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Conditional Opportunities: Conceptual Disparities and Practical Shortcomings of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs in Chiapas, Mexico

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Aimed at building human capital and alleviating poverty, Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program Oportunidades has been hailed a success with proponents citing a large body of statistical evidence as support for program. However, far less information is available on the quotidian experiences of the program from the point of view of beneficiaries and those involved in administrating the program and its related services. By looking into the personal experiences and life histories of beneficiaries and workers, we can gain insight into important issues that do not always arise in the statistical data or surveys that only directly address the program. For this project interviews with program recipients as well as official and non-official program employees were conducted in Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico. This major project suggests that the formal rhetoric utilized by participants and workers to discuss the program directly often contradicts their experiences; therefore, an investigation into participants’ life experiences and histories can augment or even challenge an understanding of the program based on statistical evidence or survey data. This project also contributes to a growing body of research based on qualitative methodology that explores the complexity of CCT programs through in depth interview and observation. What emerges is a motif of discrepancies: Discrepancies between the ideological underpinnings of the program and participants’ experiences of poverty, as well as discrepancies between program objectives and actual program functioning. As a result, a number of critiques arise regarding service quality, the efficacy of conditionality, and program sustainability in the face of proposed expansions.
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