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The Peril and Promise of Noodles and Beer: Condemnation of patronage and hybrid political frameworks in “post-neoliberal” Cochabamba, Bolivia



In this article, I analyze Bolivians’ public condemnations of patronage—the buying of political support with jobs or favors—over the past decade. The rise of indigenous and leftist governments in Latin America has led many to hope for a transition from neoliberalism. In Bolivia, the new Morales government has promised to effect this transition in part by rooting out clientelismo and peguismo (patronage job seeking), long a mainstay of Bolivian politics. I argue, however, that at the level of everyday practice, Bolivians engage hybrid ideals—of patronage, populism, state capitalism, liberalism, and left-indigenist democracy. Focusing on debates over patronage in the central Bolivian Cochabamba region, I show that most people who denounced patronage were unable to avoid others’ counterdenunciations that they were buscapegas (patronage seekers). Furthermore, while residents of Sacaba often expressed a yearning for ideological purity by denouncing patronage, they also used the language of patron–client reciprocity to assert demands for radical democracy.