Clientelism in Latin America. Case Study of Mexico

Clientel politics is one of the political strategies adopted in Latin America in order to consolidate their grip on state power. Clientelism is basically described as a political system in which goods and services are exchanged for political support. It is a Patron – Client relationship. The political leaders are referred to as patron while the people or electorates are considered clients. In this systems the politicians (patrons) allocate national benefits to only regions or people who support them in elections. This was the type of political strategy that dominated Mexican politics, Latin America, and other regions or part of the world. This could be seen as one of the game plans that aided the long stay of PRI in seat of government in Mexico.


According to Holzer (2004), with all the efforts of society activists and the growing electoral competition among political parties in Mexico, the PRI ruled the country from 1929 to 2000. Most of the political activities and privileges for citizens particularly the lower class or the grassroots’ people were said to be channeled through Corporalist and Clientelist organizations. This helped strengthen the PRI party’s hold on power in Mexico. Supporters of the PRI party received lion share in the distribution of state resources and opportunities. This was also a common practice in Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, Chile, among others. In Chile for instance, the estate owners efficiently controls the votes of their tenants. The government therefore ensured that land reform policies favored those who supported the existing regime.


In other parts of the developing world like Africa, political powers, state resources, and benefits were shared among regions and citizens according to how they pledged their support and loyalty to the ruling government. For instance, when Robert Gabriel Mugabe took over the mantle of power in Zimbabwe, he redistributed land among his people or those who sided with him or his ruling. He took lands from white farmers and gave them to his kinsmen (his supporters). Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Idi Amin of Uganda, Siaka Stevens in Seirra Leone, and many other leaders when took power from their colonial counterparts, they deviated from the initial goals of getting the power and personalized  the government functions. Only their supporters enjoyed state benefits.


However, with the institution of civil society and other democratic institutions such as Anti-Corruption Commission, police, and the likes have tremendously contributed to the demise of clientel politics in Mexico and other parts of Latin America as well as the rest of the world. During the early days of PRI regime in Mexico, there were very few and weak independent organizations. Civil society groups were also incapable to effects many political change. These virtually prolonged the life of PRI rule in Mexico.


The independent of state institutions such as electoral bodies, police, civil society, and others ca, help to minimize or end clientel politics and facilitate the simplicity and smooth running of democratic government. Civil society organization can serve as a watch-dog on the government. They work to ensure that governments or leaders operate or function according to democratic tenets in the state. As put by Holzer (2004), the organizational pluralism in Mexico became broader to the extent that led to the emergence of new political groups representing diverse interest that incorporate all and sundry   regardless of regional and other differences. This coupled with economic crisis paved the path for the decline in legitimacy of the government and also broadened the way for the exit of clentelists in Mexico.


The independent of electoral institutions also played a leading role in the 2000 elections that led to the demise of PRI and enhanced democratic consolidation. Civil society groups and electoral bodies, and other countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Algeria, and Guatemala including others provide for peaceful exit of clientel politics.


Holzner (2004) also maintained that informal sharing across the country will help to reduce the vulnerability of the poor or those that occupy lower class to the sanction of local political leaders. The information discrimination could be attained through the freedom of press and state and private media.


I thereby put that the institution of democracy and the upholding of democratic tenets such as freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, electoral bodies, police, civil society groups helped to minimize or end clientel politics in Mexico, Latin America, and other nations.


I also contend that Clientelism can hardly be totally eliminated in the developing countries where resources are inadequate to satisfy the general good of the masses. Also, since political parties work to satisfy their supporters’ interest and need in order to gain support in election, Clientelism will hardly see its final exit. Even in democracy, Clientelism still operates or exists though in a low profile. For instance the head of state appoints ministers and ambassadors. These appointments is based on who supports and is loyal to the party and the president, and not by merits or total representation.