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Clientelism and Social Funds: Evidence from Chávez's Misiones

The latest president in Latin America to adopt social funds on a large scale as an integral part of his government program has been Hugo Chávez Frías of Venezuela. Based on the literature on clientelism and social funds in Latin America, this article finds that Venezuela's latest experiments with social funds were influenced by political variables. It uses empirical data from the distribution of resources for some of the subnational misiones programs to show how, given increased levels of electoral competition and weak institutional constraints, the government used these funds clientelistically, even while distributing oil income to the very poor. Chávez's misiones served two very different purposes: to manipulate the political context and to distribute funds directly to the low-income population.