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  • The Enduring Power of Patronage in Peruvian Elections:Quispicanchis, 1860
  • Natalia Sobrevilla Perea (bio)

Political patronage was at the very basis of society's functioning in nineteenth-century Latin America, yet we still know very little about its inner dynamics. Recent analyses of national politics have questioned the idea that Latin American elections were restrictive and fraudulent, or that there was no effective citizenship.1 These studies have widened the understanding of political participation, and have argued persuasively for the agency of those who had been previously reduced to the background. Leading scholars have stressed the importance of early widespread suffrage and electoral mobilization in Latin America, noting that detailed analysis of local power struggles promise to reveal the dynamics of social structures and electoral politics.2 This new literature has also firmly established that in Latin America the process through which this happened was not linear, as generous voting rights were often restricted over time.

The result has been an abandonment of the more traditional view of nineteenth-century elections as a farce or mere class instrument. As Marta Irurozqui has asserted, seeing the electoral marketplace as a space for competition—even if voters did not always act as the autonomous, free citizen envisioned by liberals—established the principle that authority had to emerge from periodic elections, [End Page 31] giving way to a new conception of political legitimacy.3 Irurozqui has also noted that authors interested in the electoral behavior of elites have questioned the idea that elections were simply the reproduction of pre-arranged agreements. These studies suggest a potential dilemma faced by elites: how to reconcile their own political control, the legitimacy of the political system, and the unknowns of elections.4 This study examines this dilemma and contributes to this discussion, as it departs from most work on elections in two ways. First, it focuses on a campaign for a seat in Congress in a rural area instead of a presidential campaign in a main city. This perspective allows for a fresh view of the local dynamics of power, and makes it possible to shed light on how provincial and national elites worked together to resolve the electoral dilemma. Second, it analyzes in detail the endurance of a patron-client system weathering the mid-century liberal reform movements, a subject to which scant attention has been paid.

The following detailed analysis of the battle for a seat in the Peruvian national Congress representing Quispicanchis, a typical provincial center in the Department of Cuzco, illustrates how patronage continued to guide the political process despite a successful election reform that gave individuals greater access to the polls. Quispicanchis was chosen because it was the province where Manuel de Mendiburu, a major figure in mid-nineteenth century Peruvian political society, ran for a seat in the national Parliament in 1860. Mendiburu, a man whose aristocratic background and connections allowed him to enjoy an illustrious career as a military officer, politician, and confidant of many powerful individuals on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide, also enjoyed a reputation as an extraordinary amanuensis, and later in life an accomplished historian; he went on to write a ten-volume Diccionario Histórico Biográfico of Peru. One might have expected Mendiburu to have been reluctant to enter politics at a time of radical liberal reform, since he had been a very powerful member of the government that Ramón Castilla overthrew. As Minister of Finance, he had signed an agreement in London to convert Peruvian debt into bonds, and thus he was blamed for being the author of the consolidation policy that was the central act of the government of José Rufino Echenique (1851-1854). Yet, given his connections and his talents, he was encouraged to run by some of the reformers who knew him well and trusted him. Highly skilled in the use of patronage to get things done in the public sphere as well as in the private sector, he returned to politics hoping to clear his name.5 [End Page 32]

This article is structured in four sections. The first, "Background to the 1860 Election," looks at the context that led to this election, explaining why the...


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