Francisco Villamil

Assistant Professor
Department of Social Sciences
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid


Data & Code

Mobilizing memories: The long-term consequences of violence against civilians


This dissertation examines the long-term consequences of wartime violence against civilians on political preferences. Previous research suggests that violence either produces a counter-mobilization against the perpetrator or demobilizes the targeted population. However, it is unclear under which conditions each of these two effects prevails. In this dissertation I bridge these two arguments and argue that the social context surrounding the victims determines the consequences of violence. In particular, the effect of violence depends on the ideological context, defined as the presence of ideologically-aligned social networks at the local level.

The first empirical part tests this argument in the case of Spain, building a novel dataset using archival data, historical secondary sources, and already existing datasets. I analyze the effect of Francoist violence against civilians during the civil war on electoral support for the Left after democracy was restored four decades later. I show that wartime victimization is linked to an increase in leftist vote share, but mainly in those municipalities where clandestine, left-leaning political networks were active after the conflict. In areas where these networks were not present, violence did not have any meaningful consequences.

The second empirical part tests the theoretical argument in a very different case, Guatemala. I again build a local-level dataset using several data sources and analyze the effects of state-led violence against civilians during the civil war on postwar voting patterns, particularly for the leftist party linked to the former rebels that fought against the right-wing government. I find that state-led violence increases electoral support for the former rebels in those municipalities which had been exposed to leftist political mobilization before the war. In municipalities without such exposure, state-led violence against civilians does not have any significant effect.

These analyses offer robust evidence supporting the theoretical argument from two very different contexts, which nonetheless constitute single cases. The third part adopts a broader perspective and tests the external validity of the argument, focusing on a global sample of ethnic groups and analyzing the impact of ethnically based violence against civilians. On the one hand, I find that previous theories on the consequences of violence are not able to explain the effect of violence on conflict recurrence. On the other hand, using survey data from several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, I show that my argument might be a good explanation for the consequences of violence on political attitudes.