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Extraction, Assimilation, and Accommodation: The Historical Foundations of Indigenous–State Relations in Latin America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2023

University of Virginia, United States
Christopher L. Carter, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, University of Virginia, United States,
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Why do some Indigenous communities experience assimilation while others obtain government protection for their long-standing institutions and cultures? I argue that historical experiences with state-led labor conscription play a key role. In the early twentieth century, Latin American governments conscripted unpaid Indigenous labor to build infrastructure. Community leaders threatened by this conscription were more likely to mobilize their communities to resist it. The mobilization of this collective action later empowered community leaders to achieve state protections for Indigenous institutions and cultures, or “accommodation.” I test this argument using a natural experiment where communities’ eligibility for labor conscription to build a 1920s Peruvian highway was as-if randomly assigned. I develop a measure of accommodation that considers both the existence and enforcement of laws protecting Indigenous institutions and cultures. I evaluate the mechanisms using data on Indigenous mobilization. The findings demonstrate how historical extraction shaped contemporary Indigenous–state relations.

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Since obtaining their independence, Latin American governments have often endeavored to eliminate Indigenous groups’ political, economic, and cultural institutions in an effort to promote native communities’ “assimilation” into the dominant society. Even in settings where central states have adopted legal frameworks that “accommodate” Indigenous institutions—recognizing and protecting them as legitimate entities within the nation-state—governments have erected financial and bureaucratic barriers that make the implementation of this accommodation prohibitively costly for many Indigenous communities. This paper explores why some native communities have achieved accommodation—considered the “central demand” of Indigenous groupsFootnote 1 —while others have experienced assimilation.

To answer this question, I analyze the legacies of extractive labor institutions. Throughout the colonial and immediate postindependence periods, governments in Latin America mobilized unpaid Indigenous labor to work in mines, build infrastructure, and serve in the military. The Spanish Crown relied on partnerships with Indigenous elites to facilitate this labor extraction. Scholars have observed important and enduring negative effects of such institutions on the economic welfare of Indigenous groups (Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson Reference Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson2001; Dell Reference Dell2010; Mahoney Reference Mahoney2010). Yet, following independence, as nation-states grew stronger and sought to deploy their authority in traditionally peripheral areas, they began to engage in more direct forms of labor extraction that effectively circumvented Indigenous elites. This labor conscription, which was particularly common at the turn of the twentieth century, often involved government mobilization of unpaid Indigenous labor to build roads, bridges, and other large infrastructure projects.

I argue that these instances of labor conscription led Indigenous elites, who were not incorporated into the extractive process, to mobilize their communities to resist conscription. This collective mobilization, which occurred during the period of conscription, increased communities’ ability to achieve accommodation over the long term. It resulted in Indigenous leaders assuming new and more powerful positions within their communities, which they later used to convince their communities to bear the cost of accommodation; it reinforced a collective memory of government exploitation, which leaders used to mobilize their communities to pressure governments to implement accommodation; and it created closer linkages with Indigenous organizations that provided community leaders with resources they could use to overcome the bureaucratic and financial costs associated with accommodation.

I examine these enduring effects of labor conscription through an analysis of Peru. During the 1920s, the Peruvian government conscripted unpaid Indigenous labor to build Peru’s first highway. I leverage the fact that, by law and in practice, labor on the road was taken only from municipalities located in provinces that contained a portion of the recently rediscovered, ancient Inca Road, atop which the new road would be built. I identify causal effects using a geographic regression-discontinuity design (RDD), where distance to a border dividing a conscription from a non-conscription province serves as the running variable.Footnote 2 I first demonstrate that Indigenous communities resisted conscription, using data on Indigenous mobilization during the period of conscription. To examine the main outcome, I construct an omnibus measure of accommodation, which includes as components both legal measures of whether communities have obtained communal land titles and have achieved recognition, as well as measures of the persistence of Indigenous languages and institutions. I draw on qualitative observations from my fieldwork, secondary sources, and archival data to analyze the mechanisms of persistence.

The findings provide strong support for my theory. Communities eligible for conscription on Leguía’s road were more likely to rebel against the government during the 1920s. Using a multi-method strategy, I show that leaders of these communities assumed more powerful positions within their communities; they were also more likely to join Indigenous organizations and maintain a collective memory of conscription. Consistent with my argument, these communities have been more likely to obtain accommodation according to the omnibus measure and most individual components of the measure: they have been more likely to preserve their long-standing institutions, achieve recognition, and have a communal land title.

These results speak to long-standing debates around the effects of state coercion on group cooperation. Some scholars argue that coercive behavior by the state, especially through repression, erodes affected groups’ collective mobilization capacity (Francisco Reference Francisco1995; Tilly Reference Tilly1978). Others find that such coercion can increase cooperation among affected groups—for example, ethno-nationalist movements and urban slum dwellers (Aytaç, Schiumerini, and Stokes Reference Aytaç, Schiumerini and Stokes2018; Thachil Reference Thachil2020). Most of this existing work focuses on relatively near-term outcomes of state coercion, such as participation in protests or social movements. This paper, however, demonstrates that a specific act of state coercion—labor conscription—can trigger collective resistance that endures long after the coercive behavior stops. Efforts by the state to repress and exploit marginalized communities can thus backfire.

This paper also highlights generally understudied community-level variation in Indigenous–state relations.Footnote 3 Much of the existing scholarship focuses on important national-level differences in state policy toward native groups (Van Cott Reference Van Cott2001; Yashar Reference Yashar2005).Footnote 4 However, across a number of cases, state policy has recognized Indigenous rights, but uptake across Indigenous communities remains uneven and, in some cases, very low.Footnote 5 I develop a theoretical framework around two outcomes—accommodation and assimilation—and devise a measurement strategy to identify these outcomes at a local level within countries. Moving to a lower level of analysis acknowledges the diverse experiences of native groups within a given country and moves beyond policy adoption to examine the crucial but generally underexplored issue of policy implementation. This approach also reflects the level at which many Indigenous people exercise authority and negotiate their relationship to the state (e.g., reservations in the United States and reserves in Canada or Colombia).

My theory and evidence further demonstrate a key path through which governments can project power in areas of historically low state capacity, which O’Donnell (Reference O’Donnell1993) labels “brown areas.”Footnote 6 Problems of state building in peripheral regions have been particularly endemic in Peru (Kurtz Reference Kurtz2013; Soifer Reference Soifer2015). I demonstrate, however, that even in this unlikely case and even as early as the 1920s, the Peruvian state successfully projected power into remote areas—through labor conscription as well as accommodation and assimilation.

I begin the paper by situating the concepts of accommodation and assimilation within a broader framework of Indigenous–state relations. The remainder of the paper develops and tests my argument that labor conscription can explain community-level variation in accommodation. The concluding sections explore how my theory may apply to other instances of labor coercion in Latin America.


At the onset of colonization, Indigenous communities were characterized by a range of economic, political, and social institutions; communal land, traditional political authorities, and Indigenous languages were three of the most important. Subsequently, these institutions, which frequently hold expressive and instrumental value for Indigenous communities, have faced threats from states and private actors. However, in some cases, Indigenous groups have achieved protections for their institutions and cultures.

Different outcomes of Indigenous–state relations in Latin America can be characterized using a two-dimensional typology: the level of policy support or financial assistance the state provides to Indigenous communities (i.e., “support”) and the extent to which states can and do intervene to regulate or otherwise curb the autonomy of Indigenous institutions (i.e., “control”).Footnote 7 For the purposes of this paper, I focus only on outcomes where governments offer a moderate or high amount of support; these are the outcomes for which there is an identifiable policy outcome.Footnote 8 This yields a three-by-two typology of Indigenous–state relations. Of these outcomes, Indigenous leaders generally prefer those that provide less control and more support. Conversely, central state incumbents more often prefer outcomes that provide high control and only moderate support, as a way of establishing authority over peripheral areas at the lowest possible cost.Footnote 9

The outcomes in Table 1 correspond to either assimilation or accommodation. The trio of outcomes that comprise the bottom-right corner of the figure—corporatism, integration, and paternalism—provide different routes through which assimilation has been achieved. Paternalism and integration have been the most common in the historical and contemporary periods. Governments have imposed (paternalism) or offered (integration) Spanish-language schools and private titles to collectively held land.Footnote 10 In the mid-twentieth century, governments often used corporatist strategies to encourage Indigenous groups to adopt class as opposed to ethnic identities in exchange for policy concessions from the state. Yet, corporatism allowed governments to exercise greater control over Indigenous-peasant communities and the unions that represented them (Collier and Collier Reference Collier and Collier1979; Yashar Reference Yashar2005, 57).

Table 1. Theorized Outcomes of Contemporary Indigenous–State Relations: Accommodation and Assimilation

Note: Outcomes in bold lettering refer to accommodation; outcomes in italics refer to assimilation.

The three outcomes in the upper left-hand corner of Table 1 correspond to accommodation. Subsidized autonomy grants Indigenous communities the right to make distributive decisions over resources fully provided by the national government with limited state interference; Mexico’s Indigenous municipalities (especially in Oaxaca) have come closest to achieving this outcome. Decentralized autonomy involves replacing subnational governments with Indigenous institutions; this outcome, which is observed in Panama’s Indigenous comarcas, has often required Indigenous groups to fund their own affairs with lower levels of state resources than equivalent non-Indigenous administrative units.Footnote 11 Bounded autonomy can be observed in Colombia and Brazil under the “reserve” system, where governments often own the land where Indigenous communities reside and thus can ignore Indigenous rights when these entitlements preempt infrastructure production or natural resource extraction. Because of the greater control exercised by governments, this is generally Indigenous communities’ least preferred form of accommodation.

Table 1 and the aforementioned preferences of Indigenous communities and central state incumbents suggest that the former will often seek accommodation, whereas the latter will prefer assimilation.Footnote 12 Despite historical power imbalances that favor the state, Indigenous communities have increasingly achieved their preferred outcome of accommodation.

Few attempts have been made in the literature to develop quantitative measures of accommodation, which entails both de facto and de jure protection of Indigenous institutions and cultures. Instead, much of the literature focuses on the adoption of national-level, legal entitlements. Yet, within countries, Indigenous communities have often struggled to achieve meaningful implementation of those guarantees; financial, bureaucratic, and political barriers can prevent communities from achieving accommodation.

To illustrate these inequalities, I develop a novel measure of accommodation using the empirical case of Peru. I construct an omnibus index that includes four component measures.Footnote 13 Two of the measures within this index examine de jure, or “legal,” accommodation, specifically whether a community is registered with the Peruvian government and whether it has a completed title to its communal land. Communities with these protections are more likely to have accommodation, whereas those without them are more likely to experience assimilation.

Two further components of the omnibus measure examine whether these legal protections are enforced: a dummy linguistic measure of whether a community is bilingual and a seven-item index of Indigenous institutions.Footnote 14 Bilingualism provides a measure of accommodation; Spanish is necessary to communicate with the state and collaborate with it in defense of Indigenous institutions and customs. Because the state protects Indigenous cultures and institutions, native languages might likewise persist under accommodation.Footnote 15 I also consider an index of seven Indigenous institutions, which should be more likely to persist if state protections are enforced. These include traditional authorities, communal land, and social institutions, namely, ayni, minka, and mita—which involve different forms of voluntary service to the community.Footnote 16 Using dummy indicators for each Indigenous institution, I construct a seven-item index for each community. Higher index values indicate accommodation, whereas lower values generally correspond to assimilation.

Using these four component measures—the seven-item institutions index as well as dummy indicators for recognition, communal land title, and bilingualism—I construct an omnibus measure of accommodation for each community.Footnote 17 Data on each of the four components of the omnibus measure were taken from a 2012 census of Peruvian native and peasant communities (INEI 2014).Footnote 18

Figure 1 uses this omnibus measure to explore variation in accommodation—and assimilation—across Peru’s Indigenous communities.Footnote 19 I aggregate the results up to the municipal level for purposes of illustration. Municipalities are the lowest administrative tier of government in Peru; communities are nested within municipalities, such that there are on average five communities per municipality. Certain regional trends emerge: assimilation is the most common outcome in northern Peru, whereas accommodation is more prevalent in southern Peru. Central Peru contains a mix of assimilation and accommodation.Footnote 20 The next section develops a theory to explain why some communities are more likely to achieve accommodation, focusing on the key role of labor conscription.

Figure 1. Indigenous–State Relations in Peru using Omnibus Measure

Note: Community ( $ n=4,993 $ ) scores on an omnibus measure of accommodation, aggregated to the municipal level ( $ n=1,078 $ ). Municipalities are coded based on whether communities in that municipality are—on average—below/above average omnibus score for all communities (2.86). The omnibus measure of accommodation considers whether a community (1) maintains Indigenous institutions, (2) is bilingual, (3) has recognition, and (4) has a completed communal land title. See Supplementary Figures S1 and S2 and Dataverse Appendix Figures D17 and D18 for maps of individual components. Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática (2014).


Between 1870 and 1930, governments throughout Latin America sought to invest in transportation infrastructure, notably roads and railways, as a way of expanding internal markets and the export sector (Summerhill Reference Summerhill, Bulmer-Thomas, Coatsworth and Cortes-Conde2006). Lacking revenue for these large-scale projects, governments in Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, and Bolivia implemented new laws that forced Indigenous, working-age males to work without pay to build roads and railways.Footnote 21 Importantly, labor conscription was generally short-term, meaning that Indigenous workers returned to their communities once their service was done—barring death. As such, it can be differentiated from other, more sustained forms of coerced labor that are more likely to break up communities, such as indentured servitude or slavery.

Perhaps Latin America’s most notable example of postindependence labor conscription occurred in Peru under President Augusto Leguía (1919–30), who built the country’s first major highway (Chaplin Reference Chaplin2015, 65). In determining where to build his road, Leguía followed the route of the Qhapaq Ñan, or Inca Road.Footnote 22 Built before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, the main part of the Qhapaq Ñan traversed the spine of the Andes from present-day Chile to Colombia. The road linked the otherwise-isolated parts of the Inca empire, allowing the emperor in Cusco to exert effective control. The Spanish had little use for the Inca Road, which primarily ran north to south; they preferred east-west routes, which allowed them to transport mineral resources from the Andes to Pacific ports. By the seventeenth century, the Inca Road had fallen into disuse with its location largely unknown. Using historical documents and a team of archaeologists, Leguía reconstructed the Qhapaq Ñan route.

To build his highway, Leguía proposed the Ley de Conscripción Vial, or Road Conscription Law, which required Indigenous men to provide unpaid labor to build roads (Basadre Reference Basadre2014, 207; Davies Reference Davies1974, 84). The government defined the universe of conscripts using military conscription rolls; every man of working age, that is between 18 and 60, could be drafted to work on the road. However, archival documents from the departments of Ayacucho, Lima, and Ancash suggest that men as young as 16 and as old as 70 were taken to work on the roads (Dirección de Vías de Comunicación 1928). Nearly every community household was touched by labor conscription and observers argue that this period of labor conscription harmed Indigenous communities even more than the notorious extractive practices of the colonial era.Footnote 23

Unlike previous instances of state-led extraction, such as the colonial-era mining mita or “Indian tribute,”Footnote 24 Leguía’s law did not enlist the cooperation of Indigenous leaders; instead, juntas viales, or provincial-level commissions appointed by the national government, were responsible for mobilizing Indigenous laborers.Footnote 25 For 10 years, juntas viales traveled to Indigenous communities within their provinces to mobilize labor to build roads. Provincial police were enlisted to ensure that community members complied with their obligations.Footnote 26

Abuses abounded under the road conscription program. Juntas viales forced Indigenous laborers to work far more than their obligation—sometimes for months at a time—without providing food, shelter, clothing, or even documentary proof of conscripts’ service (Basadre Reference Basadre2014, 197; Mallon Reference Mallon2014, 233).Footnote 27 Stein (Reference Stein1980, 61) notes, “Indians were forced to leave their homes and travel many miles over difficult terrain to the construction sites $ \dots $ Generally the workers received little if any food and no medical attention; deaths among the ‘conscriptos’ were not uncommon.”

Conscription constituted a protracted process that began with a community becoming aware of its eligibility, continued with community members being conscripted—often multiple times—and only ended with the termination of the road conscription program in 1930. Not all communities were eligible for conscription—for reasons I detail in the empirics. Communities learned of their eligibility for labor conscription in several ways. In the early 1920s, working-age men in many communities were required to register in the provincial padrón vial, or road-building registry. Provincial governments circulated convocatorias (announcements) detailing which communities would work on a project—for example, building a bridge and repairing a road (Meza Bazán Reference Meza Bazán1999, 148–9). Ultimately, juntas viales arrived in communities to march workers to road-building sites.

There was often a high correspondence between eligibility for conscription and experiencing it. Available evidence from the padrón vial from the province of Pomabamba, for example, reports that by 1929 over 16,480 workers had built almost 100 km of roads in the province (Dirección de Vías de Comunicación 1928, 249); the 1940 census suggests that there were just over 19,000 Indigenous males in the entire province.Footnote 28 Because labor conscription repeated on an annual or biannual basis between 1920 and 1930, communities often worked on multiple projects. Araujo and Paulino (Reference Antonio and Paulino1991) estimates that, on average, eligible conscripts worked between 30 and 40 days a year over the span of the 10-year program (50). A community in the province of Canta was forced to work on four different bridge-building projects between February 1929 and April 1930 (Meza Bazán Reference Meza Bazán1999, 149). As I argue in the next section, these prolonged experiences of exploitation were met with resistance by Indigenous communities and their leaders; this collective action provided the basis for future community mobilization to demand accommodation from the state.


Organization of collective action has been a key historical responsibility of community leaders,Footnote 29 but not all leaders have been able to mobilize their communities to make demands on the state. For example, a 1969 survey of community leaders in three Peruvian departments—Cusco, Junín, and Pasco—found that 36% felt they could not influence policy, and only 12% reported they could influence policy without outside help (Handelman Reference Handelman2014, 272). Similarly, nearly half of community leaders said that they and their communities could “never” exert pressure on the government (Handelman Reference Handelman2014, 272). In a 2017 survey I conducted in Cusco, over two-thirds of Indigenous community presidents said that they were “not at all” sure their community could obtain government assistance when needed. Explaining why some community leaders can mobilize their members to make demands on the state while others cannot is essential to explaining variation in accommodation.

I argue that labor conscription—and especially communities’ response to it—increased the likelihood of future community mobilization to demand and achieve accommodation (Figure 2). In a first stage, labor conscription generated collective resistance by Indigenous communities. Community leaders had incentives to mobilize their members to resist. Whereas previous instances of extraction relied on cooperation from Indigenous leaders,Footnote 30 conscription bypassed these leaders and thereby challenged a central domain of their authority: their ability to mobilize community members’ unpaid labor. Conscription likewise increased community members’ incentives to participate in this resistance.Footnote 31 Tilly (Reference Tilly1978) argues, “[A]ny mobilization at all is more costly to the poor and powerless; only a threat to the little they have is likely to move them to mobilize” (75). For Indigenous community members, who tended to be very poor, household income vanished during periods of conscription and sometimes after—when a worker was maimed or killed. Because the cost of inaction was high, community members were more likely to engage in defensive mobilization against conscription.Footnote 32

Figure 2. Summary of Argument

Collective resistance to conscription changed communities in three enduring ways. First, it redefined power relations within Indigenous communities. Historically, communities had been organized in a relatively horizontal way with community leaders rotating from among the membership base. However, labor conscription encouraged leaders to take on new and more powerful roles within their communities as organizers of collective resistance. Second, Indigenous leaders with a demonstrated capacity to organize collective action—in this case, through resisting conscription—were particularly attractive partners for labor and Indigenous organizations. Ties to these organizations played an important role in facilitating future mobilization.Footnote 33 Finally, conscription—and, importantly, resistance to it—generated an enduring collective memory and sustained grievance around which communities could mobilize. Rappaport (Reference Rappaport1990) observes that “[k]nowledge of the past is $ \dots $ central to efforts at strengthening a communal identity, indispensable in the maintenance of autonomy in the face of European domination” (11–2). Importantly, then, collective memory can facilitate Indigenous mobilization and protest, actions which themselves reinforce collective memory and more broadly, an Indigenous consciousness.Footnote 34 Furthermore, past resistance to the government—and the memory of it—can provide an important model for future mobilization against the state (Tarrow Reference Tarrow2011, 29–30).

Together, these changes provided Indigenous communities the tools to achieve accommodation. Incumbents at the subnational and national levels have often resisted accommodation. State officials have long sought to establish relatively direct control over peripheral areas, where state-led governance and security have been historically weak (Mazzuca Reference Mazzuca2021; O’Donnell Reference O’Donnell1993; Soifer Reference Soifer2015). While offering accommodation to locally legitimate Indigenous leaders may promote order and good governance,Footnote 35 it is generally viewed as a second-best option for incumbents—who have traditionally preferred more direct forms of rule that might be more easily achieved through assimilation. As such, even when national governments have adopted policies that offer accommodation, they have often simultaneously or subsequently erected financial and bureaucratic barriers that result in an uneven and generally low level of implementation by individual communities. Decade-long wait lists, prohibitively expensive registration fees, and impenetrable bureaucratic paperwork have all hindered communities’ achievement of accommodation.

The three mechanisms of persistence that arise from resistance to conscription can help Indigenous community leaders overcome these barriers. Indigenous leaders who have more power within their communities can compel members to contribute time and money to lobby for and fund accommodation. In cases where governments refuse to recognize accommodation despite legal commitments to do so, leaders can draw on the collective memory of conscription to organize protests and marches for accommodation—demanding the government atone for past wrongs.Footnote 36 Memory of these grievances can also encourage communities to invest in preserving historical documents (e.g., colonial-era land titles and nineteenth-century legal judgments) that are essential to community survival and provide a documentary basis for Indigenous rights claims (Medrano Reference Medrano2011, 289). Finally, Indigenous leaders can draw on their ties to Indigenous organizations to obtain financial and legal resources necessary to achieve and maintain accommodation.Footnote 37

Once achieved, accommodation presents a mutually reinforcing outcome.Footnote 38 The recognition of traditional Indigenous leaders increases the legitimacy and power of their position, reinforcing their ability to mobilize collective action and maintain accommodation. The titling of Indigenous communal land has similar effects on leaders’ authority. Indigenous elites mediate access to collectively held land and thus can compel community members’ compliance with their dictates: members who do not participate in collective action, for example, risk losing their access to communal land.Footnote 39 As Yashar (Reference Yashar2005) argues, “The legal registration of communities and granting of community-based property created a legally defined, state-sanctioned, geographic area that allowed for the growth and/or maintenance of politically autonomous local enclaves, Indigenous culture, and political practices” (63).

The theory above highlights a key long-term implication of labor conscription—that conscripted communities have been more likely to achieve accommodation. Other experiences with extraction, such as the expansion of large estates, might have triggered similar reactions, but no extractive event in the twentieth century was as systematic, enduring, and widespread among Indigenous communities as labor conscription. Furthermore, unlike many other forms of extraction, Indigenous elites were not coopted into conscription and therefore played an important role in organizing responses to it; this collective mobilization—and the memory of it—increased the likelihood that communities achieved accommodation. Indigenous communities that did not face conscription were less able to pressure state officials to implement accommodation, increasing the likelihood that they experienced assimilation. The theory thus not only explains variation in community mobilization to demand rights, but also highlights how Indigenous communities can shape the deployment of state power in peripheral areas through accommodation and assimilation.


Testing the above theory presents a key empirical challenge: national governments may target labor conscription toward communities with higher levels of preexisting collective action capacity and stronger institutions—either to weaken these communities or to use their institutions to facilitate conscription.Footnote 40 Furthermore, if communities are drafted based on their proximity to a road or railway, the treatment may be bundled in a way that makes it difficult to isolate the effect of labor conscription. As such, subnational comparisons across communities may be confounded.

To address this problem and causally identify the long-term effects of labor conscription, I analyze a novel natural experiment in which Peruvian Indigenous communities’ exposure to labor conscription varies as-if randomly. According to the Road Conscription Law, laborers were required to work on only the sections of road that were built in the province where they lived. As the law (Ley 4113) states, “Conscripts will be taken, except in exceptional cases, from the same [municipality], and cannot be taken from one province to work in another.” This requirement served a logistical purpose: transporting Indigenous workers to distant work sites was costly and, thus, government officials preferred to keep workers in their own municipality—and certainly in their own province. Furthermore, juntas viales were in charge of labor mobilization and their jurisdiction stopped at provincial borders. There was also a political logic to the requirement that laborers not be taken to other provinces. Provincial officials and the landlords they represented were protective of Indigenous communities under their jurisdiction because “if [they] were out building highways for the president, they were not toiling in their landlords’ fields” (Heilman Reference Heilman2010a, 66). Documents from the period suggest that community members were not recruited to work in provinces other than their own (Dunn Reference Dunn1925, 79; International Labour Office 1929, 137–8).

My empirical strategy leverages this selection procedure for labor and specifically, a geographic RDD.Footnote 41 “Treatment” is defined as eligibility for the road conscription program, which is determined by a community’s location vis-à-vis provincial borders. Because labor was conscripted from only the provinces where the road was built, clusters of municipalities within a given province were assigned to treatment (i.e., subject to the Leguía draft) or control. I use the Qhapaq Ñan route—rather than the number of conscripts or Leguía’s road—to code treated provinces for two reasons. First, all communities in provinces with a portion of the Qhapaq Ñan—that is, which Leguía used as his guide for the road—were eligible for conscription.Footnote 42 Because most communities that were eligible for conscription ultimately worked, the effect of eligibility should be similar to and perhaps a conservative estimate of the effect of experiencing conscription. Second, data on road conscription in Peru are only partially available. I thus conduct an intent-to-treat analysis, which provides an estimate of the effect of eligibility for labor conscription.Footnote 43 I define the study group as provinces located in the mountainous Andean region that neighbor or are themselves a Qhapaq Ñan province (Figure 3).Footnote 44

Figure 3. Qhapaq Ñan Provinces Study Group (1940 Borders)

Note: The map depicts the central sierra route of the Qhapaq Ñan along with adjacent “control” provinces in the mountainous sierra. White provinces are not included in the study group.

The running variable is a municipality’s distance to a border dividing a Qhapaq Ñan province from a non-Qhapaq Ñan province—not distance to the road itself.Footnote 45 As a result, although the effects capture conscription, they do not necessarily indicate broader effects of exposure to the Qhapaq Ñan or later roads.Footnote 46 Often, in fact, communities located near a treat-control border were quite distant from the road, even those located in Qhapaq Ñan provinces.Footnote 47


The main dependent variable in my analysis is the omnibus measure of accommodation described in the first section of the paper. I provide summary statistics for the omnibus measure and its component items in Table 2.Footnote 48 I also analyze the four component items of the omnibus measure as separate outcomes in the Supplementary Material.

Table 2. Summary Statistics: Accommodation Measures (Study Group Only)

To analyze the near-term mechanism, I examine Indigenous mobilizations using data from Kammann (Reference Kammann1982), Kapsoli (Reference Kapsoli1982), and Kapsoli and Reátegui (Reference Kapsoli and Reátegui1987). I supplement these secondary sources with primary data from bulletins issued by the Section on Indigenous Affairs (1922–30), available in the Peruvian National Library. This dataset thus includes all documented Indigenous movements between 1920 and 1930—the time frame for which data are available.Footnote 49 Using this dataset, I link community names with their municipalities—as of 1920—and use as an outcome the number of Indigenous mobilizations in a given municipality.Footnote 50 I include any mobilizational event by Indigenous communities that explicitly targeted abuses by state officials during the period of conscription. I examine the enduring mechanisms of reproduction using qualitative evidence from historical primary and secondary sources.

Identifying Assumptions

The key identifying assumption under the RDD approach requires the continuity of potential outcomes across provincial borders separating treated units from control units. In other words, any observed or unobserved confounders should not in expectation vary discontinuously across the treat-control boundary. While not directly testable, case knowledge can help evaluate the plausibility of this assumption.Footnote 51 For any single pair of neighboring provinces, there may have been pretreatment differences between Indigenous communities on either side of the provincial border resulting from how the specific border was drawn or because of historical differences in provincial-level administration.Footnote 52 However, this presents a threat to inference only if these pretreatment differences are systematically correlated with the presence of the Qhapaq Ñan. There is no reason to expect this to be the case because the location of the Qhapaq Ñan was not well known at the time that provincial borders were assigned.Footnote 53 Provincial boundaries were fluid until 1850, nearly three centuries after much of the Qhapaq Ñan was destroyed through wars between the Spanish and Indigenous groups; the road was never rebuilt and the parts that had not been destroyed quickly fell into disuse (Esquivel Reference Esquivel2013, 34–5). Furthermore, the administrative boundaries drawn during Spanish colonial rule, some of which became the borders of modern provinces, were “imprecise” and “vague” with borders running “along the peaks of mountains, in stream beds, or in relatively unpopulated stretches of the high puna” (Cook Reference Cook2003, 415–6).Footnote 54 Thus, communities on either side of a treat-control border should not—in expectation—exhibit discontinuous changes in key baseline covariates.Footnote 55

To test this assumption, I perform a series of balance tests. I analyze six municipal-level covariates for which pretreatment data are available. These include measures of ethnic and economic composition, taken from an 1876 census: number of haciendas, total population, number of Indigenous communities, rural population, and Indigenous population. I also analyze the percentage of residents of each municipality with primary education, which is taken from a 1902 education census. Balance tests show that municipalities on either side of the border did not exhibit significant pretreatment differences on potentially important covariates.Footnote 56 Sorting may also pose a threat to inference if municipalities select into or out of Qhapaq Ñan provinces, but there is no evidence of this from a conditional density (McCrary) test ( $ p=0.2 $ ).Footnote 57

A second assumption requires that a municipality’s potential outcomes depend only on whether it is in a Qhapaq Ñan province and not whether other municipalities are “assigned” to a Qhapaq Ñan province. The particular concern in this case is that one municipality’s exposure to labor conscription may generate mobilization that spills over to other communities that are not exposed to labor conscription. As I discuss in the next section, I find no evidence of this.Footnote 58 Individual movement out of communities would not represent a concern for spillovers as individuals must be born in a community to achieve membership. Any movement out of a community is thus part of the treatment but not a threat to the noninterference assumption as individuals cannot easily relocate from one community to another.Footnote 59

A further concern involves bundling of the treatment; those provincial officials exposed to the treatment—and that have access to Leguía’s roads—may have adopted different policies toward Indigenous communities than governments in control provinces. However, in the Peruvian case, provincial governments control neither recognition nor Indigenous policy more generally, making this unlikely to account for the differences I observe for accommodation and assimilation.Footnote 60


In this section, I use both the RDD and qualitative evidence to trace the long-term effects of labor conscription in Peru. I begin with an analysis of how labor conscription shaped Indigenous leaders’ ability to mobilize collective resistance against the state. I then use a process-tracing approach to examine whether labor conscription increased the likelihood that communities achieved accommodation.

The historical record suggests that Leguía’s road-building program posed a clear threat to Indigenous communities and, as such, it provoked a defensive response from Indigenous community leaders. Heilman (Reference Heilman2010b) documents how Indigenous leaders in Ayacucho developed quasi-military organizations to violently resist conscription. Throughout central and southern Peru, Indigenous leaders organized uprisings to oppose the road conscription program (Hirsch Reference Hirsch, Hirsch and der Walt2010, 265; Mayer Reference Mayer1995, 280). When Leguía was ousted in 1930, “hatred of the [road conscription] law erupted into violence” as Indigenous communities throughout Peru “sacked government offices and burned conscription files” (Davies Reference Davies1974, 85).Footnote 61 Between 1922 and 1930, there were 837 documented Indigenous movements, 213 of which can be directly linked to abuses by local authorities and the road conscription program (Kapsoli Reference Kapsoli1982, 61).Footnote 62

To test for a causal relationship between conscription and increased Indigenous mobilization, I use the RDD and a database of municipal-level Indigenous movements against local officials that occurred between 1920 and 1930.Footnote 63 Importantly, for noninterference concerns, there is no evidence of cross-provincial mobilization in response to conscription.Footnote 64

Figure 4 demonstrates that labor conscription increased the likelihood of a municipality having an Indigenous movement by about 30 percentage points ( $ \approx $ 0.75 standard deviations, or sds).Footnote 65 Importantly, because these data are collected from the period during which conscription occurred, it also suggests that conscription was indeed felt by eligible communities.Footnote 66 In fact, 31 Indigenous movements during this period targeted explicitly the Road Conscription Program (Kapsoli Reference Kapsoli1982, 61).Footnote 67

Figure 4. The Effect of Labor Conscription on Community Mobilization against State (1920–30)

Note: Point estimates taken from a local-linear regression-discontinuity analysis. Ninety percent and ninety-five percent confidence intervals plotted. The dependent variable is whether a municipality experienced Indigenous mobilization against local officials between 1920 and 1930. Running variable is the municipality’s distance from a border dividing a treated (i.e., Qhapaq Ñan) province from a control one. SEs clustered at the province level. P-values adjusted for multiple comparisons using a Benjamini–Hochberg procedure (two outcome variables). Bias-corrected estimates include robust confidence intervals. $ N=607 $ . Supplementary Tables S7 and S8 contain further information. Source: Kammann (Reference Kammann1982), Kapsoli (Reference Kapsoli1982), Kapsoli and Reátegui (Reference Kapsoli and Reátegui1987), and Boletínes de Asuntos Indígenas (1922–1930). $ {}^{*}p<0.1 $ ; $ {}^{**}p<0.05 $ ; $ {}^{***}p<0.01 $ .

The act of mobilizing to resist conscription fundamentally redefined power relations within Peruvian Indigenous communities, increasing leaders’ ability to organize collective action among their members. Traditionally, community leaders occupied a position of relative equality with other community members. Resistance to road conscription, however, allowed these leaders to take on new and more powerful roles. In 1920s Peru, some Indigenous community leaders reclaimed precolonial titles of Inca, the Quechua word for “nobleman” or “king,” whereas others adopted the military title of colonel (Heilman Reference Heilman2010b; Kapsoli and Reátegui Reference Kapsoli and Reátegui1987). Indigenous peasants eagerly mobilized behind these leaders “because of their profound anger at official government authorities and their agents” (Heilman Reference Heilman2010b, 501). Remarking on Indigenous communities in Arequipa during the period of labor conscription, Salcedo (Reference Salcedo1921) observes that members were “willing to fight $ \dots $ against enemies of the community at the orders of leaders” (50). Indigenous leaders capitalized on this willingness of their members to act collectively. They formed military branches to defend their communities against road conscription and established “brigades and local cell groups to foment public disorder” (Mayer Reference Mayer1995, 305).Footnote 68 Leaders deployed this collective mobilization to burn villages, assassinate junta vial officials, and seize local government offices.Footnote 69

Conscription—and the mobilization against it—also led leaders to join Indigenous organizations, which promised to aid communities in opposing conscription. The most notable Indigenous organization in the 1920s was the national-level Tahuantinsuyo Pro-Indigenous Rights Committee (CPIT). Subcommittees of this national organization emerged throughout Peru and organized community resistance to road conscription along with making demands for the government to respect Indigenous institutions (de la Cadena Reference de la Cadena2000, 82–99).Footnote 70 Of the 50 subcommittees established in Peru between 1922 and 1927, over 80% were located in conscription-eligible provinces.Footnote 71 Many of these efforts were locally initiated; de la Cadena (Reference de la Cadena2000) documents a contemporaneous account of the spread of these subcommittees: “The best men among the Indians are organizing and leading Indigenous societies (Sociedades Indigenas) in spite of their relative lack of literacy” (94).Footnote 72 While these organizations were almost fully disbanded and repressed by Leguía in 1927, they provided important socialization experiences for Indigenous leaders, who subsequently became key officials within the influential Peruvian Communist Party and the populist Aprista party (Arroyo Reference Arroyo2004, 206). Within these non-Indigenous organizations, leaders were not silenced but rather continued to advocate for community recognition. Wilson (Reference Wilson and Drinot2018) observes, “[CPIT] was put down by presidential decree. However, in the Andean provinces, popular opposition to the traditional political order did not disappear but rather increased its reach and brought about a surge of $ \dots $ Indigeneity” (156–7, translation mine).

This leads to the final mechanism of interest: collective memory. After the brutal repression of CPIT in 1927, community members feared discussing openly their experiences with the Committee and resistance to conscription (Heilman Reference Heilman2010a, 59). Indigenous leaders, however, took advantage of their newly acquired literacy, which had been advocated by CPIT, to write down their experiences (Wilson Reference Wilson and Drinot2018). As the political system opened, stories of conscription and resistance were passed down through stories, song, dance, and pilgrimages to work sites.Footnote 73 The sustained memory of conscription and of a community’s resistance to it became markers of local identity for some communities, facilitating enduring collective mobilization, especially against the state.Footnote 74

The presence of these mechanisms aided communities in overcoming barriers to achieving accommodation. Communal land, for example, was available to all Indigenous communities from 1920 onward, but several barriers existed to achieving titles to collectively held land. Community leaders first had to convince their members to engage in the long and costly process of obtaining a title. After mobilizing the support of their community members, community leaders needed to secure bureaucratic, legal, and financial resources. Lawyers and researchers had to be hired to prove a community’s residence on its land from time immemorial, surveyors had to be contracted to define the borders of a community, fees had to be paid to the government, and in some cases, translators were needed to help community leaders navigate Spanish-language legal documents. Even after all documents had been submitted to the government, communities frequently had to pressure government agencies and officials to process their title; delays of years and decades were common. Finally, communities often had to mobilize collectively to ensure that governments enforced protections for their communal land titles; this could involve protracted court cases, visits to government agencies in Lima, and collective marches or demonstrations to demand government protection of communal lands.

The legacies arising from mobilization against conscription increased the likelihood that communities achieved accommodation. Leaders who had assumed more power in the wake of conscription were more likely to convince their members to pursue a communal land title. In some cases, this collective action was mobilized by Indigenous leaders to recover communal lands lost to large estates, especially through land invasions.Footnote 75 Ties to Indigenous and labor organizations, as well as Left parties, then provided Indigenous communities the resources to navigate bureaucratic and administrative procedures required to obtain a title to this land. These organizations “provided strategy and tactics for the seizure of the land, created networks $ \dots $ and developed an effective repertoire of political activism in the countryside” (Paredes Reference Paredes, Meléndez and Vergara2014, 230, translation mine).Footnote 76 Finally, the collective memory of conscription facilitated later mobilization and lobbying to pressure governments to process and approve community applications for a title. Paredes (Reference Paredes, Meléndez and Vergara2014) argues that “the fight for land was part of the collective memory of grievances and the political culture of Indigenous communities” (231, translation mine) and that mobilization for land rights was especially common among “Indigenous peasants that had a very vivid memory of traditional exploitation” (228–9, fn. 21, translation mine).

Returning to the RDD, communities that faced road conscription have been, in fact, more likely to achieve accommodation. Using the omnibus measure, I find strong, significant effects of labor conscription, which are in the hypothesized direction (Figure 5). Communities that were eligible for labor conscription achieve higher scores ( $ \approx $ 0.3 items, or $ \approx $ 0.4 sds) on the omnibus measure of accommodation ( $ p<0.001 $ ). Analyses of the individual components of the index also suggest strong, significant, and positive results. Conscription for Leguía’s road increases the number of Indigenous institutions a community reports preserving by about 0.3 items on the seven-point scale ( $ \approx $ 0.25 sds, $ p<0.01 $ ).Footnote 77 Exposure to road conscription under Leguía generates a 12 percentage point increase in the likelihood communities have a communal land title ( $ \approx $ 0.3 sds, $ p<0.01 $ ) and a 9 percentage point ( $ \approx $ 0.3 sds, $ p<0.01 $ ) increase in the likelihood communities are registered with the government.Footnote 78 Conscription does not increase bilingualism, suggesting that its effects operate primarily on the domains over which Indigenous leaders have more direct control: community recognition, communal land titles, and traditional institutions.Footnote 79

Figure 5. The Effect of Labor Conscription on Accommodation (Omnibus Measure)

Note: Ninety percent and ninety-five percent confidence intervals plotted. The dependent variable is an omnibus measure of accommodation that considers whether a community (1) maintains Indigenous institutions, (2) is bilingual, (3) has recognition, and (4) has a completed communal land title. Values range from 0 to 4. See Figure 4 for specifications. $ N=2,583 $ . Supplementary Tables S7 and S8 contain further information. Source: INEI (2014). $ {}^{*}p<0.1 $ ; $ {}^{**}p<0.05 $ ; $ {}^{***}p<0.01 $ .

In tracing the effects of labor conscription, I specified and evaluated two alternative mechanisms that could account for the observed positive relationship between conscription and accommodation. I first explored whether Indigenous leaders collaborated with the government to mobilize workers for conscription and then leveraged these ties to achieve later accommodation. I found no evidence of this. In fact, Leguía abolished the position of the community leader in 1921 in an effort to delegitimize certain traditional authorities (Davies Reference Davies1974, 72). I also investigated whether the Tahuantinsuyo Committee, which Leguía supported early in his administration, was used to establish a paternalistic relationship between the Peruvian government and Indigenous communities. If this were true, cooptation, rather than collective mobilization, might account for why conscripted communities achieved accommodation. Contrary to this proposition, the Committee appears to have functioned autonomously; it openly opposed the government after 1924 and was ultimately banned and repressed by Leguía (Arroyo Reference Arroyo2004).

I analyzed three further explanations that might account for the positive relationship between labor conscription and accommodation. First, governments could have offered Indigenous communities accommodation in exchange for their participation in road conscription—or to atone for past wrongs, absent community pressure. If this were the case, affected communities should have been the first to receive recognition. However, the data instead suggest that road conscription led to much later community recognition.Footnote 80 Second, communities eligible to work on the road may have also been more likely to have been exposed to the road network itself and thus have experienced greater market integration; connections to external actors—and increased wealth—could have facilitated accommodation. However, there is no evidence of this effect.Footnote 81 In fact, a key criticism of the conscription law during debates over its adoption was that Indigenous groups would be responsible for building the road but—because of their isolation—would generally not benefit from it (de la Cadena Reference de la Cadena2000, 96). Finally, communities located in a Qhapaq Ñan province may have been located closer to the Inca Road and thus had stronger Indigenous institutions and identities prior to conscription.Footnote 82 I find that the communities for which an effect is identified—that is, those close to a treat-control provincial border—are, on average, quite distant from the Qhapaq Ñan. The average straight-line distance between a treat-control provincial border—using the point on the border closest to the Qhapaq Ñan—and the Qhapaq Ñan is 28 km, a significant distance in the mountainous terrain of the Andes.Footnote 83

Where conscription did not occur, Indigenous institutions were less likely to survive. By way of example, Carhuanca, a municipality in the department of Ayacucho, did not experience labor conscription.Footnote 84 Carhuanca’s traditional leaders have experienced a reduction in their authority and community members’ memories of these officials are largely negative (Heilman Reference Heilman2010a, 103). Carhuaquinos are now more likely to make demands “in class rather than ethnic terms,” suggesting—consistent with my theory—a low likelihood of accommodation and a greater probability of assimilation (Heilman Reference Heilman2010a, 70).


Moving beyond Peru, Indigenous communities in other cases in Andean South America likewise met labor conscription with collective resistance. In the Bolivian province of Cinti, for example, the president was forced to deploy national police to “enforce the conscription levies” and quell the “strident resistance by Indians to $ \dots $ [forced] road construction” (Kohl Reference Kohl2020, 16). In the wake of particularly severe labor exactions in Chayanta, Bolivia, for example, an Indigenous leader “took the title of heir of the Incas, stirring up the Indians with promises to $ \dots $ reestablish the rules of his race in all branches of public administration” (Platt Reference Platt and Stern1987, 309). Similarly, in late nineteenth-century Ecuador, “Indigenous communities rebelled against $ \dots $ intolerable state demands” the most common of which was labor conscription (O’Connor Reference O’Connor2007, 79).Footnote 85 The largest such uprising occurred in Chimborazo, where “thousands of Indian men and their wives rose up against white-mestizo society,” killing local officials and burning down villages (O’Connor Reference O’Connor2007, 79). Indigenous rebellion in these cases generally did not achieve its intended goal of stopping conscription. Those convicted of participating in the Chimborazo rebellion, for example, were sentenced to labor on public roads, which “promoted [President] García Moreno’s agenda for building up national infrastructure while punishing [rebels] with one of the burdens against which they had rebelled” (O’Connor Reference O’Connor2007, 81).

Organizing these acts of collective resistance, however, empowered Indigenous elites in new ways that endured beyond the period of conscription. As in Peru, the process of organizing collective resistance led Bolivian Indigenous leaders to reestablish a precolonial institution—the cacique (chief), an enduring, community-level political office with substantial authority (Gotkowitz Reference Gotkowitz2008, 87; Irurozqui Reference Irurozqui2000, 105). These Indigenous leaders also used conscription to establish linkages with nascent Indigenous organizations like the Oldest Autonomous Mayors (AMP), a group that argued that “Indians could no longer be subjected to ‘forced’ labor” (Ari Reference Ari2014, 102). As in Peru, these Indigenous organizations enabled communities to make demands for “specific ethnic programs” (Platt Reference Platt and Stern1987, 304). Irurozqui (Reference Irurozqui2000) analyzes the lasting “impact the rebellions [of the early twentieth century] had on Indian national and political consciousness,” creating an Indigenous identity that facilitated long-term mobilization for ethnic rights (87). Areas of Bolivia that were deemed exempt from labor conscription, such as the Cochabamba region, have been less likely to demand accommodation than those in the neighboring departments of La Paz and Potosí, which experienced much higher levels of labor conscription.Footnote 86

Similar effects of labor conscription can be observed outside the Andean region. Smith (Reference Smith, Nugent and Fallaw2020) demonstrates that in several Mexican states,Footnote 87 “Opposition to the use of communal labor for road building was extremely widespread” (289). In some cases, Indigenous leaders used this resistance to achieve government recognition of deliberative assemblies that mirrored Indigenous institutions (Smith Reference Smith, Nugent and Fallaw2020, 291–2).

In addition to conscripting Indigenous labor to build infrastructure, Latin American states also compelled Indigenous men to serve in the military with notably similar effects. In Peru, members of native communities constituted the vast majority of servicemen at the turn of the twentieth century (Forment Reference Forment2013, 174–5). With soldiers often failing to understand why they were fighting and returning home with severe injuries, traditional Indigenous leaders mobilized their communities to resist military conscription (Hunefeldt Reference Hunefeldt2018, 377–84). Even though this mobilization was violently repressed, it generated enduring collective action (Thurner Reference Thurner1997, 92). Communities that resisted military conscription became future “centers of rebel activity” (Mallon Reference Mallon1995, 238). In Bolivia, Indigenous soldiers used their status as veterans to make demands on the state, “claim[ing] credibility and authority based on their personal participation in the war and the collective contribution of the many Indigenous men who had fought on the front lines” (Shesko Reference Shesko2020, 128). These leaders received attention from national politicians and the press. Shesko (Reference Shesko2020) observes, “Unlike in the prewar period, the mainstream press in 1945 was willing to present Chipana Ramos [an Indigenous veteran] as speaking with authority and making claims for Indians’ place in the nation as ‘sons of the same soil’” (126). Like road conscription, military service—albeit through perhaps distinct mechanisms—appears to have reinforced Indigenous leaders’ ability to demand rights for their communities.


In 1926, José Mariátegui, a noted Peruvian intellectual, wrote, “[T]he resistance to road conscription leaves no room for doubt about public sentiment regarding this service” (Mariátegui Reference Mariátegui1926, translation mine). Using as-if random variation in exposure to the road conscription program, this paper has demonstrated that—consistent with Mariátegui’s claim—conscription triggered collective resistance by Indigenous communities. Expanding beyond the 1920s, this paper has also shown that these investments in collective mobilization endured in ways that later enabled communities to achieve accommodation of their long-standing institutions.

Labor conscription is, however, just one form of extraction. In the Supplementary Material, I develop a typology of extractive activity in colonial and postindependence Latin America.Footnote 88 I consider Indigenous head taxes, debt peonage, and the notorious mining mita.

Labor conscription differs from these other forms of extraction in two key ways, which make it particularly likely to generate the effects observed in this paper. First, it provided a substantial disruption to Indigenous communities, but did not destroy them. In other words, it constituted a clear harm to communities’ social and economic well-being, increasing the likelihood of collective resistance.Footnote 89 Second, labor conscription did not coopt Indigenous elites and thus differed from the Indian tribute (Platt Reference Platt1982, 43), the notorious mining mita (Dell Reference Dell2010, 1877), and many instances of rural elite extraction (e.g., debt peonage, the encomienda system). By failing to incorporate community leaders, the central state ultimately encouraged a sustained resistance by these leaders, who used their renewed collective action capacity to lobby for protections for the traditional institutions over which they presided.

Achieving this accommodation has had important implications for communities in contemporary Peru.Footnote 90 In 2016, I visited the province of Abancay and spoke with a former president of a local community. The man complained about a mining company, which had operated near the community “for about 30 years” and had encroached on the community’s water supply. He told me, “Our leaders in the past failed us. They did not oppose the company $ \dots $ What can we do now? Join the mining company [as employees] or leave the community or both.” When I asked the man to clarify which leaders had failed his community, he replied, “El gobierno [the government].”Footnote 91 This former president highlights how accommodation—meaningfully enforced land titles and other government protection (e.g., prior consultation)—can improve community welfare by reducing resource-related conflicts.Footnote 92

To be sure, accommodation has not offset the cost Indigenous communities incurred from conscription, which included a decline in material wealth, loss of human life, and enduring trauma. The findings, however, highlight how groups can respond to government exploitation and abuse by investing in their collective action capacity—what Finkel (Reference Finkel2015) labels the “phoenix effect of state repression.”

From the vantage point of the state, the phoenix effect of labor conscription provides a cautionary tale. In their efforts to bypass and weaken Indigenous authorities, central state incumbents unintentionally sowed the seeds of future ethnic mobilization. Far from solidifying the state’s monopoly of control over peripheral areas, labor conscription encouraged communities to reinvest in Indigenous authority and strengthen their long-standing—and resilient—political, economic, and social institutions.


To view supplementary material for this article, please visit


Research documentation and/or data that support the findings of this study are openly available in the American Political Science Review Dataverse at Limitations on data availability are discussed in the Dataverse Appendix.


I am grateful to my advisors—Thad Dunning, Ruth Berins Collier, Andrew Little, Alison Post, and Ken Scheve—for thoughtful feedback and guidance throughout the project as well as the editors and four anonymous reviewers, whose comments substantially improved this manuscript. For very helpful comments on earlier versions, I thank Alexandra Blackman, Jeremy Bowles, Anna Callis, Danny Choi, Anirvan Chowdhury, David Collier, Aditya Dasgupta, Laura Evans, Tulia Falleti, Francisco Garfias, Alisha Holland, Hans Lueders, Steve Levitsky, Emily Sellars, Pavithra Suryanarayan, Guadalupe Tuñón, and Michael Weaver, as well as participants in the 2019 Berkeley-Stanford Political Economy Working Group, 2019 Red de Economía Política de América Latina conference, 2021 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, 2022 Governance and Local Development Conference, Pittsburgh Working Group on Historical Political Economy, Harvard Comparative Politics Workshop, the University of Pennsylvania Comparative Workshop, Universidad Católica del Uruguay Comparative Politics Workshop, and the 2021 Historical Political Economy Working Group. UC Berkeley IRB reviewed this research and granted exemption from further review.


The author declares no ethical issues or conflicts of interest in this research.


The author declares that the human subjects research in this article was reviewed and approved by UC Berkeley, and certificate numbers are provided in the Supplementary Material. The author affirms that this article adheres to the APSA’s Principles and Guidance on Human Subject Research.


2 This approach thus differs from empirical strategies that exploit distance to the Inca Road itself (Franco, Galiani, and Lavado Reference Franco, Galiani and Lavado2021).

3 Trejo (Reference Trejo2012) is a partial exception, examining local-level variation in Indigenous mobilization.

4 Yashar (Reference Yashar2005) also analyzes variation across larger subnational regions.

5 In Bolivia and Ecuador, for example, fewer than 10% of eligible Indigenous communities have adopted autonomy.

6 See also Mazzuca (Reference Mazzuca2021).

7 This builds upon existing frameworks of state–society relations (e.g., Collier and Collier Reference Collier and Collier1979).

8 Low support outcomes—the full typology can be found in Supplementary Table S1—constitute a more informal approach to Indigenous–state relations.

9 These preferences, however, may vary based on an incumbent’s ethnic identity or ideology.

10 Integration policies have also been adopted to increase Indigenous people’s political participation through electoral reservations, quotas, and voting rights.

11 Bolivia’s autonomous municipalities lack rights to the natural resources on their land and likely occupy a space between bounded and decentralized autonomy.

12 However, the precise choice set matters. Indigenous communities may prefer integration to bounded autonomy, for example; both impose equal state control, but the former offers more support.

13 See Supplementary Table S3.

14 Outcomes were self-reported by community leaders, yielding one response per community.

15 Non-bilingual communities include those that are monolingual in Spanish—indicating assimilation—or an Indigenous language, which may indicate de facto autonomy (Supplementary Table S1). As such, this measure captures less cleanly a dichotomous distinction between assimilation and accommodation. One option would be to exclude monolingual Indigenous-language communities, but this would remove a relevant counterfactual outcome for bilingualism, likely introducing bias into the effects I later estimate for accommodation.

16 See Section S2.2 of the Supplementary Material. In my fieldwork and a survey of Indigenous community leaders, informants assigned the highest importance to these institutions.

17 I first divide each community’s Indigenous institutions index value by 7, which bounds the index between 0 and 1 and does not overweight this item relative to the other components. I then sum each community’s value on the transformed institutions index with its values for the three dummy indicators to create a composite score.

18 See Section S2 of the Supplementary Material for more information on coding.

19 Accommodation outcomes are defined as those above the average index value (2.86), whereas assimilation outcomes are below the average.

20 These trends become more evident when monolingual Indigenous-language-speaking communities are excluded (Footnote 15 and Dataverse Appendix Figure D25).

21 During this time, Indigenous men were also conscripted to serve in the military and deliver mail.

22 The Inca Road was not a single road but a collection of roads.

23 See, for example, Urgente (2019) on Bolivia. As men were often absent from communities, conscription also deeply affected women and reshaped their roles within their communities (O’Connor Reference O’Connor2007, 77–82).

24 The tribute was a head tax paid only by Indigenous groups during the colonial and postindependence periods.

25 Provinces are Peru’s second-level administrative tier.

26 Importantly, landowners in Peru often opposed road conscription, which threatened their access to cheap Indigenous labor (Heilman Reference Heilman2010b, 517).

27 Without these certificates, Indigenous citizens could be forced to serve again (Calisto Reference Calisto1993, 174–5).

28 Section S2.2 of the Supplementary Material contains more data on conscription.

29 To encourage participation in collective action, leaders can threaten members’ access to communal land, imprison non-compliers, and beat nonparticipants. One community leader showed me the wooden stick traditionally used to flog those who did not participate (Author interview, Jauja, May 2017).

30 See, for example, Platt (Reference Platt1982, 43).

31 As conscription was a protracted experience, communities could rebel either upon learning of their eligibility for conscription or upon being conscripted.

32 The experience of labor conscription could further facilitate collective mobilization by generating a shared ethnic consciousness and grievance that was shared among exploited Indigenous populations (Mayer Reference Mayer1995, 58).

33 The 1969 survey referenced above highlights the importance of these linkages in facilitating collective mobilization.

34 See, for example, Zubrzycki and Woźny (Reference Zubrzycki and Woźny2020, 178–9).

35 See, for example, Baldwin (Reference Baldwin2013) and Falleti and Riofrancos (Reference Falleti and Riofrancos2018).

36 The memory of resistance to conscription can also provide a road map for future mobilization.

37 Unions and political parties could also fulfill this function, as I discuss in the empirics.

38 Assimilation provides an even more stable outcome: Indigenous cultural practices and institutions are not easily regained once lost.

39 Mexican Indigenous leaders often said this was how they compelled participation in unpaid labor (Author interviews, Oaxaca, February 2017).

40 Data for replication can be found at Carter (Reference Carter2023).

41 The RDD approach yields local average treatment effects and does not provide identification of causal effects for communities far away from the cut point (i.e., a treat-control border). Nevertheless, plausibly exogenous assignment to treatment among a narrower subgroup of cases is generally preferable to possibly confounded comparisons among the full universe of cases. An analysis of provincial-level outcomes (average community scores) using a standard OLS—where comparisons are likely confounded—does not yield significant effects.

42 Supplementary Table S5 demonstrates a strong relationship between Leguía’s road and the location of the Qhapaq Ñan, suggesting the two roads followed one another.

43 In the Supplementary Material, I estimate Complier Average Causal Effects, where Leguía’s road is the endogenous regressor (Supplementary Tables S9 and S12).

44 See Footnote 53. Supplementary Figure S12 replicates the findings in Figure 1 using only the study group.

45 The Dataverse Appendix and the Supplementary Material contain additional information on coding and estimation.

46 It is true that for the full sample, proximity to the road increased the likelihood of conscription. However, among the set of communities for which an effect is identified—that is, those closer to a treat-control border—proximity is not necessarily predictive of conscription.

47 See Supplementary Figure S13. I return to this point later.

48 One concern is that communities that experienced conscription may have been more or less likely to survive than those that did not. Therefore, units in the treated group for which 2012 outcome data are available may not be comparable on pretreatment covariates with control units for which 2012 data are available. Dataverse Appendix Figures D13 and D14 do not suggest such differential attrition.

49 The data fully cover the departments of Apurímac, Cusco, Puno, Ayacucho, and Huancavelíca. Other departments are—at least—partially covered. The Dataverse Appendix discusses how I address potential missing data issues.

50 This is the only outcome coded at the municipal level as community-level data were not available.

51 This assumption is further difficult to verify because much of the data we might use to test it are unavailable or incomplete in the historical record.

52 The results are robust to the inclusion of border-pair fixed effects (Dataverse Appendix Figures D21 and D22).

53 One potential concern is that the Qhapaq Ñan primarily traversed highland provinces where Indigenous identity may be stronger. For this reason, I limit my study group to highland provinces (Figure 3). Furthermore, Supplementary Table S6 suggests no significant difference in altitude between treated and control provinces.

54 Gonzáles (Reference Gonzáles2011) argues that the precolonial Inca empire generally lacked fixed territorial borders (97–8).

55 When communities were located near more than one treat-control border, I used the distance from the closest border.

56 See Supplementary Figure S3. There are no extant pretreatment measures of the outcome; however, I show balance on a proxy measure of bilingualism: percentage of individuals in 1902 with primary education.

57 See Supplementary Figure S4.

58 Furthermore, if such spillovers did occur in a widespread way, we should observe no significant effect of conscription on mobilization.

59 Supplementary Figure S8 refutes the out-migration theory; communities that experienced conscription were larger in 2012 than those that did not.

60 Provincial governments could have altered their behavior—due to conscription—in ways that shaped Indigenous collective action. While I do not find evidence supporting this, it cannot be completely dismissed.

61 Indigenous elites also organized nonviolent forms of collective action to resist conscription, including petitions and protests (Calisto Reference Calisto1993, 111; Heilman Reference Heilman2010b).

62 This far exceeded the 137 documented movements during the first two decades of the twentieth century (Marín and Castilla Reference Marín and Castilla1973, 38–9).

63 Data on these movements are generally limited; most entries contain only the names of the communities that mobilized, the target of mobilization (e.g., a landowner and municipal prefect), and a general statement of the complaint (e.g., abuses and land seizures).

64 None of the movements I analyzed involved cross-provincial mobilization against conscription. This is likely because provincial governments were the primary target of Indigenous demands and an important intermediary with the national government.

65 Movements occurred in 16% of sample municipalities.

66 Outside of conscription, no other factors should systematically explain why conscription-eligible communities are more likely to mobilize against the state—given the natural experiment.

67 The actual number of mobilizations targeting the conscription program was likely much larger; often, however, demands were framed broadly, targeting “abuses by local authorities.”

68 The movements themselves also played an important role in raising awareness among national-level officials and intellectuals around the importance of Indigenous rights. Flores Galindo (Reference Flores Galindo1993) posits, “Without these [1920s] rebellions $ \dots $ would [the Indian] consciousness [among writers, artists, and men of science and politics] have been possible?” (340).

69 See, for example, Heilman (Reference Heilman2010b) and Kapsoli (Reference Kapsoli1982).

70 In Huanta, the local branch of Tahuantinsuyo was accused of “stirring up the area’s Indians” to resist conscription (Heilman Reference Heilman2010a, 65).

71 See Supplementary Figure S5.

72 Crucially, top-down mobilization also occurred and does not challenge my theory. The CPIT prioritized elimination of road conscription (Kapsoli Reference Kapsoli1984, 229). Areas affected by road conscription were both targeted by CPIT and receptive to CPIT’s message (Hirsch Reference Hirsch, Hirsch and der Walt2010, 265).

73 Author interview with community leader, Andahuaylas, November 2016.

74 Medrano (Reference Medrano2011) shows that the creation of a community museum in Mexico generated “a stronger sense of group identity” (289).

75 Land invasions generally occurred in the areas of Peru most affected by labor conscription (Supplementary Table S13).

76 Class-based mobilization did not preclude ethnic mobilization (de la Cadena Reference de la Cadena2000, 20).

77 In Dataverse Appendix Section D3, I note that this measure might overestimate the prevalence of Indigenous institutions, as it relies on self-reported data from community leaders.

78 See Supplementary Figure S7 and Supplementary Tables S10 and S11.

79 See Supplementary Figure S6 and Supplementary Tables S10 and S11.

80 See Supplementary Figure S9.

81 Supplementary Figure S10 suggests that treated communities have been less likely to integrate into markets.

82 These communities may have also been economically stronger, giving them more power to make demands (Franco, Galiani, and Lavado Reference Franco, Galiani and Lavado2021).

83 I make two conservative choices in this analysis: the straight-line measure and using the closest point on a provincial border to the Qhapaq Ñan. This understates the true travel distance between borders and the road. Furthermore, the 28-km distance is outside the 20-km bandwidth used by Franco, Galiani, and Lavado (Reference Franco, Galiani and Lavado2021) in their RDD analyzing long-term effects of the Qhapaq Ñan. Supplementary Figure S13 further suggests that most treat-control borders are not especially close to the Qhapaq Ñan.

84 There were no documented roads built under Leguía in the municipality.

85 Baud (Reference Baud, Becker and Kim Clark2007) links Ecuadorian conscription to the emergence of a “new Indigenous consciousness” (86).

86 See, for example, Postero (Reference Postero2007, 39–40). For the exemption of Cochabamba from Road Conscription, see the Ley de 23 de Octubre de 1915.

87 These included Oaxaca, Morelos, Veracruz, Puebla, Estado de Mexico, and Tabasco.

88 See Section S3 of the Supplementary Material. Outside of Latin America, residential boarding schools for Native American children in the United States were highly disruptive and bypassed tribal authorities; as observed with conscription, this extraction of human capital triggered native leaders to mobilize their communities, often for ethnic rights (McMillen Reference McMillen2008, 21; Woolford Reference Woolford2015, 267).

89 Head taxes were generally less disruptive. When rates became too high, however, Indigenous leaders rebelled. The Atusparia Rebellion in Huaraz, Peru was triggered by a despised poll tax; this act of resistance, organized by community leaders, was accompanied by increased demands for Indigenous rights (Thurner Reference Thurner1997, 108).

90 Ethical considerations are described in the Supplementary Material and the Dataverse Appendix.

91 Author interview, Abancay, November 2016.

92 Communities that experienced conscription have been about 15 percentage points less likely to experience conflict with outsiders (Dataverse Appendix Figure D16).



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Figure 0

Table 1. Theorized Outcomes of Contemporary Indigenous–State Relations: Accommodation and Assimilation

Figure 1

Figure 1. Indigenous–State Relations in Peru using Omnibus MeasureNote: Community ($ n=4,993 $) scores on an omnibus measure of accommodation, aggregated to the municipal level ($ n=1,078 $). Municipalities are coded based on whether communities in that municipality are—on average—below/above average omnibus score for all communities (2.86). The omnibus measure of accommodation considers whether a community (1) maintains Indigenous institutions, (2) is bilingual, (3) has recognition, and (4) has a completed communal land title. See Supplementary Figures S1 and S2 and Dataverse Appendix Figures D17 and D18 for maps of individual components. Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática (2014).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Summary of Argument

Figure 3

Figure 3. Qhapaq Ñan Provinces Study Group (1940 Borders)Note: The map depicts the central sierra route of the Qhapaq Ñan along with adjacent “control” provinces in the mountainous sierra. White provinces are not included in the study group.

Figure 4

Table 2. Summary Statistics: Accommodation Measures (Study Group Only)

Figure 5

Figure 4. The Effect of Labor Conscription on Community Mobilization against State (1920–30)Note: Point estimates taken from a local-linear regression-discontinuity analysis. Ninety percent and ninety-five percent confidence intervals plotted. The dependent variable is whether a municipality experienced Indigenous mobilization against local officials between 1920 and 1930. Running variable is the municipality’s distance from a border dividing a treated (i.e., Qhapaq Ñan) province from a control one. SEs clustered at the province level. P-values adjusted for multiple comparisons using a Benjamini–Hochberg procedure (two outcome variables). Bias-corrected estimates include robust confidence intervals. $ N=607 $. Supplementary Tables S7 and S8 contain further information. Source: Kammann (1982), Kapsoli (1982), Kapsoli and Reátegui (1987), and Boletínes de Asuntos Indígenas (1922–1930). $ {}^{*}p<0.1 $; $ {}^{**}p<0.05 $; $ {}^{***}p<0.01 $.

Figure 6

Figure 5. The Effect of Labor Conscription on Accommodation (Omnibus Measure)Note: Ninety percent and ninety-five percent confidence intervals plotted. The dependent variable is an omnibus measure of accommodation that considers whether a community (1) maintains Indigenous institutions, (2) is bilingual, (3) has recognition, and (4) has a completed communal land title. Values range from 0 to 4. See Figure 4 for specifications. $ N=2,583 $. Supplementary Tables S7 and S8 contain further information. Source: INEI (2014). $ {}^{*}p<0.1 $; $ {}^{**}p<0.05 $; $ {}^{***}p<0.01 $.

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