Waiting Now and Then
‘‘I’ve been after my pension for five years now . . . people at the municipal
o≈ce said they lost my documents. They made me wait for a long time;
they refused to see me. They gave me the run around.’’ Silvia spent half
an hour describing to me in detail all her trámite (paperwork), going
over the di√erent administrative levels—from municipal to federal—
involved in the strenuous achievement of her meager pension: ‘‘This
guy told me one thing, and then disappeared . . . and then I went to the
municipal o≈ce and they told me to come back in six months. And
then this politician in the neighborhood told me he would take care of
it but then he didn’t do anything and . . .’’ This was 1995; Silvia was
living in an extremely deprived section of a shantytown in the outskirts
of Buenos Aires, and I was conducting ethnographic fieldwork for my
doctoral dissertation, which later became the book Poor People’s Poli-
tics. At the time, I was not primarily interested in Silvia’s grueling
pilgrimage through state bureaucracies, but rather in what and who
speeded up the process. As Silvia noted further: ‘‘I began to participate
in Andrea’s Unidad Básica [grassroots o≈ce of the Peronist Party] and
she gave me a hand. If nobody pushes these things [referring to her
pension], you don’t get them. Andrea was really good. If I have a
problem now, I go to see her . . . We have to be thankful to her; if she
asks me to attend a [party] rally, I go.’’
Silvia’s testimony was one of dozens that I used for my analysis
of the workings of Peronist problem-solving ‘‘clientelist’’ networks.
These testimonies told of the services and favors traded between cli-
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