When The Bureaucrats Take Over: 1980s Technocrats and the Unlikely Solution to Mexican Rural Poverty

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:50 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Gabriela Soto Laveaga, University of California, Santa Barbara
In the early 1980s Mexico conducted a two-year study on national poverty. The study demonstrated, unsurprisingly, that poverty was clustered in highly indigenous and agrarian areas. The solution, however, was unexpected. To "treat" poverty brigades of doctors and nurses would be sent to educate the poor about preventive health. In addition, rural Mexicans would be taught how to build latrines, grow community gardens, and the need for vaccinations. The model would be based on a notion of reciprocal responsibility: the government would provide some funds but the community would implement them. Shortly after the program was launched Mexico entered one of the worst economic crises in the nation's history, the 1986 peso crisis. Social programs were slashed and poverty levels increased. The promising program, Coplamar, was slated for termination. But bureaucrats who had been instrumental in the creation and implementation of the anti-poverty program defied the national government and continued to, with minimal funds, carry out reform. This paper will examine the instrumental role of these technocrats in the program's survival and successful implementation.