7. Colombia: A weak central government
Colombia isn't Somalia. All the same, its central government is unable or unwilling to exert control over probably half the country, which is dominated by left-wing guerrillas, most famously the FARC, and, increasingly, right-wing paramilitaries. The drug lords may be on the run, but the state's absence from much of the country leads not only to lack of public services such as roads and health care, but also to lack of well-defined, institutionalized property rights.
Thousands of rural Colombians have only informal titles or titles lacking any legal validity. Although this does not stop people from buying and selling land, it undermines their incentives to invest -- and the uncertainty often leads to violence. During the 1990s and early 2000s, for example, an estimated 5 million hectares of land were expropriated in Colombia, typically at gunpoint. The situation got so bad that in 1997, the central government allowed local authorities to ban land transactions in rural areas. The result? Many parts of Colombia essentially fail to take part in modern economic activities, instead languishing in poverty, not to mention proving to be fertile havens for armed insurgents and paramilitary forces of both the left and right.
Calca and nearby Acomayo are two Peruvian provinces. Both are high in the mountains, and both are inhabited by the Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas. Both grow the same crops, yet Acomayo is much poorer, with its inhabitants consuming about one-third less than those in Calca. The people know this. In Acomayo, they ask intrepid foreigners, "Don't you know that the people here are poorer than the people over there in Calca? Why would you ever want to come here?"
Indeed, it is much harder to get to Acomayo from the regional capital of Cusco, the ancient center of the Inca Empire, than it is to get to Calca. The road to Calca is paved, while the one to Acomayo is in terrible disrepair. To get beyond Acomayo you need a horse or a mule -- not due to any differences in topography, but because there are no paved roads. In Calca, they sell their corn and beans on the market for money, while in Acomayo they grow the same crops for their own subsistence. Acomayo's people are one-third poorer than Calca's as a result. Infrastructure matters.