Illiberal Democracy: The end of Clientelism?

In this week’s article, “The end of clientelism?…,” Claudio Holzner focuses on two squatter settlements in Oaxaca, Mexico as case studies for his argument. He argues that individual and group behaviors of both squatter settlements are shaped by the opportunities and constraints created by strong and weak social network ties, thus allowing clientelistic practices in Mexico to continue (223). According to Holzner, strong network ties control group communication by keeping the majority of the group’s points of contact within the network compared to weak ties that rely on the diffusion of information and the spread of movements through said diffusion. Clientelistic practices from the PRI began to infiltrate the squatter settlement, permitting monopolistic control over essential resources and manipulation to corrupt elections. Consequently, the squatter settlement split into two separate rival groups: PRI sympathizers and PAN supporters. PAN encouraged members to break from the PRI and establish autonomous neighborhood associations but the PRI supporters remained loyal, thus the rivalry began.


I notice strengths and weaknesses in Holzner’s argument but primarily, the error of generalizing the existence of clientelistic practices in Latin America. Focusing on the squatter settlement in Oaxaca is clearly fruitful for his argument; however, Holzner continued his trend of only presenting information that supports his argument and omitting or simply dismissing information that might contradict it. In doing so, he infers that we have not seen the end of clientelism in Latin America and moves on without cross-examining other countries’ practices in Latin America. In the same breath, it is hard to deny the existence of clientelism in Mexico when the PRI continues to make their way to the top and even have a president in place despite overwhelming opposition from the people. There have been recent protests against Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, calling for his resignation over extreme issues of drug violence, corruption, and even his meeting with Donald Trump. I do not think it would be absurd to question how he managed to get elected, especially as a member of the PRI, if not through some form of clientelism (among other methods). With this in mind, I think that Holzner makes a good argument in stating that the people will cling to clientelistic networks in an effort to secure diminishing resources, but I think that he needs to round his argument out by including other case studies from countries with similar histories as Mexico in Latin America.