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vanishing mediators: enjoyment as a political

factor in western Mexico

Wageningen University
Anthropologists, historians, and political scientists have pointed to the perva-
siveness of the cacique (political boss) as a habitual figure who, through his
role as an intermediary, is instrumental in the reproduction of a structure of
domination. In this article, I argue that the performative and imaginary as-
pects ofcaciquismo (political bossism) have been neglected in the analysis of
structures of power. Going beyond the conventional view of the cacique as
an effective intermediary, I argue that this figure often operates as a sort of
vanishing mediator who both unveils and masks the absence of a center
while standing for the corrupt and venal side of the state. Furthermore, it is
through the orchestration of enjoyment and the image of excessive power that
the cacique contributes to the reproduction of a particular mode of hegem-
ony. I illustrate these performative and imaginary processes by drawing on an
ethnography of a regional cacique involved in the power struggle of a local
Water Users' Association in western Mexico. [Mexico, brokerage, ca-
ciquismo, ideology, hegemony, enjoyment, culture of power]
In this article, I reflect on the pervasiveness in Mexican politics of certain un-
canny types or characters, sometimes called bosses, strongmen, or caciques. Ca-
ciques play a critical role in people's day-to-day relations with state institutions, yet
mostly-in illegitimate or illegal ways. In doing so, they operate in liminal spaces
within political and bureaucratic domains. It is telling that although much attention
has been given in anthropology to documenting and analyzing the role of such figures
in the functioning of a given political system, less attention has been paid to the actual
performance of these characters or to the diverse ways in which they are constructed
in the popular imagination (but see Friedrich 1970:1986). Although it is undeniable
that caciques play an important role as political intermediaries, it is equally important
to analyze what they represent to political subjects. I pay attention to the social con-
struction of the cacique by focusing on the interplay between his or her performance
and the multiple popular readings of his deeds and actions. In particular, I look at the
style and performance of a "lesser cacique" in an irrigation district in western Jalisco.
First, I discuss academic models of caciquismo and political power and describe
the political economy of the region where I conducted research, paying special atten-
tion to the rise and fall of various cacique regimes. I then focus on a power struggle
that took place within a Water Users' Association; a lesser cacique played a central
role in this struggle, and my discussion incorporates the multiple imaginations of this
cacique by different sections of the population. Finally, I elaborate on the proposed
analytical perspective, arguing that the performative and imaginative aspects of ca-
ciquismo are central to an understanding of how power works in Mexico. Throughout
American Ethnologist 29(4) :901-927. Copyright 2002, American Anthropological Association.
902 american ethnologist
my article, I draw on recent approaches in which excessive enjoymentwhich char-
acterizes the figure of the caciqueis seen as playing a central role in the functioning
of power regimes.
the academic representation of the cacique
In Mexico, a long tradition of studies exists in which caciques are seen as key fig-
ures in the functioning of a highly authoritarian and personalistic culture of power
(Paz 1981; Ramos 1934). Within this culturalist perspective, caciques are charismatic
individuals enacting a culturally defined role that can be traced to pre-Hispanic and
colonial times. Although very persuasive in describing the careers of individual ca-
ciques, authors of these works have been criticized for their failure to analyze the role
that caciquismo plays in the functioning of the wider political system (Bartra 1975; de
la Pena 1986; Pare 1975). More recently, analysts have set out to investigate the phe-
nomenon of caciquismo by focusing on the role that different types of caciques play
in the reproduction of relations of domination, paying special attention to caciques'
brokerage and intermediation functions.
It is my contention, however, that works
within this latter perspective, although raising important questions concerning the dy-
namics of regime reproduction and transformation, fall short of accounting for the
mutual relationship between caciques' performance and the imagery of caciquismo.
Before proceeding with this argument, I offer a summarized account of the ways in
which caciques are represented in the academic literature. In this way, I establish a
rationale for the argument to be developed.
Although the cacique usually holds public office, he is more powerful than his
official title would seem to suggest, making his position by definition ambiguous. The
cacique exerts a kind of illegitimate power thanks to his connections to political pa-
trons at higher levels and his capacity to cultivate personal ties with a clientele. By
providing political support, political allegiance (votes), social peace, and, sometimes,
financial contributions to politicians and bureaucrats, he buys the right to manage
and distribute certain types of resources within specified bureaucratic and political
domains. His ability to negotiate conflicting claims through a symbolic network of pa-
tron-client relations makes caciquismo instrumental in elite strategies of domination,
hence rendering possible the reproduction of a system of domination (de la Peha
1986; Lomnitz-Adler 1992; Wolf 1966). Within this brokerage or intermediation
framework caciques are seen to operate between different and unequal societal levels
or domains, whereby the political center sets out to incorporate the encapsulated but
not yet totally incorporated periphery (Bailey 1969; Boissevain 1974).
The intermediary role of the cacique is based on the close interconnection be-
tween political processes and the working of the state bureaucracy as manifested in
the coexistence of professional and personalistic rationalities in all bureaucratic do-
mains and at all levels of Mexican society (Gledhill 1998; Grindle 1977). This insepa-
rability of politics and bureaucracy is grounded in the fact that although there are
clear administrative standards that guide the work of the bureaucracy there is always
scope for political negotiation. The bureaucratic apparatus is characterized by wide-
spread bribery, and recruiting the help of influential people can make a difference in
the outcome of the administrative process. This image of an opaque state bureaucracy
manifests itself in the myth of the right connectionthe idea that you need the best
broker you can get in order to have the bureaucracy work on your behalf (Nuijten in
It can be argued that these analyses, in which the cacique is said to play a role in
filling the gap between different bureaucratic and political levels, are based on a
vanishing mediators 903
dualistic framework in which geographic notions of center-periphery relationsthe
underincorporated rural periphery versus the modern urban centerare superim-
posed on notions of traditional and legal rationality. In this view, caciquismo is seen
as a remainder of traditional society overflowing its bounded space-time framework.
Gledhill (1994), following Gilsenan (1977), presents a somewhat different approach.
He proposes to explain the phenomenon of caciquismo, not in terms of center-periphery
relations or the clash between formal and informal types of authority but in terms of
complex sets of sociopolitical alignments that structure relations between people and
the state. As he puts it,
anthropologists have been concerned with "brokerage" as a matter of filling a "gap"
between, on the one hand, rural communities that are weakly linked to each other be-
cause their social life is structured by patron-client relations, and, on the other, the in-
stitutions of a national government which has limited reach at the local level. [Gledhill
In criticizing the ahistorical perspectives and transactionalist perspectives of
much of the brokerage literature, he argues for identifying the "wider and more socio-
logically crucial set of relations and structures" that come into play to ensure that the
gap is always filled. The question he poses is "who fills the gap in relations with the
larger system and how is this filling carried out?" (Gledhill 1994:125). In this view,
brokerage is seen as a set of political practices central to the constitution of given re-
gimes of power. Furthermore, as Gledhill (1998) argues, caciquismo regimes can
modernize themselves and become parts of deeper processes of state penetration.
This is a highly interesting approach to caciquismo as it sets out to identify the larger
political processes that shape political relations at the microlevel. Yet, it should be
noted that this perspective remains firmly embedded within an intermediation frame-
work in which caciquismo is viewed as a solution to a problem in that it fills a gap be-
tween a (political) center and a (political) periphery.
It can be said, then, that the cacique in the anthropological literature has pre-
dominantly been analyzed within two registers. First, the cacique has been viewed as an
individual enacting a culturally defined role that can be traced back to pre-Hispanic
and colonial times and who is refunctionalized in successive political regimes. This,
in fact, is a culturalist view of the cacique as expressive of the cultural logic through
which power is exercised in Mexico. Second, within the intermediation register atten-
tion is paid to the role of caciquismo in the reproduction of relations of domination
through his brokerage functions. Although these approaches have been very good in
describing and analyzing caciquismo in relation to the reproduction of a particular
culture, or system, of domination, I wish here to pay special attention to a neglected
dimension of caciquismo: the role of performance and imagination in the constitution
of a given culture of power.
toward a different approach to caciquismo: performance and ideology
I propose that along with a structural approach to caciquismo, analysts should
pay attention to the ubiquity of the figure of the cacique in the Mexican political
imaginary. In other words, analysts should study the sociosymbolic processes by
which caciquismo is imagined as a pervasive, corrupt, and violent but inevitable
component of Mexican political culture. In this view, the phenomenon of caciquismo
plays a central role in the constitution of a spectacle through which the power of the
state is represented, whereas the cacique himself plays a central role in this spectacle
as its orchestrator. By focusing on the dialectic between the performance and the
904 american ethnologist
imagination of the cacique, I show how the figure of the cacique renders possible the
imagining of state power in its intimate connection with violence and enjoyment.
Rather than focusing on the "filling of the gap," I emphasize the role the "idea of
the gap" plays in the constitution of a given culture of power. As Herzfeld (1997) ar-
gues, this constitution is based on an intimate knowledge of the flaws and imperfec-
tions of the state bureaucracy. In effect, the notion of the existence of a gap between
center and periphery that can be filled is instrumental in the shaping of a political
imaginary (Lefort 1986).
The point not to be missed, therefore, is that the core (the
state) produces within itself a periphery in complicity with certain characters who
perform as caciques, liminal figures who both as insiders and outsiders come to sym-
bolize the impenetrability of the center.
Liminal figures such as caciques are characters who cross boundaries between
the inside and outside of several social domains, thus gaining a certain status as hy-
brid or ambivalent figures who stand outside the system, and, therefore, do not abide
to the rules of proper behavior.
Liminal spaces are sites where an imagery of power is
constructed as a counterpoint to, and subversion of, official images of the state
wherein it is claimed that state legitimacy is grounded in collective belonging. They
designate a kind of antistructure in which the intimate connections between power
and illegitimate enjoyment are acted out (Turner 1977). Arguably, the structural char-
acteristics of such liminal spaces render it possible for political bosses, or caciques, to
act out and perform in ways marked as polluted and corrupt in the public code
(Malkki 1995). Such spaces, however, should not be conceived as spaces of resis-
tance to state power, but rather as sites in which a network of complicities involving
petty politicians, bureaucrats, and caciques is forged, the latter being highly skilled in
converting these spaces into platforms for political action. It must be emphasized that
these political practices are highly gendered by a determined aesthetics of machismo
(Gutmann 1997) through which particular sexual experiences, such as homoeroti-
cism and promiscuous sexual seduction are celebrated. In this way, politics and
power can be represented as something quite different than their portrayals in official
discourse: as a intimate and gendered world suffused with all sorts of prohibited de-
A celebration of the pleasure in the "playing of the game" can be found in these
liminal spaces. Caciques and their clients often enjoy talking about, and are proud of,
the ways they arrange things outside the law, and they like to celebrate these accom-
plishments through abundant partying. It is precisely this partying that affords the
pleasure in "playing of the game," the spectacle of enjoyment, and the performative
side of "corruption" and that enables caciques to play a role in the cultural repre-
sentation of power (Gupta 1995; Nuijten 1998, in press). The point not to be missed
here is that these spectacles of corrupt enjoyment contribute to the celebration of a
culture of power reinforcing an image of the state as the true center of control.
At the same time, however, there is always much insecurity, gossiping, and dis-
trust in these "corrupt" spheres. There exists the potential for other power holders with
better connections that are working against the cacique. Politics, even at the highest
levels, remain inconclusive. In this way, the center of control, it seems, is always
somewhere else. The real power holders are always on a Jiigher echelon, and the real
decisions have always already been made at a higher level. In developing political
strategies, caciques are masters at fabricating conspiracy theories about how power
really works and in showing their shrewd ways of dealing with the system. A side ef-
fect of this strategizing is that the opacity and impenetrability of the (imagined) state is
vanishing mediators 905
revealed. Arguably, the circulation, engendering and concocting of rumor, conspir-
acy theories, and speculation are ways of imagining the act of power.
Summing up, the cacique, within this imaginative register, is an active and
skilled manipulator who is very adept in presenting himself as an indispensable me-
diator between the people and the center of power. By presenting himself as the
bridge between different levels, he plays a central role in the imagination of the center
as the real source of power, whereas what exists in reality is a diffuse set of de-centered
practices without much internal coherence (see Foucault 1980; Rubin 1996). Perhaps
and this is my main argument in this articlethese characters should be seen as van-
ishing mediators (Jameson 1988; Zizek 1991:182-197) who serve as a reminder of a
truth about the state, or rather about the idea of the state: its facticity as an ideological
construction (Abrams 1988:75). The stateas a social factexists by virtue of being
imagined in a certain way: as a centered and rational entity built around a political
program, typically originating in some original truth event (in Mexico, the revolution).
Hence, the discourse of caciquismo can be understood as a discourse of the vanish-
ing, in that it both unveils and masks the absence of a rational center where decisions
are made. On the one hand, it unveils the fragmentary, opaque, and de-centered
nature of the political process. On the other, it contributes to a certain imagining of
the state as a centered apparatus whose effectiveness is hampered by the workings of
a traditional and corrupt political culture that generates murky figures called ca-
But what if there is no center of decision making? What if the regime's promises
of social justice and democracy are not to be taken seriously because there is no cen-
ter that can be held accountable for the overall functioning of the system? What if
power functions through a different logic than the need for legitimation? What if it
functions by stimulating certain kinds of illegitimate enjoyment and promoting the
creation of spectacles of powergames at which caciques are very adept?
In this regard, Slavoj Zizek's approach to ideology is of great relevance (i.e.,
1989, 1993, 1994). His concept of ideology does not rest on the manipulation of so-
cial consciousness by the ruling classes or on the idea that actors' pragmatic beliefs
lead them to misrecognize relations of domination (Bourdieu 1991). Ideology, in his
view, rests on a relationship to a particular type of enjoyment, as he calls it, a "surplus
enjoyment," which in the case of nationalist ideologies comes to represent what he
designates the "National Thing." As he puts it, this "surplus enjoyment" is present in
the way in which a national community organizes its enjoyment and gives the nation
a meaning that cannot be put in words. This elusive meaning of the nation can be rec-
ognized through the always recurring yet unanswerable reference to "what we really
are." The question, then, is what is this ' Thing" that national subjects share "making
us more than ourselves" and that can be evoked yet never pinned down? Zizek ap-
plies his theory of ideology as supported by surplus or excessive enjoyment to the
analysis of recent events in the Balkans, where he shows that the disintegration of Yu-
goslavia cannot be accounted for in terms of ancient primordial hatreds between dif-
ferent ethnic communities. The events were rather the outcome of the political ma-
nipulations of strategizing politicians in the Balkans and in the West in what in reality
was a typical case of pragmatic, if criminal, realpolitik. Nationalist fundamentalist
constructions of ethnic difference, then, operate as ideological fantasies underlying
the political programs of opportunistic political entrepreneurs who present them-
selves as the real protectors of the "National Thing."
The formula of ideology, as Zizek conceives it, works through the double move-
ment between pragmatic "knowledge" (e.g., about power relations in the Balkans)
906 american ethnologist
and "fetishistic illusion" or "bel i ef (e.g., in the existence of a primordial national or
ethnic essence). This formula, I think, can be applied to the Mexican political system
and the figure of the cacique. In the case of the cacique, this movement is illustrated
in the relationship between the knowledge that he is a political maverick and per-
former very skilled in operating in turbulent political environments and the belief
about his magical powers based on special connections with some mysterious center.
Following Octave Mannoni, Zizek defines the formula of fetishistic belief as "I know
but nevertheless" (1991:245-249). For example, this formula might be translated as
I know that decisions are made within a complex and fragmented political arena and
that the Mexican system, while intrinsically biased toward the interest of the dominant
groups, is unpredictable and opaque. Nevertheless, I am prepared to compromise my
knowledge by complying with the widespread belief that it is possible to resolve par-
ticular problems by relying on brokers or caciques, hence accepting to play their
The ideological effectivity of this mechanism works at two levels. First, the apparently
pragmatic decision to indulge in the belief that brokers have important political con-
nections, and, thus, special access to the center of power, makes possible the imagina-
tion of the state as a centered entity. Second, the knowledge about the workings of the
political system is rendered ineffective at the moment that the subject becomes an ob-
ject in the strategic games of brokers who collude with state actors in constructing an
imagery of a stable center.
It must be stressed that this ambivalencebetween knowing and believingis
effective in the constitution of political subjects. The fetishistic illusion that is sus-
tained by the investment of brokers with special powers sets forth a movement of
identification (the point at which heterogeneous actors recognize themselves as po-
litical subjects) based on a split between knowledge (about the effective power rela-
tions governing the political game) and belief (in a certain imagery of the Mexican
state). My point is that this dialectic between belief (in the extraordinary powers of
powerful bosses) and knowledge (that they are mere brokers, often quite ineffectual,
who operate within a highly unpredictable and opaque political system) is constitu-
tive of the Mexican "National Thing." In other words, the "National Thing" in Mexico
is imagined by reference to the collective belief in the special powers of uncanny
characters called caciques.
It is my argument that it is precisely this interplay between performance and the
(illusionary) imagery of excessive enjoyment that supports the ideological mechanism
through which the figure of the cacique comes to represent, or stand for, the Mexican
"National Thing."
This theoretical point emerges from the ethnography I set forth be-
the ethnographic context
In January of 1994, I visited a good friend in El Grullo, a small city in western
Mexico. After the usual small talk, Andres, as I will call him here, told me about a po-
litical power struggle in which he had been involved. The struggle related to control
over the local Water Users' Association, which had been established in 1988 as a pi-
lot project within a new policy of turnover of irrigation districts to farmers' managed
local associations. So far, it was considered a very successful experiment by Mexican
standards and had even gained the attention of international institutions such as the
World Bank and the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations).
According to Andres, however, control of the association was in the hands of a
vanishing mediators 907
corrupt and undemocratic clique. As he told me, for a year he had been part of a
movement formed to end the corrupt practices of the then-current administration.
They had been successful in this endeavor, and a few weeks earlier the manager
of the association had been forced to resign. Andres, an engineer and former staff
member in the Secretary of Hydraulic Resources, had been appointed as the new
manager. He was full of ideas about changing the association's mode of operation
and dreamed of converting it into a vehicle for social change for the whole area. This
would not be an easy task, he pointed out, because the takeover of the association
had compelled him to strike an alliance with different groups and characters in the re-
gion, including the treasurer of the sugar refinery, Mr. Lopez.
Andres offered me the opportunity to investigate the evolution of the power
struggle. He thought it necessary that this process be documented as objectively as
possible, not only for the sake of truth but also as a case study for other water users' as-
sociations in Mexico. He promised me that I would have complete access to all meet-
ings and that all existing documents and files would be disclosed. He also offered me
his support in arranging interviews with important figures of the local elite and offi-
cials of agencies with whom he would be dealing.
the political economy of caciquismo and sugar in western Jalisco
A commercial and administrative service center for a predominantly agricultural
region, El Grullo is home to roughly twenty-thousand inhabitants. It is the center of
both an irrigation and a dryland district. Among the administrative agencies located in
El Grullo are the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture (Secretarfa de Agricultura y Re-
cursos Hidraulicos) including the National Water Agency (Comision Nacional de
Agua). The area benefits from abundant water flowing from two dams. Having be-
come increasingly important as a cash crop during the last decade, sugar dominates
the landscape of the region.
Since the establishment of an irrigation system in the late 1950s, the regional
economy has had a boom-and-bust character. Cotton, melon, and tomatoes suc-
ceeded each other as commodities but each was viable for only a few years because
of problems with pest control and marketing. With the arrival of the sugar refinery in
the 1960s, a crop was introduced to the region that provided a degree of continuity to
the farmers without offering spectacular profits. And with sugar came several organi-
zations linking the state bureaucracy with the ejidatarios and the landed elite, the
CNC (Confederacion Nacional Campesina) for the ejidatarios and the CNPP (Confed-
eration Nacional de Pequenos Propietarios) for the private producers (van der Zaag
After the revolution in Mexico (1910-20), strongmen played an important role in
the pacification of rural areas (Buve 1988; Falcon 1984; Knight 1986). One such char-
acter in western Jalisco was General Garcia Barragan. After playing a central role in
the pacification of the region, the general embarked on a successful political career
during which he held posts such as the governorship of the state of Jalisco and the sec-
retary of defense in the national government. In the latter position, he ordered the stu-
dent massacre of Tlatelolco in 1968. In western Jalisco he is recalled with much awe
but little admiration, as he was able to control the whole region following a policy of
rule and divide (see Torres 1997).
The general himself brought the sugar cane refinery to El Grullo, and for more
than a decade all important functions within the refinery's organizations were mo-
nopolized by people close to him. But by the middle of the 1970s, new leaders began
to play a role in the sugar cane refinery. These leaders belonged to a rival political group
908 american ethnologist
led by Jos Guadalupe Zuno Arce, son of a former governor of Jalisco and brother-in-
law of President Echeverria (1970-76), whose regime saw the rise of a distinctively
activist form of agrarian populism in western Mexico. Zuno Arce set out to establish a
local stronghold, or cacicazgo, through the implementation of a regional develop-
ment program with ample financial support from the president. The organizational
structure created for this purpose, the Comision del Sur, sought to mobilize the popu-
lar sectors against the regional power elite through the establishment of a system of
collective cooperatives and people's industries. In addition, a network of roads was
put in place as well as an airstrip, regularly used by the presidential jet, among other
Guadalupe Zuno Arce enjoyed organizing large rallies (encuentros) that were at-
tended by a several thousands of families from distant rural areas. During these mas-
sive events, the people were lavishly treated with ample food and mariachi music. As
the main speaker, Zuno would hold long speeches about socialist solidarity and the
anti-imperialist struggle. I was told several times by villagers that Fidel Castro and
Mao Tse Tung visited the region in that period. Whether Fidel Castro ever visited the
region is not officially known, but that Mao did is impossible as it is known that he
never left China.
Zuno himself was a complex character. He was an obsessive worker and an alco-
holic, although he waged public campaigns against alcohol. He was also known as a
lonely man who sought the company of ordinary people when he drank. He expected
an absolute commitment from his followers, and it was believed that once a village
(ejido) refused to participate in one of his projects it would be excluded from all other
activities. He built a fabulous ranch in the region, with a zoo full of imported animals,
such as zebras and lions, that were put on free display to the people. After his down-
fall, he retired from politics and established himself with his family on this ranch. The
cooperatives and people's industries died a quick death. Yet, the peasants in the area
with whom I spoke remember Zuno and the Comision del Sur with gratitude. Thanks
to him, they learned to deal with state agencies and with the state party, the PRI (Par-
tido Revolucionario Institucional), developing a sense of confidence in the process.
He surrounded himself with people of common origins and nurtured their leadership
qualities, which he considered to be crucial for the development of the area. Several
of his followers later became important politicians elsewhere in Jalisco. It should be
mentioned that a principal skill these politicians learned from their master was that of
organizing large-scale meetings (encuentros, asambleas, and fiestas). For it was the
hallmark of Zuno's populist program that a mass movement had to be forged by bring-
ing the people together in large-scale social events with a view to creating a collective
class consciousness.
Lopez, in fact, was one such leader. He started as a pistolero or bodyguard of
Zuno, a position he credits to Zuno's drinking friendship with his brother. The first
years of Zuno's leadership Lopez would alternate his services to Zuno with periods in
the United States, where he worked as an illegal day laborer. There he developed a
great admiration for what he considered the entrepreneurial skills of U.S. residents.
When he returned from the United States, he was assigned to drive one of Zuno's po-
litical assistants. At the Comision, Lopez learned how to address people, giving them
a sense of worth. He also learned how to organize mass events and to use a class-
based discourse of social justice.
At the end of his term, Zuno sent L6pez to the El Grullo-AutlSn region to work on
a water-distribution system. General Barragan and his family, who held a longstand-
ing feud against the Zuno family, controlled the region. L6pez saw his chance to play
vanishing mediators 909
a major role in regional politics. He bought ejido land, started to grow sugar, and be-
came active in the CNC-canera (the ejidatarios producers organization), which was in
the hands of politicians who were notorious for their incompetence and corruption.
They let themselves be bribed by the sugar refinery in return for accepting low sugar
prices. Lopez successfully disputed the power of these corrupt politicians and was
credited by the ejidatarios as the person who transformed the CNC into an organiza-
tion that could defend their interests vis-a-vis the sugar cane refinery. In the process,
he benefited from the new laws promulgated by the government. These laws stipu-
lated that the sugar factories should restrict themselves to the processing of sugar
whereas the producers' organizations (CNC and CNPP) should take care of the or-
ganization of labor in the fields (mainly the cutting of the sugar cane) and the transport
to the refinery. Through control of these tasks, Lopez acquired enormous power: He
controlled people, resources, and, increasingly, land, as the CNC acted as an interme-
diary between the sugar cane refinery and the ejidatarios in issuing permits for sugar
cane cultivation. At the same time, he introduced a series of benefits for sugar cane
producers, including a retirement and life-insurance scheme, the provision of cheap
housing, and jobs for sons of ejidatarios in the refinery. He was also, however, ac-
cused by his political rivals of using his power in order to enrich himself.
Zuno's cacicazgo proved to be rather short-lived. By the end of the Echevarria
administration, Zuno could not sustain his stronghold as he had made too many ene-
mieswithin the church, among the regional elite, and even at the national level
and was not able to secure the support of Lopez Portillo, the new president, who saw
in him a dangerous rival. This situation provided Zuno's pupil, Lopez, the opportunity
to establish his own power base in the region.
the rise of an opposition movement
At the end of the 1980s, the Secretary of Agriculture and Water Resources (SARH)
was reorganized. This neoliberal restructuring program dictated that the role of the
agrarian bureaucracy should shift from involvement in production toward the crea-
tion of an enabling environment for agricultural development. Accordingly, the SARH
in El Grullo started to experiment with the devolution of functions to a Water Users'
Association. Finally, \n February 1991 the maintenance and operation tasks of the irri-
gation district were handed over to the Water Users' Association with full financial
autonomy, while another institution, the National Water Agency (CNA), was put in
charge of securing the flow of water from the dams to the irrigation district. The CNA
absorbed several SARH officials who previously had been in charge of the manage-
ment of the irrigation district and who had reputations as corrupt and petty politicians
It did not take long before the association was considered a success at the pro-
gram level and regarded as a showpiece at a national level, so much so that even
World Bank officials presented it as a successful pilot case and it was visited by vari-
ous delegates from Asian countries. Later, at the beginning of the 1990s, the sugar
cane refinery in El Grullo was subjected to the privatization policies of the govern-
ment. This refinery, it should be pointed out, was one of the few in Mexico that was
profitable, not because it was well run and efficient but because in El Grullo environ-
mental factors contributed to a high concentration of sugar in the cane. The CNC-
canera made a bid to buy the refinery but, because it was unable to make a down pay-
ment, the refinery was sold to a commercial group from North Mexico. This change
from state to private ownership had important consequences for the relationships be-
tween the refinery and the Sugar Producers Organizations, especially the CNC, which
91 o american ethnologist
represented the smallholder ejidatarios (the CNPP represents the larger private pro-
ducers). It should be noted that the sugar producers organizations are officially in
charge of transport and field operations, such as the cutting of the cane, input supply,
and credit. These organizations feared that a privatized refinery would attempt to ex-
tend its activities into these domains, or at least force the sugar producers organiza-
tions to rationalize their activities by cutting labor costs drastically. As I will show, this
rationalization was especially perceived as a threat by the CNC, whereas the CNPP,
as the representative of the larger sugar cane producers, held a more sympathetic
stance toward these state policies of privatization and liberalization. Thus, whereas in
the past both refinery management and the CNC had been able to establish a modus
vivendi largely based on common political interests, the relationship henceforth was
characterized by mutual distrust. In effect, these neoliberal modernization policies
threatened the interests of the former secretary and current treasurer of the CNC, Jesus
Lopez, while strengthening the interests of his rival Camacho, the secretary of the
It was at this juncture that Andres started to play an important role in the forging
of an opposition movement in the Water Users' Association. The way in which Andres
became a representative of his ejido for the association is telling.
Andres, himself a
son of one of the most prominent families of El Grullo, had become ejidatario on land
that his mother had owned. He became the representative of the association's assem-
bly by co-optation. Each ejido of the area (15 ejidos) provides two delegates to the as-
sociation (regardless of the number of ejidatarios). According to law, these delegates
should be elected by the assembly of ejidatarios, but in practice they are chosen by
the chairman of the ejido committee, the comisariado ejidal, together with the board
of the association. One day a friend of Andres and member of the board of the asso-
ciation approached him to ask whether he would be ready to become part of the asso-
ciation's assembly as "fresh blood" was needed. Andres's ejido is the smallest one of
the region, with only eight ejidatarios. As Andres had a great deal of control in the
ejido, he responded in the affirmative, that he would become delegate at the associa-
tion. At the assembly meetings, Andres became an active member, posing delicate
questions about the use of the association's machinery and the maintenance of the ca-
nals and roads. It struck him that no decisions were made at the assemblies and that
the association's manager ran the association without rendering any accounts.
The board of the association was composed of prominent (ex-)politicians and
members of the elite, and the manager Camacho, as said, was also chairman of the
union of private sugar cane producers, CNPP. They all shared a strong interest in
sugar cane production. It soon became clear to Andres that a large disparity existed
between the resources that the association generated and the services that were pro-
vided to the users. It also became apparent that no financial accounts existed of the
renting of the machinery. His queries remained unanswered, and he disliked the lack
of accountability manifested by the board. Later, he realized by talking to the water
guards and examining the accounting books that the acquiescence of the delegates
was obtained through the provision of services on their farms (road and irrigation
works undertaken at their farms under the cost price) by the association's manager. In
addition, many of them were late in paying the annual water payments and owed the
association money.
Andres was not the only person who adopted a critical position at the assemblies.
There was another recently appointed delegate, Guillermo, who started to ask un-
comfortable questions. Guillermo was a wealthy farmer and compadre (a fictive co-
parenthood relation, in this case that between a father and his son's godfather) of Jesus
vanishing mediators 911
L6pez. So far, Camacho and the agrarian lite of El Crullo had been successful in re-
sisting L6pez's attempts to infiltrate the association. Camacho saw in Guillermo an
agent of his dreaded rival and opposed his nomination; however, he was appointed.
Not surprisingly, Andres and Guillermo coincided in their criticisms. What followed
was a strategic alliance between the two, and thus a rapprochement between Jesus
Lopez, the secretary of the CNC, and Andres.
L6pez was especially interested in subverting the legitimacy of his rival,
Camacho, for he had good reasons to fear that Camacho was conniving with the new
owners of the sugar cane refinery. A plan was designed by Lopez, Andres, and
Guillermo to secure the support of a number of delegates and to persuade the comis-
ariados ejidales of a number of ejidos to change their delegates. To that end, a cam-
paign was set up by Andres and Guillermo in which the current board was accused of
undemocratic behavior (no elections of the board or the assembly had taken place
since the establishment of the association in 1989) and of incompetence (mainte-
nance of the system was below the standard). Eventually, Camacho was charged with
nepotism, favoritism, and outright corruption. He was accused of never having organ-
ized an election of the board, of using the association's machinery for his own benefit,
of not attending to the office in spite of receiving a full salary as manager, of contract-
ing the services of his brother in the execution of irrigation and infrastructural works,
and of selling water to farmers outside the irrigation district. Later, after the downfall
of Camacho, a number of other accusations of corruption were added by an account-
ancy office that was hired by the board.
The new opposition movement claimed to hold to the values of solidarity, mu-
tual help, responsibility, and transparency. In effect, the democratic opposition drew
on the discourse of the then prevalent social-liberal regime of Carlos Salinas
(1988-94). Salinas argued that the backwardness of Mexican agriculture was because
of the paternalism of the state. According to Salinas, this paternalism led to multiple
networks of patron-client relations and hence prevented the emergence of a civil so-
ciety. The argument put forward by Andres and Guillermo was that a small elite who
represented only a wealthy minority had captured the association. They had been
able to remain in power for so long by counting on the passivity of the people, bribing
the delegates with small favors, and discouraging the association members' involve-
ment and accountability. These views, it should be stressed, were vehemently coun-
tered by the elite politicians of El Grullo, who firmly denied that Camacho had been
corrupt and supported him to the end. By them, he was considered an able manager
who had successfully opposed attempts by corrupt bureaucrats and politicians to ap-
propriate the association. The adoption of the official discourse of transparency and
accountability by the opposition movement was in itself not surprising. More surpris-
ing were the ways in which notions of management and accountability were defined
by this opposition movement by drawing on populist notions of class, although medi-
ated through a cultural language of regional identity. As noted, Andres, the ideologist
of the movement, stressed not only the class differences between his group and that of
the board of the association, but he also emphasized the management style of
Originally from Guadalajara where he graduated as a civil engineer, Camacho
came from a family of agrarian entrepreneurs who owned irrigated land in El Grullo.
Camacho was able to establish a close relation with the rich landowners in El Grullo
and the agrarian bureaucracy in Guadalajara. Thanks to these contacts, he was
elected secretary of the CNPP and later administrator of the Water User's Association.
As chairman of the CNPP, he favored the privatization of the sugar cane refinery and
912 amer\can ethnologist
maintained a good relationship with the refinery's management. Yet, in spite of his in-
fluence in the region as the head of the CNPP and of the Water User's Association,
Camacho never made efforts to become a popular politician. He did not use the or-
ganizations he headed to create a political base for himself. To maintain his power
over the assembly and delegates, he depended on the influence of the old elite, com-
prised mainly of politicians who worked under the late General Barragan. In his cam-
paign, Andres again and again accused Camacho of never going to the field for in-
spections and of refusing to interact with the canaleros (frontline workers in charge of
the distribution of water) or the farmers. As is sometimes apparent in members of the
regional elite, Camacho lacked the skill or ability to deal with people outside his
class. As Andres argued, the art of managing people entailed that they should become
part of a whole, of a wider design, the creation of one collective will. But in Mexico,
and particularly in the state of Jalisco, this cohesion should occur in a culturally spe-
cific way, which is with food and drink, with musical groups and mariachi. And that
was something Camacho never did. During the time Camacho was the manager of
the association, he never organized a party. He did not recognize the ejidatarios'
yearnings for community. He gave preference to his own desires rather than to those
of the people. In fact, Andres was pointing to the importance of a particular culture of
power when developing a style of management, which in any case should combine a
willingness to engage in personalized relations with the ejidatarios and their families
(e.g., by becoming the godfather of their children or lending them money) with the
ability to organize public modes of enjoyment.
The movement against Camacho and the elite politicians was organized and
consolidated during encuentros (parties) organized by Lopez. At these parties, the dif-
ferences in the performance styles of Andres and Lopez became apparent. Andres, a
good storyteller and the self-appointed chronicler of the region, entertained the
crowds with interesting stories. In addition, he had some status as the son of a well-
known physician and former mayor and the grandson of the man who was once the
richest man in town, who established the first gas station, and who was the first to own
a car. Yet, it was Lopez who provided the enjoyment. I will now turn to the so-called
liminal spaces wherein Lopez excelled in orchestrating enjoyment.
Lopez's parties
I base this account on six parties at Lopez's house. Five of these celebrations
were held after an assembly of the association and one to honor Lopez on his birth-
day. Lopez himself was never present at the assemblies of the association, but after
each assembly, Andres and Guillermo and I would go to his ranch in El Grullo where
he would receive us in a merry mood and inquire into every detail of the meeting,
who was present and who absent and what had been the role of the various partici-
pants. At these parties, Andres typically introduced me as a sociologist undertaking a
study of irrigation turnover in Mexico and as a black belt judoka, hence suggesting
that I was in attendance as his bodyguard.
Lopez's ranch is situated at a distance of a few kilometers from the sugar mill. A
small pathway leads to the ranch, which is surrounded by sugar cane fields. It is built
in a typically Mexican style, a patio or courtyard at the heart of a square building with
a large kitchen, sleeping rooms, toilets, and a small sitting room. In the courtyard,
there is also an empty swimming pool.
Lopez owns another ranch and several hundred head of cattle in a neighboring
municipality where his wife and children live. It is common knowledge that in El
Grullo, he has a steady lover, a former brothel madam named Laura, whom he made
vanishing mediators 913
his secretary at the CNC. The story goes around that Lopez found a husband for his
lover when she was pregnant with his child, bought her a ranch with a large extension
of sugar cane on it, and forced his wife to be his lover's madrina (godmother) at the
What is striking in these spectacular stories is their highly gendered nature.
L6pez, in fact, never denied their truth value as they heightened his status as a real
"macho Jalisciense" (a Jalisco stud). It should be noted that western Jalisco is the area
where the machista imagery of the typical ranchero is most cultivated, as attested in
Mexico's popular culture.
At the parties, the composition of the invited groups differed according to the
purpose, but always present were Lopez's compadre Guillermo, Andres, myself, poli-
ticians from neighboring towns, and two of Lopez's assistants at the CNC. In addition,
two officials of the CNA would attend, local politicians, members of the association of
vegetable producers, engineers of the sugar cane refinery, comisariados ejidales
(chairmen of the ejidos), and those delegates of the association who had ingratiated
themselves with the opposition movement. Another visitor was a rich farmer nick-
named el Panzon (the bellied) who played the role of a buffoon, entertaining Lopez's
guests with anecdotes and jokes. A bachelor in his sixties, he was renowned for his
laziness and gluttony. He was seen as a spy for Lopez, visiting parties and bars, play-
ing the buffoon, and returning to Lopez with the information he gathered. That Lopez
and el Panzon were very close became quite evident during the parties organized by
Lopez, where the latter used to refer to el Panzon as the source of his knowledge
about circulating rumors. Lopez would take el Panzon with him on his travels to Cuba
(there is a special relationship between the Cuban unions of sugar cane growers and
the Mexican ones) and to the United States.
There is no doubt that Lopez was an excellent host, taking care that everyone
should feel at home on his ranch. This is not to suggest that Lopez effaced himself. He
liked to be the center of attention, and he frequently told stories and anecdotes him-
self. He expected people to laugh at them and partake in his enjoyment. When he
sensed that anyone was aloof, he tried to cheer that person up. He encouraged people
to eat and drink as much as possible, taking care that everyone's plate was filled with
food: barbecue, tortillas, and different kinds of salsas and fried beans. Typically, there
was no service personnel. Lopez himself made the barbecue, assisted by his hench-
men. Other friends, part of the inner circle, would cook the beans and prepare the
sauces. Liquor was abundant and all of the best brands were available: tequila,
brandy, rum, cognac, and whisky. All liquor was mixed with soft drinks exactly in the
same manner as the cheap mezcal from the region. I was the only one who drank
whisky pure or with water alone, a habit that motivated a couple of scornful remarks
by Lopez in which I was compared with his elitist archrival Camacho suggesting that I
shared his inability to comply with the habits of the region. Lopez especially derided
Andres as an imitator of foreign cultures when he suggested that cognac should be
drunk warm and plain. Lopez would say that on his ranch everyone should drink and
eat as they liked. He would not tolerate any effeminate manners or elite fashions; it
was their right to drink expensive Scotch whisky "a la Mejicana" (in the Mexican
way)mixed with cheap soft drinks. At the end of these encuentros, we all would be
drunk although no one passed out, probably because of the large amounts of food
eaten. The gatherings did not last until late in the night. At some point, one of Lopez's
close friends would leave, a sign that the encuentro should draw to a close.
Topics of discussion at these parties included politics and gossip about various
renowned persons, without exception in a negative way. Lopez was ready to talk ill
914 amerlcan ethnologist
about anyone, so long as that person was absent. The most frequent objects of gossip
and foul speculation were members of the elite. Lopez seemed to enjoy talking about
his sexual relationships with the wives and daughters of well-known politicians and
bureaucrats in the region. In this regard, he distinguished himself strongly from
Camacho who did not advertise or announce his sexuality in public. According to his
own accounts, "respectable" ladies found him irresistible, in part because of the ne-
glect of their "distinguished" husbands. For example, he frequently talked about his
relationship with the daughter of a member of the board of the association, an ex-
mayor and one of his enemies. He narrated the most intimate details of their relation-
ship while reminding everyone about the hate that linked him to her father, in this
way showing his prowess vis-a-vis his rival not only as a politician but also as a man.
Lopez claimed to know the sexual habits of many others, whether heterosexual or ho-
mosexual, offering plenty of details about the latter ones. Homosexuality, in fact, was
an all-pervasive theme and Lopez referenced it as an expression of weakness, am-
bivalence, and treacherousness. These stories, whether true or not, served both as
sexual rhetoric of self-aggrandizement and as ways of denigrating his rivals and in
particular the elite.
In spite of the use of a discourse of social class, Lopez did not discuss wider so-
ciopolitical issues at the regional or national level. It was Andres who broached
themes concerning the intentions of President Salinas, the nature of social-liberalism,
and the future of the PRI at the national level and in El Grullo. Lopez, in contrast, was
more concerned with petty politics. In addition, Lopez used the encuentros at his
ranch to present a view of himself as a wild man whose success could be attributed to
the fact that he transgressed all rules. This style encompassed driving fast in his Chrys-
ler Suburban car with a bottle of liquor in one hand and going to his favorite restau-
rant, the Cuatro Caminosa family restaurant where he would spend a small fortune
on mariachis, having them play for hours until far in the night when everyone had left
and he himself had fallen asleep. Neither would he refrain from harassing women he
found attractive, most often selecting those who connoted the elegance and self-
assuredness associated with women from the elite class. Being snuffed at by them
would only reassure him in their public hypocrisy as against their behavior in private
At one of the encuentros I attended, he told the following story about his ac-
quaintance with the newly appointed head of the Policia Federal de Caminos (the
highway patrol, a police department renowned for their corruption). Lopez explained
that he met the head of the Policia Federal de Caminos at Cuatro Caminos and asked
for a mariachi group to celebrate the acquaintance. Soon a man approached the head
of police, asking him for a job for his son at the Policia Federal de Caminos and offer-
ing to pay for the position. Lopez then interfered and ordered the man to pay instead
for the mariachi band, thus cashing in the reward intended for the head of police. Ac-
cording to Lopez, the more the head of the police drank the more friendly he became,
patting and hugging Lopez to the point that Lopez said he finally felt embarrassed.
Eventually, the head of police left the group to fetch a present. He came back with a
small box with golden rings, bracelets, and necklaces with crosses or Virgins of
Guadalupe, and let Lopez and his henchmen choose. In Celling this story, L6pez im-
plied that the head of police was homosexual, an accusation most likely designed to
undermine the authority of the head of police. In this way, Lopez was showing that he
did not fear outside authorities and that they were as much liable to be denigrated as
members of the elite such as Camacho.
vanishing mediators 915
It is clear that L6pez used the encuentros as a setting in which the takeover of the
association was prepared. In fact, these encuentros served him not only to counter the
threat posed by the alliance between Camacho's CNPP and the sugar refinery but also
to reinforce his position within the CNC. It would be false to argue, however, that the
encuentros became an arena leading to the formation of a group or a faction with a
distinct identity and common views of how to tackle the problems of the region.
Rather, the encuentros operated as liminal spaces within which complicities were
welded and acted out and where a regional culture of power was enacted. Drink, gos-
sip, the celebration of masculinity, and character assassination played central roles in
this enactment. These are not spaces of resistance against a dominant system (Scott
1985); neither should these performances lead to an idealization of transgression
(Taussig 1997; Tsing 1993). What is apparent in these liminal spaces is a specific ap-
propriation of images and symbols of power, and of public discourses, for defined po-
litical purposes.
the evolution of the political conflict
The power struggle evolved as follows. Andres and Lopez struck an alliance in
order to topple Camacho from the Water Users' Association. For Andres, acquiring
control over the association was a first step in the establishment of a regional popular
movement in the tradition of that created by Zuno in the Comision del Sur. Lopez, on
the other hand, was interested in reinforcing his position in the face of the new alli-
ance between the sugar cane refinery and the CNPP (thus Camacho). Andres, Lopez,
and his compadre Guillermo set out to create a majority within the assembly of the as-
sociation that would vote the removal of the sitting board. At that time, the assembly
of the association was comprised of two types of delegates. First, it included delegates
who had been closely involved in the establishment of the association and who had
become part of a new elite of sugar cane growers. This group entertained close per-
sonal and economic ties with Camacho. This type of delegate was in the minority.
The second and largest group consisted of delegates from ejidos who were under the
influence of the old elite politicians of the region, that is the group around the General
Barragan and his political heirs. These delegates were appointed through an agree-
ment between a member of the association's board and the comisariado ejidal (the
chairman of the ejido board). Thus, in accordance with the customary patron-client
alignments, Andres and Lopez set out to prove that the first group had been accom-
plices of Camacho and detach the second group from the influence of the old politi-
cians. In case members of this second group could not be influenced, Andres and
L6pez planned to negotiate their removal with the comisariados ejidales.
The campaign against Camacho was so successful that after a couple of months
Andres and Guillermo (Lopez's compadre) were elected members of the board, Andres
as manager and secretary and Guillermo as treasurer. This outcome was, however,
not enough for Lopez, who aimed at full control of the association in order to defend
his interests against those of Camacho and to strengthen his power base within the
CNC. This meant that he had to find new allies among local politicians and the agrar-
ian bureaucracy. These alliances were forged in part during the encuentros he organ-
An important issue for L6pez at the time was the impending election of a new
board of the CNC. L6pez could not run for secretary general, the most important posi-
tion in the CNC-canera, as he already had held that post three times consecutively.
He needed therefore a local leader, with some popularity and experience to become
the next secretary general. But above all this person should be unconditionally
916 american ethnologist
committed to him. He found such a follower in Joel, mayor of the neighboring town of
El Limon, whose term was ending soon. The mayor was a lawyer with little experi-
ence in agrarian issues and was not well-known among the sugar producers. Lopez
therefore gave him the opportunity to make himself known by involving him in the
struggle for control of the Water Users' Association. It was not difficult for Joel to con-
vince the comisariado ejidal of the ejido of El Limon to appoint him delegate within
the assembly of the association and thereby join the anti-Camacho group.
Six months after the rise of the opposition movement in the association the re-
moval of the entire board of the Water Users' Association was approved. In addition
to Andres (manager and secretary) and Guillermo (treasurer), the new board included
Joel (president) and two other loyal supporters of Lopez. New problems arose, how-
ever. Andres had his own populist ideas with respect to the management of the Water
Users' Association and the interests of the producers. These plans did not coincide
with Lopez's views. Lopez was only interested in the Water User's Association as long
as it helped him maintain his political control in the region, and he could not tolerate
any competitor. When Andres started to differ too much from Lopez's views, Lopez
decided to use his protege Joel to confront Andres. At the same time, this was an op-
portunity for Lopez to test the political skills of Joel.
Consequently, Joel set out to destroy the credibility of Andres. To that end, Joel
began a campaign against Andres accusing him of acting in complicity with the agrar-
ian elite against the interests of the users and portraying him as somebody who did not
differ much from Camacho. Andres confided in me that he resented these accusations
and tried to reach an agreement with Lopez through the intermediation of Guillermo,
Lopez's compadre.
Guillermo, during the time that he had been on the board of the association, had
established a close relationship with Andres, whom he admired for his engineering
skills. During the conflict between Andres and Joel, Guillermo took sides with Andres
and confronted Joel several times with his lack of knowledge about the technical as-
pects of running the association. In the process, he became a sort of intermediary be-
tween Lopez and Andres. That Lopez had no scruples in getting rid of his closest
friends is shown by the way in which he treated Guillermo, his compadre. Guillermo
made several attempts to discuss matters with Lopez, but Lopez avoided talking about
the subject with him, while telling friends that he had concerns about the closeness of
Guillermo to Andres. Guillermo, on hearing about these concerns from Lopez's
friends, grew increasingly desperate. Finally, Lopez accused Guillermo of corruption
and of establishing an alliance with Andres against him. Lopez put so much pressure
on Guillermo that the latter decided to resign from the association, in exchange for
Lopez's promise that the accusations of corruption against him would be stopped.
Then followed a concerted campaign of intimidation and character assassination
against Andres in which he was accused of engaging in exactly the same corrupt prac-
tices as Camacho. Andres tried to counter this campaign by mobilizing a number of
delegates with whom he had established a close relationship as manager of the asso-
ciation. In addition, he sought the support of the political elite with the argument that
he was the last bulwark in the association against Lopez and his corrupt supporters.
But all these initiatives were to no avail. The way in which Guillermo had been
treated proved to be highly intimidating for most delegates, in particular the big ones,
all members of Camacho's CNPP (the private farmers' producers' union). When
Andres sought an accommodation with the elite in his struggle against L6pez, the elite
did not support him. In this way, he was punished for seeking an alliance with L6pez
to oust Camacho. A new assembly was organized, and Andres failed to obtain the
vanishing mediators 917
support of the majority for a number of measures he advocated. Lopez, who for the
first time attended an assembly of the association, confronted him publicly, accusing
himofbeingaspyoftheelite. He also warned him not to get in a fight with him. Andres,
feeling that even his closest allies had abandoned him, could do little else than submit
his resignation.
The way in which Lopez managed the conflict over the association can be sum-
marized as follows. Lopez had good reason to suspect an alliance between Camacho
who combined the posts of manager of the association and secretary of the CNPP
and the management of the recently privatized sugar cane refinery. He feared that
they aimed at a further privatization of sugar cane production to the detriment of the
CNA-canera. At the same time, he used the affair to test the loyalty of Joel, while offering
him the opportunity to launch himself as a candidate at the following elections of the
CNC. In dealing with these various issues, Lopez showed his abilities as a cunning tactician.
So far I have argued that it is not enough to view Lopez as an exponent of an
authoritarian and patriarchal political culture. Neither can his role be reduced to that
of a political broker who represents and articulates different regional interests. Rather,
he is a clever operator, skilled in creating an image of himself as a slippery figure op-
erating outside the established political channels. He is adept in deploying a populist
language of social justice, yet he does not commit himself to a wider political project.
Understanding the ubiquity of caciquismo, however, requires moving beyond its stra-
tegic dimensions. It requires an exploration of how cacique performance is tied up
with determined discourses of caciquismo so as to render possible particular imagina-
tions of power. In the introduction, I proposed that caciquismo can be understood as
a discourse of the vanishing, in that it both unveils and masks the absence of a center.
Caciques, then can be seen as vanishing mediators who bear the blame for the failure
of an (imagined) center to live up to its promises (in the case of the Salinas regime that
of promoting democracy and citizen rights). In being complicit with this mystification,
cacique performers such as Lopez are actively implicated in constructing images of
themselves as corrupt and transgressive, in the process keeping up the image of a
powerful and legitimate center whose effectivity is thwarted by the corrupt actions of
liminal and illegitimate political actors commonly labeled caciques.
Next, I show how impression management is part of cacique performance by fo-
cusing on how Lopez converts himself into a spectacle, which subverts official images
and discourses of power. In this sense, he is not only an orchestrator of public enjoy-
ment but also a signifier of literal excess that, as Marilyn Ivy puts it, "goes beyond the
boundaries of gender roles, of class positions, of natural-cultural conventions" and
that produces "moments of pure spectacle, of figurality unbound and repressions
lifted, that point to a world of desires fulfilled, if only fleetingly" (1995:235).
the multiple images of Lopez
Lopez is credited with breaking the hegemony of the Barragan people in the El
Grullo region, first through his involvement in a water-distribution project and then
through his involvement in the CNC. Yet, former leaders of the CNC-canera and
members of the ejidatarios and the political elite have expressed to me lingering
doubts about his achievements and exploits.
The stance of elite members toward him is ambiguous. Several of them have said
to me that they despise him for his lack of manners and ancestry. At the same time, he
instills a mixture of fear and disgust. For example Juan, a member of the elite, sees Lopez
as an uncultured man, very astute and intelligent, who, thanks to his resoluteness and
courage, was able to accomplish much for the CNC. Yet, he lacks the necessary skills
918 american ethnologist
to become a successful politician. Precisely because of his lack of vision and political
education, he fell pray to the vices of power. Unable to aspire to higher positions in
the political system, Lopez became an alcoholic obsessed with money, power, and
women. Thus, Juan sees him as an egomaniac who is only able to surround himself by
the lowest, most mediocre characters for fear that someone more intelligent will make
an end to his power.
Andres, too, in spite of his contempt for the local elite politicians, can be counted
as an elite. As a chronicler of the historical events of the region, he describes Lopez in
one of his books as an important social fighter who liberated the sugar refinery from
the scourge of corrupt leaders. Yet, in private he portrays an image of him as a typical
exponent of the Mexican political system, which co-opts and corrupts local leaders.
Typically, Andres sees Lopez as someone who has lost family values and who holds
an immoral view of life only dedicated to material joys. As said, Andres and Lopez
knew each other from the Comision del Sur and both were strongly influenced by the
ideas and methods of Zuno Arce. Yet, whereas Andres argues that he is a true follower
of the ideology and political project developed by Zuno, Lopez set out to deploy the
skills of populist management while remaining unconcerned with any larger political
Guillermo, who can be counted among the richer ejidatarios, was deeply disap-
pointed with his compadre after being forced to resign. Yet, as he himself acknow-
ledged, the way Lopez had treated him did not differ much from the way Lopez
treated other former allies. Thus he once told me how Pablo, a former friend of Lopez,
who had been handpicked by the latter to become his successor during the last elec-
tions for the board of the CNC, was cast aside. Guillermo had been asked to an-
nounce Pablo's candidacy within the planilla (election list) of Lopez. But, at the last
moment, Lopez told Guillermo to announce another person as the candidate. As
Guillermo put it, "I had to improvise a completely different speech celebrating the
loyalty of a runner about whom we had been extremely negative." Guillermo, in
short, could not but conclude that Lopez again had showed his skills as a consum-
mate and ruthless tactician.
In the ejidos, there is a common knowledge of the stories of Lopez's corruption,
but by many he is considered a great social fighter, in the tradition of Pancho Villa
and Emiliano Zapata. He is credited for having given back to them the CNC, as an or-
ganization in defense of smallholders. Some members of the ejidos have explained to
me that they like the way in which Lopez runs the CNC asambleas (assemblies) and
the public accounts he gives of current problems, negotiations, losses, and benefits.
They also like the yearly parties organized at the end of the sugar cane harvest in the
best tradition of Zuno. At these yearly parties, which are attended by the ejidatarios,
typical regional food is served (birria) and popular bands play mariachi music. Also,
contrary to the views of many of the elite, the ejidatarios seem to consider Lopez a
spirited speaker, someone who can express their views and aspirations. As Gollo, a
wealthy ejidatario put it,
Lopez freed us from the corruption from the political elite. He did great things for us
ejidatarios and cane producers. He built the assembly house of the CNC-canera, and
converted the CNC into a popular and strong organization. In the past, we had no of-
fice building. The former leader of the CNC collected the*money for a building and
had it registered under his name and embezzled the money. They also embezzled
money from the liquidaciones (pre-payments). L6pez, in contrast, is paying advances
on the final payments. As a token of gratitude for his deeds, we voted that a new Ford
Cheyenne be bought for his use.
vanishing mediators 919
Gollo is a successful entrepreneur who likes to deal with men such as Lopez, who, as
he says, "speak our language" and does "not try to be superior to us." This is in contrast
to the elite politicians who are accustomed to dealing with ejidatarios as political cli-
ents. Commenting on rumors that Lopez steals, Gollo responded: "But why should he
not benefit himself, as long as he permits others to benefit as well. The difference with
the old rich is that they want to keep everything for themselves. They cannot share."
Another ejidatario, Victor, when commenting on Lopez told me, "I could tell you
enough about Lopez for you to write a book. It would be a rather nasty story. I once
told him right in his face that he would end like his predecessor." His predecessor had
served four consecutive terms. The story goes that when Lopez was elected, ousting
the incumbent, his predecessor, as a form of protest, moved his office furniture and
materials onto the street outside and set them up. Lopez called the police to take him
away. Victor explained that "Lopez laughed heartily" when told that he would end up
like his predecessor and challenged Don Victor "to lay a bet." Victor indicated to me
that he is proud he can talk to Lopez as one man to another, in other words, that
Lopez did not put on airs, and he does not conceal his admiration for Lopez. He likes
to compare Lopez with Pancho Villa, "who lived by the sword and died by the
sword." Thus, Lopez is seen by most ejidatarios as "one of ours," maybe more daring
and more intelligent, but culturally their equal, in the sense of speaking and enjoying
like only ejidatario smallholders can. What the ejidatarios especially appreciate is
that if they have problemssickness in the family, for instancethey can approach
him for a loan. Although he may not always deliver on what he promises, he at least
seems to care for them.
Lopez derives much of his local support from his capacity to render favors to
wealthy ejidatarios; yet, in the eyes of some ejidatarios, he has become too greedy.
Thus he has been accused of having embezzled from the social security and retire-
ment funds. In addition, they see that the deductions for inputs and work provided by
the CNC have increased, cutting profits. This has led some ejidatarios to leave the
CNC and register with the CNPP (which is legally possible). His alcohol expenses and
public expenditure of CNC money as well as his personal conduct in officeappointing
his lover as his secretaryare well known.
Lopez left a series of disaffected allies who accuse him of betrayal. Guillermo
was one of his many victims. Interestingly, the commonplace view of Lopez as a
fighter for social justice who became corrupted is contested by two of Lopez's former
comrades in the CNC. In their view, Lopez has not become corrupt, he was always
corrupt. Soon after arriving in the area, he was chased away for corruption from a
neighboring town where he had been mayor. Lopez was always prone to take credit
for the deeds of others. At the CNC-canera, he never was able to tackle the technical
challenges necessary to set up an efficient system of transport and cane cutting. He
was able to prosper only thanks to his good connections with leaders of the national
headquartersto whom he channeled large amounts of moneyand by his ability to
outcompete his rivals, in the process ensuring his perpetuation as the local leader of
the CNC. According to them, it is this combination of savvy and opportunism that en-
abled him to sustain himself in spite of his incompetence.
In their view, Lopez's appointment of his lover as secretary was not merely a self-
indulgent decision made by someone no longer capable of good judgment. Laura,
who had demonstrated her financial skills in her own enterprise, now runs the ac-
counts for Lopez at CNC. In short, his former allies present a view of Lopez as a mav-
erick who prioritizes tactics above strategy while showing disdain for any kind of ide-
ology. This lack of interest in strategic alliances was attested to by the way in which
920 american ethnologist
he dealt with his compadres; his distrust of anyone who came on as a rival political
leader; and his habit of attracting people, cultivating their friendship, using them, and,
finally, getting rid of them.
Lopez's murders
It was not only cunning that enabled Lopez to sustain himself but also his willing-
ness to play with local fears of violence. In Mexican rural areas since the revolution,
murders play an important role in the imagery of power; indeed, the revolution can be
read as a tale of betrayal and politically motivated murders (Meyer 1976). In contem-
porary times, it seems that people link every power struggle with particular, often un-
accounted for, murders. Thus General Barragan was accused of a series of murders in
western Jalisco, murdering being a habit that was inherited by his political followers.
Lopez is no exception, and he likes to convey an image of himself as a wild man.
Whether he really committed a murder is irrelevant to my analysis. What is relevant is
how murders are read in the context of narratives of caciques' political careers.
Two deaths are attributed to Lopez, one of a former secretary general of the CNC
and another of a rival within the CNC. The first victim was found in an unrecogniz-
able state in a burnt-out sugar cane field. His identification was established by analy-
sis of his teeth. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances and although his
family initially thought that he had been kidnapped, no ransom was asked. It is also
known that the victim had publicly announced that he would take his revenge against
Lopez for having had him ousted from the CNC. The second murder concerns a rival
of Lopez who was shot after he had begun to establish a strong political support net-
work in Mexico City among the national representatives of the CNC-canera. He had
arrived in El Grullo during the melon-export boom in the sixties, had married an eji-
dataria, and had become a sugar cane producer. He had set his sights on gaining con-
trol of the CNC and, for that purpose, had begun to establish important alliances with
the elite.
There are different interpretations concerning these murders, the most com-
monly held view being that Lopez would not hesitate to resort to violence. However,
Gollo, the rich ejidatario, told me a different story about the murder of the former sec-
retary general. According to Gollo, the former secretary general and a friend killed a
man years ago. The victim's son witnessed the crime and promised to avenge the
death. Years later, he arranged for the burning to death of the former secretary gen-
eral. The other assassin had already died, but his son happened to be the new mayor
of Autlan. Learning this, the avenger decided to call on him. During this visit, he ex-
plained his motive for the murder of the secretary general, adding that he would have
had the mayor's father killed, as well, had he lived. He assured the mayor that he him-
self need have no fear of vengeance as he was not to blame for his father's crime. As
he left, he vowed that if the authorities followed him, he would not let himself be
caught aliveand then he disappeared. It should be pointed out that Gollo, though
attributing the murder of the former secretary general to someone else (in an account
that is impossible to verify), does not deny that L6pez is capable of committing a mur-
der. Rather, he gives an interpretation of this specific murder in a narrative offered as
further proof of the corruption of the political elite in Autlan-El Grullo as well as an ex-
pression to popular demands for social justice. What makes the stories of the two
murders more intriguing is that Lopez never denied committing the murders. Instead,
he challenged his detractors to prove their claims. As Lopez put it, he expected the
worst accusations from his enemies.
vanishing mediators 921
It is not surprising that L6pez when confronted with these stories did not make
any effort to deny them. On the contrary, in his parties he would enjoy telling the lat-
est accusations against him. He has a history of making public his own seemingly cor-
rupt behavior: drinking, womanizing, and spending CNC funds for his own use. Nei-
ther does he aspire to any respectability. In this regard he is an open book, a public
man with vices that are enacted in public. He cultivates an image of himself as a wild
man. But there is a fantastic polyvalence in the signals emitted by the same set of im-
ages: the hero and the scoundrel who acquired wealth and power without being co-
opted by the elite; the thief who displays his booty openly; the murderer who chal-
lenges his rivals to provide evidence of his wrongdoing without making any claims of
innocence. He provides a way for thematizing, symbolizing the excess of power as a
spectacle through which a complex network of complicities is displayed. As Debord
puts it, "The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among peo-
ple , mediated by images" (Debord 1977:40). Accordingly, it is the contradictory ele-
ments in Lopez's images that establish a social relation among ejidatarios, the elite,
and former CNC allies: They share a fascinationvarying from deep admiration to
fear and contemptfor Lopez. The question at this point is: How is the imagery of
violence as a form of excessive enjoyment implicated in the cultural construction of a
given culture of power?
enjoyment as a political factor
Analysts have addressed caciquismo from a structuralist perspective, positing the
notion of a strong center that represents different social sectors, co-opts the opposi-
tion, and incorporates peripheral areas or sectors. Through the cultivation of bossism,
alliances are established between the political center and regional strongmen or ca-
ciques. What is telling in these analyses of political power is that in an imperceptible
way the assumption of a strong and coherent center driven by well-defined political
programs manifests itself. In my view, this top-down analyses of the political system is
flawed as it denies the everyday, capillary, and spectacular way in which power
works in Mexico.
In attempting to develop an alternative perspective that takes as a point of depar-
ture the ubiquity of the figure of the cacique, I argue that the performative and imagi-
native aspects of caciquismo are a central and neglected dimension of politics in
Mexico. In this concluding section, I elaborate on the theoretical implications of such
an approach to caciquismo by drawing and extending Zizek's views on the signifi-
cance of excessive enjoyment in the constitution of a political community.
In this article, I set out to identify the political role that various kinds of enjoy-
ment play in the workings of caciquismo and hence in the constitution of a political
imagery in Mexico. First, local politicians and bureaucrats seem to take pleasure in
playing the political game while showing their ability to operate skillfully within
opaque and often uncharted situations. Second, there is the enjoyment of the encuen-
tros or parties organized by caciques, where notions of self and the other are created
through highly sexualized narratives about the corruption of the political class. Fi-
nally, the continuous gossiping and reflection about real or imagined events, rela-
tions, or conflicts bind enjoyment to the political process. Through fantasies about the
extraordinary powers of caciques and speculations over Lopez's alleged murders a
spectacle of power is created that gives body to the political community. It is my con-
tention that the political system functionsand is most effectivewhen these enjoy-
ments become excessive.
922 american ethnologist
I borrowed Zizek's proposition that the bonds among the members of an imag-
ined community are made up of fantasies and myths that imply a shared relationship
toward a "Thing," thus rendering possible a particular mode of excessive enjoyment.
Zizek applies these insights to the rise of xenophobic nationalism in Eastern Europe
and the Balkans, where the "Thing" can only be evoked in terms of an irreducible dif-
ference between "us" and an ethnic "other" (e.g., the Jews in Poland and Russia, the
Bosnian Muslims in Serbia, and the gypsies in Romania). The habits, rituals, festivities,
character, and preferences of the ethnic "other" are seen as a fundamental threat to
the kernel of "our" national identity, as a denial of "our" national self. It is this obses-
sion with the Other's hidden excessive enjoyment that renders possible the imagina-
tion of a shared national community. Yet, there are important differences between the
role that enjoyment plays in Zizek's examples from the Balkans and my application of
his views for the understanding of caciquismo in Mexico. For one, the Mexican na-
tional community is not shaped through forms of racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic
nationalism. Nor is it obsessed with fear of a foreign body that comes to incarnate the
fundamental difference between ethnically homogenous conationals and outsiders
who form a potential threat to the integrity of the nation. Notions of national identity
in Mexico are not grounded in exclusionary notions of ethnic heritage, but on ideas of
racial hybridization or miscegenation that, in fact, deny in an ideological fashion the
role of racial difference in the construction of a national identity (Lomnitz-Adler 1992).
Yet, I wish to argue that the idea of excessive enjoyment as constitutive of the
"National Thing" is valid in the Mexican context, though in a different way. The ca-
cique in Mexicoand perhaps also in other national contextsfunctions as "the sub-
lime object of desire" (Zizek 1989:194-195) through which a shared relationship to-
ward the "National Thing" can be established; however, the cacique can only
function as an (imaginary) object of desire thanks to his skillful orchestration of enjoy-
ment and his capacity to convert himself into a spectacle of (excessive) power. As ar-
gued, caciques, through their performance, demonstrate the opacity and impenetra-
bility of the state, while sustaining the fetishistic illusion of a center of power where
real decision making takes place. For this reason, I argue that the discourse of ca-
ciquismo is a discourse of vanishing in which the workings of power are both dis-
closed and concealed.
An important point here concerns the construction of the cacique as an object of
desire. Paradoxically, he embodies both a certain fullness and a certain emptiness.
Fullness in terms of his self-indulging sexual avidity, his tactical skills, machismo, cor-
ruption, willingness to kill, and so forth. On the other hand, he embodies emptiness in
the sense of being the signifier of a certain void (the "Thing" itself) that is filled in by
his massive, fascinating presence. Following Zizek, this void, or lack, coincides with
the absent center of the state. Accordingly the polyvalence of the cacique is predi-
cated on the fact that whoever succeeds in filling this emptiness, or lack, in the state
acquires the status of a sublime object.
It would be apposite at this point to compare my performative approach with the
work of recent analysts who contest top-down, state-centered models and opt instead
for society-centered approaches focusing on the dialectics of domination and resis-
tance (or coercion and consent). These analysts focus on the potential for popular cul-
ture to function as a form of resistance against elite projects. They interpret hegemony
as a process and as the outcome of material and symbolic struggles, and they stress
the de-centered nature of power and the state (MaiIon 1995; Rubin 1996). Although I
share with these authors their emphasis on the de-centered nature of the regime, my
conceptualization of hegemony is different. In my view, power works through the
vanishing mediators 923
political use of stories, gossips, desires, spectacular imaginations, and fantasies by
means of which heterogeneous actors can recognize themselves as political subjects,
thus playing an active yet unacknowledged role in the imaginary construction of a
powerful political center.
In conclusion, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists have pointed to
the pervasiveness of the cacique as a habitual figure who, through his intermediation
activities, is instrumental in the reproduction of a structure of domination. It is my ar-
gument though that a shift from a structural to an imaginary and performative register
offers important insights for the understanding of how power works in the Mexican
context. Thus, I argue that, by virtue of the double movement of recognition and dis-
avowal, the cacique functions as a vanishing mediator who both unveils and masks
the absence of a center while standing for the joyful and venal side of the Mexican
"National Thing." What is at stake, however, is not only the play of imaginations
through which a culture of power is represented, but more than that, the ideological
effectiveness of the cacique in sustaining hegemonic processes. In effect, it is through
the orchestration of enjoyment and the image of excessive power that the cacique
contributes to the reproduction of a particular regime of power. In this way, the ca-
cique represents the sublime object of desire through which the idea of a strong cen-
ter comes to be incorporated in the symbolic texture of everyday life.
At this point, it is possible to be more precise about the political implications of
this self-representation of the state as that which it is not: a stable center of control. As
shown in the ethnography, the imagery of a center of power, together with the evoca-
tion of the Mexican ''National Thing'' that the cacique renders possible, lead to a sys-
tematic obfuscation of the analysis of the political process. Thus, rather than inquiring
into the nature of the state (whether it is patrimonialist, or corporatist, etc.), the ana-
lytical challenge should be to develop an adequate framework for the understanding
of the political strategies of a multiplicity of actors, giving special emphasis to their
differential involvement in the imageries, spectacles, and performances by which the
state is rendered (in-)visible. It was my objective in this article to contribute to the de-
velopment of such an analytical framework.
Acknowledgments. This article is based on research carried out in western Jalisco, Mex-
ico, from 1994 through July 1995 while I was employed by the Colegio de Michoacan. I bene-
fited enormously from extended comments by three anonymous readers for American
Ethnologist. Also, my thanks to John Gledhill and Monique Nuijten and Edwin Rap who read
drafts in different stages.
1. Knight coins the term lesser cacique, for designating those less-famous caciques who
do not figure in compendious studies of Mexican elites but who reflect the "murkier and messier
world of infrapolitics" (1997:115).
2. Carlos (1981) for example, conceives of the ejido (a corporate form of land tenure) rep-
resented by its main authority the comisariado ejidal (the chairman of the ejido) as part of a
chain of intermediaries that ascends in a pyramidal way from the periphery to the center,
thereby creating an effective mode of social and political control in the countryside. Marxist
analyses (see articles in Bartra 1975) focus on the role of Mexico's regional political leaders in
securing political control in the face of the disruptive effects of capitalist accumulation. Thus,
according to Pare" (1975), the cacique expresses the contradictions of capital accumulation at
the intersection of various modes of production. As such, the cacique is the expression of a crisis
in the development of capitalism in the countryside. More recently, de la Pena (1986), building
on the work of Wolf (1966) on brokers and Adams (1970) on power, focuses on the contradictory
processes of nation-state building and state centralization. He argues that the state generates
924 american ethnologist
particular strongmen whose function it is to act as intermediaries between different groups in
what he describes as a fragmented power domain.
3. Thus, for the Mexican case, it can be shown that diverse kinds of intermediaries attempt
to fill the gap, varying from scribes, field-level bureaucrats, ejido commissioners, loqal intellec-
tuals, and priests, all characters who offer their services in order to help local people gain access
to state services. Yet, what is distinctive of the cacique is that through a particular style and per-
formance he renders possible for different kinds of people the representation and imagining of
state power.
4. The notion of liminality has been developed by Arnold van Gennep (1909) for the study
of rites de passages, "as a temporary and transitional state preparing the way for membership in
a recognized and honored category" (Malkki 1995:6-7). Victor Turner extends the concept to
refer "to any condition outside or on the peripheries of everyday life" (1974:47). Here I wish to
concentrate on the role of liminal figures and spaces in the construction of a culture of power.
5. This spectacularization of society (Debord 1977), however, is not restricted to presiden-
tial politics; it can also be found at local levels. This participation of local people in the con-
struction of society as a spectacle through the imagination of power is not accidental. As Gupta
(1995) has argued, the language of corruption makes it possible to visualize and thematize the
state. Particularly, he focuses on the ways in which the discourse of corruption "turns out to be a
key arena through which the state, citizens, and other organizations and aggregations come to
be imagined" (1995:376). Likewise, it can be argued that the continuous practices of gossiping
and character assassination and the manufacturing of conspiracy theories (in short of what is de-
nominated in Mexico as grilla [petty politics]) constitutes a spectacle through which the social is
deployed. Typically, high-level authorities tend to express themselves in general and cryptic
terms, triggering rumor and speculation, impelling people to read their intentions and thereby
setting in motion an unstoppable circle of interpretation, a veritable speculation and rumor ma-
chine that feeds everyday life politics. The real intentions of the Mexican president or the head
of an academic institute, agency, or service are never disclosed. As a lecturer at a Mexican post-
graduate institute, I shared with my colleagues the firm conviction that such figures play with
this uncertainty and that they undoubtedly must derive pleasure from it. In fact, it can be argued
that this idea that power holders derive an extreme enjoyment from playing with uncertainty;
thus, provoking speculation provides a good example of the mechanism by which the belief in
the existence of a strong central state is shaped.
6. There is a remarkable correspondence between Zizek's views on ideology and those of
Comaroff and Comaroff (1994) and Geschiere (1997) on modernity and its reenchantments, al-
though these authors stop short of rationalization. Zizek, in contrast, provides an elaborate the-
ory of ideology for the analysis of these phenomena. In short, subjects relate to the world
reflexively via enchantments. Ideology, thus, is not on the side of consciousness but on that of
reality. The modernity of witchraft, then, is but another manifestation of fantasy as the final sup-
port of reality. The issue for Zizek, however, is not only that of documenting these fantasies but
of traversing them (Zizek 1989:124-129).
7. The ejido in Mexico is a corporate form of land property introduced after the revolution.
The chairman of the ejido board (comisariado) is commonly called the comisariado ejidal. The
PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) is composed of three pillars: the workers' sector, the
urban sector, and the ejido sector.
8. It should be noted that my concern differs from authors (such as Kristeva [1980] being
the most famous), who draw upon Bakhtin's work on carnival to celebrate the transgressive
powers of enjoyment. Bakhtin (1968) demonstrates how the democracy of carnival sets out to
undermine the bourgeois order through heteroglossia, or the proliferation of meanings in lan-
guage (see Stallybrass and White 1986 for a good critique of the transgressive Bakhtinian read-
ing). My point is that caciques are complicit with state power when orchestrating transgressive
enjoyment. Similarly, Mbembe (1992) points to the central ity of popular obscenity and the gro-
tesque in the construction of spectacles of power in African postcolonial regimes of domination.
vanishing mediators 925
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accepted October 8, 2001
final version submitted November 5, 2001
Pieter de Vries
Rural Development Sociology
Wageningen University
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands
Pieter. de Vries wur. n I