviolent, and that if a peaceful struggle happens to emerge in such a difficult environment, it will be quickly put down or morph into an armed struggle. This article tests the conventional wisdom of violence begetting violence with the Nonviolent and Violent Outcomes Dataset (NAVCO 2.0), which contains yearly information on 250 nonviolent and violent mass movements for regime change, anti-occupation, and secession from 1945 to 2006, as well as with repression data from the CIRI Human Rights Data Project and the Political Terror Scale. NAVCO 2.0, however, is adjusted to include all the negative cases—the country-years with no nonviolent or violent campaigns—to be able to compare the conditions of onset and no onset countries. Close analysis of the level and type of government repression in the years prior to major social movements reveals a more nuanced pattern than that suggested by the conventional wisdom. While in highly repressive countries the dominant form of popular struggle that emerges is armed rebellion, the proportion of primarily nonviolent movements does not substantially vary by level of lagged repression. When tactics are disaggregated to distinguish between nonviolent movements and nonviolent campaigns with violent flanks, it becomes apparent that in the most repressive countries there will be a much higher proportion of armed insurrections and mixed movements than purely nonviolent campaigns. This research shows that nonviolent struggles do emerge under very difficult conditions of government repression, though these primarily nonviolent movements tend to have violent wings that are often used as defense groups. In addition, the patterns of lagged repression and movement onset suggest that there is a threshold after which the level of government oppression selects out civil resistance.

Publications

Peer-reviewed

“Chapter 3: Can We Live Together? Citizen Insecurity as a Threat to Democratic Coexistence,” in Kevin Casas Zamora, The Besieged Polis: Citizen Insecurity in Latin America, Latin America Initiative Report, Brookings, July 8, 2013  (with Kevin Casas-Zamora).

Policy and Opinion

What is happening in Venezuela? Political Violence @ A Glance, February 2, 2019.

“Repression, Resilience, and Mass Movements: A Page from Chilean History” ICNC Minds of the Movement Blog, December 1, 2017.

“Conversations with Experts on the Future of Central America,” Latin America Initiative Report, Brookings, November 19, 2012 (with Diana Negroponte and Alma Caballero).

“Venezuela: What Future for Chavismo without Chavez?” Opinion Editorial, Brookings, July 25, 2012 (with Diana Negroponte).

“The 2012 Venezuelan Elections: Hopes for Legitimacy,” Opinion Editorial, Brookings, March 9, 2012 (with Diana Negroponte).

Works in Progress

“Generalizing from Unequal Probability Sampling” (with Peter Aronow and Fredrik Savje)

“The Construction of Quantitative Evidence in Political Science” (with Peter Aronow, Tommaso Bardelli, Josh Kalla, and Hilton Simmet) (Book proposal under review)

“Protector Institutions in Civil Resistance Struggles in Latin America” (Monograph in preparation for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s (ICNC) Monograph Series)

“Strategic Watersheds in the Life of a Rebel Group: When Armed Groups Incorporate Nonviolent Resistance or Splinter” (with Victoria McGroary)