“The Latin American political scene is anything but boring”. (Kryzanek 1995)
This is an important question to answer because; patronage politics is one of the central political systems in the World. Patronage occurs in all political systems, but it has been especially strong in Latin America. First I am going to define patronage politics; then I am going to cover patronage in Argentina, focusing on Peronism and Menemism. Finally, I will provide a couple more examples of patronage in Latin America. These examples will be given to show that there are many forms of patronage at different levels in society.
Patronage is an exchange of favours; the patron gains political support and therefore political legitimacy, whilst the client gains something for his or her efforts; varying according to what the patron has to offer. “[T]he aim for both parties is to gain access to resources: the patron will gain the allegiance and the vote of the client; the latter will receive fungible resources -money, employment, protection – in return”1.
The World Bank, when defining Patronage, takes the formal view; patronage is “the power of appointing people to governmental or political positions” (Webster’s II New College Dictionary 1995). In other words, patronage is when someone gets elected and gives jobs to people who have helped him/her achieve his/her aim. It’s a way of rewarding them for their support. The World Bank believes patronage “[s]uggests the transgression of real or perceived boundaries of legitimate political influence, the violation of principles of merit and competition in civil service recruitment and promotion.”2 This is a rather limited view of patronage politics because, it blinds people to the fact that patronage happens on all levels of society and on a community as well as a one-to-one basis. Andras Sajo, takes the definition further by stating that “[I]n Roman law, clients were liberated slaves or immigrants who sought the protection of a patrician paterfamilias. They were dependent on the head of the family, as were all the other members of the household and, in exchange for protection, they were expected to render services.”3 According to Sajo, patronage “[i]s now seen as a network of social relations where personal loyalty to the patron prevails against the modern alternatives of market relations, democratic decision making, and professionalism in public bureaucracies”4. Sian Lazer, explains that there is a sense that when people engage in campaign activities on behalf of political parties “[t]hey are themselves standing for election, not for Mayor or councillor, but for office assistant, nurse or school porter”5.
Jeff Haynes in his book, Third World Politics, argues that it is because of a common failure to build nation-states that Third World politicians have to find other ways of expanding their constituencies to stay in power. Whilst Christopher Clapham poses the question: If a regime is to seek support, how can it do it? Haynes answers this question by stating that “[o]ne of the most common is to develop patron-client relations”6. So we have the definition of patronage. In the simplest terms it’s an exchange of political support and fungible resources.
One classic example of a regime dominated by patronage politics was Perï¿½n’s Argentina (1945-54). Under Perï¿½n, Argentina was transformed. The working class was brought into the political arena for the first time, and they felt they were listened to. The working class started to believe they were important and the country for a while prospered. In the words of Germani (1978):
“[T]hanks to Perï¿½n he popular masses acquired a consciousness of their own significance. They became a category of great significance in national life, a force capable of exerting power ….. Perï¿½n gave them the sensation of power, of meaning and of active participation in the country’s political changes”7
Why was this? The simple answer to this question is that Perï¿½n was extremely popular because he gave the majority of people something they had never had before, respect.
Perï¿½n ‘s regime crystallized around three rallying cries: social justice, economic freedom and political independence8. Perï¿½n’s idea of social justice was to “[i]mprove the conditions of the urban working class and to give them rights through those he (Perï¿½n) incorporated into the constitution”9. Economic freedom was the concept of all citizens being allowed to have a better life and, Political Independence was embodied in Argentina’s foreign policy, the third way, between the two sides of the cold war10.
Perï¿½n was a very clever politician, to his military experience shaped his idea of leadership. Although a ‘god like’ figure to the Argentinean working class he managed to live a dichotomous life and be accepted by the people. Perï¿½n “[a]ddressed his audiences with his sleeves rolled up to show his solidarity with the descamisados (shirtless ones); he delivered verbal attacks on the landowning oligarchy and on collaborators with US imperialism, and proclaimed himself a servant of the people”11 Peron believed his role was to influence and organise the working class so they would become one body supporting him.
When Secretariat of Labour and Social Security he realised that if he could gain the support of the working class he would gain more political support and power12. Perï¿½n “[b]acked friendly unions in their disputes with employers and rewarded their members with high wages, paid holidays and other tangible benefits”13 such as cheap housing. Perï¿½n’s mass support from the normal everyday people was brilliantly summed up by the repose of the people of Argentina when he got arrested. There were wide spread protests, which “[c]ulminated in a mass rally on 17 October in the Plaza de Mayo where 300,000 ensured Peron’s mythic status by clamouring for his appearance”.14
However Perï¿½n was more a man of policy than one to one patronage, and realizing the importance of his second wife Maria Eva Duarte (Evita) in administrating most of the ‘hands on’ style patronage. Evita “[h]eld open court for those in trouble, handing out cash, redressing grievances, and earning the undying devotion of those she helped” 15.
“[W]ith Evita dispensing money to the poor through her control of chartable funds gained from pressure applied to industrialists, and with Peron dispensing a massive programme of policies of redistribution and welfare, the couple shored up their position of not national power but also real popular support and as cultural icons”.16 There should be no underestimating the effect Evita had (and still has) on the working class and the descamisados of Argentina.
She was a rag’s to riches star, who “[a]quired a monopoly of charitable funds”17, which enabled her to play the part of lady protector of the poor. So she knew what it is like to be poor, she was once one of them and, she knew what to do to gain their utmost respect and love, so she did it. Evita’s actions and her speeches gave’ Perï¿½n’s regime legitimacy. “[I] love the descamisados, the women, the workers of my people too much, and, by extension, I love all the World’s exploited people, condemned to death by imperialisms and privileges of land ownership, too much…The suffering of the poor, the humble, the great pain of so much humanity without sun without sky hurts me too much to kept quiet”18.
In a lot of respects, Evita, was a government tool, the client to Peron’s patronage, whereas the people were Evita’s clients. Margaret Canovan describes Evita as playing a vital role for the government in maintaining contact between the leadership and the ordinary people. Evita made the common people love her and therefore love her husband. The working class knew that if they supported and voted for Perï¿½n they would get something in return. However the biggest prize Perï¿½n and Evita gave to the normal everyday Argentine was respect and political participation, which is something they had never had before.
Perï¿½n organised Argentina through two systems, Unidad Basica’s and Trade Union Movements19. The first was through the Unidad Basica systems, which were like politicised community centres. Unidad Basica’s were on every street corner and gave personal benefits out to the community in exchange for political support and votes. Margaret Canovan explains, the local football team would go there to get their strips, and local people organising parties would go there to get their alcohol! Job opportunities and medicines were also made available. However, because there were so many Unidad Basica’s and only a limited amount of government resources to give out, the Unidad Basica’s would compete with each other.
The second system was through the trade union movement, an instrument for Perï¿½n to announce the secular benefits the Argentines would receive for supporting his government, like controlled wages and food prices. However Perï¿½n’s regime was underpinned by repression. To shore up his political support Perï¿½n began to change the constitution in 1948. “[H]e essentially curtailed freedom of speech by preventing his opponents from gaining access to radio or newspapers and by invoking the law of disrespect which made it illegal to offend public officials’ dignity in the exercise of their powers”.20 Perï¿½n managed to get away with this because he was so popular, as Canovan explains Perï¿½n “[o]wed his personal dictatorship to massive popular support” 21. However Evita’s death in 1952 weakened’ Perï¿½n’s rule and he was exiled in 1954.
Another Populist Peronist politician was Menem, who came to power in 1989. Menem’s political campaign was built on the memory of Perï¿½n; Menem was promising similar things; a return to the ‘Golden Age’. However once in power he did the opposite. Working with the IMF he adopted Structural Adjustment Programmes and waved the flag of neo-liberalism. Under Menem the State shrunk, unemployment rose and he cut the public budget and lost the support of the Trade Union Movement. However he still had strong links with the Unidad Basica’s and the very poor.
Due to Menem’s neo-liberal policies there were fewer opportunities for Argentineans, so Menem had to rely on patronage politics to keep his support. However it is very hard to keep political support with the poor when policies that decrease opportunities are adopted. Menem changed the Constitution so he could stand for re-election in 1995 and due to patronage was successful. After re-election his popularity decreased rapidly as corruption increased inside his regime. He was accused of murder, and selling illegal arms and drugs22. Does that sound like a politician ‘of and for the people’? The big difference between Perï¿½n and Menem was that Perï¿½n had a mass movement in favour and Menem had a mass movement against.
There are other of patronage politics in Latin America other than Argentina. Sian Lazer recently wrote an article on the elections in El Alto in Bolivia. According to Lazer, in Bolivia patronage “[a]ppears as the means by which citizens actually engage with the State, both individually and collectively. Through it, they seek to overcome the depersonalisation of electoral politics by creating a more direct, less delgative local democracy than envisaged by liberal theorists and political architects”23. Lazer states that it is extremely important for political parties to ‘have people’, although later Lazer states that “[s]imply ‘having people’ through clientelistic networks is not enough to guarantee that party will win. They must show they have people, and get ‘their people’, or at least people who look like they are ‘their people’, out on the street”24
“[P]olitical parties usually promise rice, sugar, wool and sometimes toys for children, in return for the work of campaigning”25 However Lazer does explain that the amounts distributed are very small and because of this “[s]ome women if they have time might sign up for several parties in order to gain maximum benefit”26 A whole range of jobs depend upon party allegiance – people have been fired after their party lost the election, and their job given to a client of the new leader.
A different kind of patronage was formed in Nicaragua by the Somoza family from 1934 to 1979. During this time the Somoza’s had total control over politics, the economy and the military. Their extreme style of family based patronage was elitist, the main people to benefit were their friends, associates and of course themselves. The difference between this type of patronage and the patronage of Peron, Menem and the patronage in El Alto is that it does not benefit the poor.
So does patronage politics provide an effective vehicle for political participation? Christopher Clapham believes patronage is “[f]ounded on a premise of inequality between patrons and clients, and the benefits accruing to each of them from the exchange may be very uneven indeed”. 27 Clients in Clapham’s opinion are given a ‘small sweetener’ which gives them some kind of stake in the system. So if the exchange is built on inequality and the patrons get more than the client how can a government be effective in any way if it is run on patron style politics? In some respects patronage is similar to bribing; essentially the person who gives the community more in the way of gifts will get more ‘power’. On the other side of the coin, at least ‘the people’ benefit.
So do we, from the perspective of a Western democratic system have any right to say that patronage politics is not the right way to run a country? The World Bank and IMF may say that the practice of patronage is undemocratic but it could be argued that their policies have more damaging effects on these States. “[I]t can be argued that in some ways clientelism makes politics more representative than delegative electoral democracies envisioned by liberal citizenship theory” 28 According to Lazer patronage “[i]s used by clients to assert a greater representatively of politics, which they do by developing personalised relationships with politicians. Although individuals seek personal relations, this co-exists with the desire to gain collective benefits from patrons, and the whole zone is constituted as a ‘corporate’ client”29
It’s debatable whether patronage politics is an effective vehicle for political participation; however it is not debatable that adopting patronage style politics leads to the greater participation in politics for some or many. It is true patronage does get people involved with the community. In El Alto in Bolivia the locals determine who will be the best leader; the more generous the gift the more serious the candidate. However it can also be said that a candidate that gives generously will probably have more to hide!
Patronage politics does get people involved in politics, but it does create dependency? The clients become dependent on the patrons gifts. A system of patronage politics can be good at solving ‘short-term’ problems but questions are asked when it comes to solving ‘long-term’ problems. Progress is therefore debateable in a regime dominated by patronage. However the fact that in the short-term patronage “[b]rings financial advantage and helps solve everyday survival problems”30 must not be understated or forgotten.
Books and Journals
Canovan, Margaret (1981), Populism, Junction Books Ltd (London),
Clapham, Christopher (1998), Third World Politics: An introduction, Biddles Ltd (Guildford)
Di Tella, Cuido (1983) , Argentina under Peron 1973-76, The Macmillan Press LTD (London and Basingstoke)
Haynes, Jeff (1998) Third World Politics: A concise Introduction, Blackwell Publishers Ltd (Massachusetts)
Lazer, Sian (2004) Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, From the Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol 23, no 2, pp 1-16
Potash, Robert A (1969), The Army and Politics in Argentina 1928-1945, Stanford University Press (Stanford California)
Skidmore, Thomas E and Smith Peter H, (2001), Modern Latin America, Fifth Edition, Oxford University Press (Oxford)
Taggart, Paul (2000), Populism, Open University Press (Philadelphia)
BBC website world wide service http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1376100.stm
Evita Peron website www.evitaperon.org/
EastSouthWestNorth, Global Culture and politics, www.zonaeuropa.com/01360.htm
The World Bank website www.worldbank.org
1 Jeff Haynes , Third World Politics, page 30
3 EastSouthWestNorth, Global Culture and politics, http://www.zonaeuropa.com/01360.htm
5 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 13
6 Jeff Haynes , Third World Politics, page 29
5Cuido Di Tella, Argentina under Peron 1973-76, page 17
6 Paul Taggart, Populism
9 Paul Taggart, Populism, page 64
10 Paul Taggart, Populism
11 Margaret Canovan, Populism, page 145
12 Margaret Canovan, Populism
13 Margaret Canovan, Populism, page 144
14 Paul Taggart, Populism, page 62
15 Margaret Canovan, Populism, page 146
16 Paul Taggart, Populism, page 63
17 Margaret Canovan, Populism, Page 146
19 Paul Taggart, Populism
20 Paul Taggart, Populism, page 63
21 Margaret Canovan, Populism, Page 145
23 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 4
24 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 7
25 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 4
27 Christopher Clapham, Third World Politics: An introduction, page 59
28 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 13
30 Sian Lazer, Personalist politics, clientelism and citizenship: Local elections in El Alto, Bolivia, page 5