The Strategic Struggle for Patronage

Date01 January 2007
Published date01 January 2007
Allyson Lucinda Benton
Latin American parties have been regularly plagued by factional disputes. Such rival-
ries are puzzling given the traditional importance of state largesse for building sup-
port; in most countries patronage has kept politicians loyal and factionalism at bay.
The article uses a game-theoretic model to examine intra-party politics and political
careers. It argues that ensuring successful careers requires rising within parties and
thus cultivating the support of party colleagues with patronage promises and policy
appeals. In Latin America, however, where state resources dominate policy goods
when building support, maximizing patronage requires politicians to build minimum-
winning coalitions inside parties, leading to predictable patterns of factionalism. The
model also shows how the effect of state largesse on factional disputes is moderated
in some contexts, particularly where the relative strength of politicians is weak. Weak
politicians prefer to cooperate, even if this means reduced private rewards.
KEY WORDS careers factions Latin America parties
Latin American parties have historically relied on the distribution of state
resources, particularistic benefits, and pork to build party organizations and cul-
tivate support: ‘All party systems have some elements of these particularistic
patronage and public works mechanisms for support-building. The distinctive-
ness of Latin America comes from the predominance of this type of benefit over
more universalistic or class benefits’ (Chalmers, 1977: 414).1 Conveniently, the
Journal of Theoretical Politics 19(1): 55–82 Copyright © 2007 Sage Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0951629807071019 London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi
Acknowledgements: I am indebted to two anonymous reviewers whose criticisms greatly improved
the argument. I would also like to thank Barbara Geddes and George Tsebelis for extensive comments
on an earlier version. Kathy Bawn, Alberto Diaz Cayeros, Miriam Golden,Anastasios Kalandrakis, and
John Londregan provided helpful advice at different stages.
1. Analyses of political clientelism, machine politics, and the political uses of patronage in Latin
America abound. Early works include Lipset and Solari (1967), Powell (1971), Chalmers (1977),
Cornelius (1977), Eckstein (1977), Grindle (1977), Guasti (1977), Nelson (1979). Recent studies include
Auyero (2000), Levitsky (2003), and Calvo and Murillo (2004) on Argentina; Van Cott (2000) on
Bolivia; Hagopian (1992), Mainwaring (1999) and Ames (2001) on Brazil; Klingner (1996) on several
Central American countries; Archer (1990) and Martz (1997) on Colombia; Sieder (1995) and Taylor-
Robinson (n.d.) on Honduras; Morgenstern (1997) and Magaloni et al. (2000) on Mexico; Graham
(1991) and Stokes (1995) on Peru; Coppedge (1994) and Garcia-Guadilla (2002) on Venezuela.
principal economic development strategy followed throughout the region during
the 20th century, import-substitution industrialization, greatly increased the
amount and variety of resources available to politicians for attracting votes
(Ames, 1987, 2001; Waisman, 1987; Nelson, 1990; Geddes, 1994; Mainwaring,
1999). State-led economic development allowed politicians to intervene in mar-
kets, determine the structure of economic relationships, and use public coffers to
reward constituents. That state-led economic development became critical to
party building explains the difficulty in undertaking economic reform in recent
years (Geddes, 1995).2
Despite the historic role of state goods and services for building support in
Latin America, the region’s parties have been regularly plagued by factional dis-
putes. While such divisions are not surprising in cases where electoral rules allow
parties to field multiple lists at election time,3it is puzzling that nearly all Latin
American parties have suffered from factionalism. In the less-disciplined parties
populating the region’s multi-party systems, established parties have been divided
again and again by internal quarrels, often leading to party disintegration when
politicians have joined new political groups, as has occurred in Bolivia, Brazil,
Ecuador, and Peru.4In more stable systems, where two large parties regularly
compete for power, even the best organized, most disciplined parties have suc-
cumbed to factionalism, as has happened in Argentina, Costa Rica, Honduras, and
2. Latin America’s proclivity toward patronage spending does not imply that their public sectors
are larger than elsewhere. Indeed, many European nations’ public sectors far exceed those in Latin
America yet European politicians are not generally known for their proclivity toward particularistic
benefits over public goods. What distinguishes more patronage-oriented nations from others is the
quality and beneficiaries of public spending. In terms of quality, the share of public spending going
toward patronage and particularistic benefits usually far exceeds that going to public works, that is,
current expenditures account for the lion’s share of public spending, not capital ones. In terms of the
beneficiaries of state spending, in Latin America most state jobs and social spending programs are tar-
geted for partisan purposes, while there is little recourse against politicians who use public funds for
purely political ends. Politicians are notorious for using even tiny social programs to reward con-
stituents, especially at the local level where they are not as closely monitored.
3. In Colombia and Uruguay intra-party competition is synchronous with national elections.
4. The long-time focal point of Bolivian politics, the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario
(MNR), split in the 1970s. The newly formed Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario de Izquierda
(MNRI) helped elect the President in 1982. The Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA),
the traditional hub of Peruvian politics, faced frequent internal squabbles. Though its victory in the
1980 presidential race was all but preordained, the death of the party president and subsequent inter-
nal struggles weakened it at the polls. APRA came in 20 per cent behind the first-place finisher.
5. In Venezuela, Acción Democrática (AD) and the Comisión de Organización Política Electoral
Independiente (COPEI) suffered frequent public disputes between party leaders, particularly those
vying to become presidential candidates (Coppedge, 1994). Factions in the Unión Cívica Radical
(UCR) in Argentina argued over whether to appeal to voters unable to support the proscribed Partido
Justicialista (PJ), leading it to its split into two parties in the late 1950s. The Liberal and National par-
ties in Honduras are known for their factionalized internal structures, something that allows national
strongmen to control Honduran politics and government (Taylor-Robinson, n.d.). Even the Partido
Liberal Nacional in Costa Rica suffers intra-party disputes (Lehoucq, 1998).

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