Pituto (Chile)

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Pituto 🇨🇱
Chile map.png
Location: Chile
Definition: Use of network connections to gain some advantage (commonly a job), regardless of merit
Keywords: Chile South America Latin America Personal connections Employment Opportunity Network Favour
Clusters: Redistribution Substantive ambivalence Instrumentality of sociability Economies of favours
Author: Dana Brablec Sklenar
Affiliation: Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, UK
Website: Profile page at UC

By Dana Brablec Sklenar, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, UK

In Chile, a common practice based on an influential relationship with someone, used to gain some advantage (commonly a job), regardless of merit. Pituto describes a comparative advantage that someone has, based only on their networks connections or those of their inner circle. According to Bazoret, social capital is of utmost importance in the practice of pituto, as it helps to generate access to a large, informal network of services[1]. This allows someone to activate different connections according to the obstacles they face, such as bureaucratic red tape and the inefficiency of the labour market. In consequence, in Chile there is a collective consciousness of the importance of cultivating friendships since childhood, especially those that represent a comparative advantage to one's real social and economic position. Thus one enters adulthood with a wide and diverse network to appeal to in times of need. Consequently, pituto is a common, well-established informal practice within Chilean society. We can observe that pituto is closely related to, but not limited by, the concepts of nepotism and cronyism. Bazoret suggests that pituto can be understood as:
a form of social regulation that entails a constant and systematic exchange of assistance, help and support between relatives, friends and acquaintances. It is capitalized as a symbolic debt, which generates a significant and mandatory reciprocity.[2]

Examples of the practice of pituto include obtaining an exemption from any kind of payment, getting a job without having competed for it, an enrolment in any setting without having applied for it, and superior or priority treatment in a public service of any kind, clearly differentiated from that received by ordinary people. This meaning of the word pituto has not yet been incorporated into the Real Dictionary of the Spanish Language (RAE), although a related verb, apitutar (which effectively means providing a job by influence) is included. There is a second meaning of the noun pituto which is included in the RAE, a similar concept to the English term ‘moonlighting’: ‘casual work, economically convenient, that is carried out simultaneously with a stable job and that has no official contract’ [3].

Photograph used to represent the informal practice of pituto.

There is another Chilean colloquial phrase that describes a similar phenomenon to pituto: tener santos en la corte (literally ‘to have saints in court’). Rivano explains the concept as having influences, resources or contacts in positions of power in order to make a profit or obtain a favour[4]. While the meanings of tener santos en la corte and pituto are closely related, the main difference between them is that santos en la corte refers to having contacts of the highest hierarchical importance. Pituto, however, does not necessarily involve someone in a position of power, but simply a contact that a person is able to appeal to for help if necessary. Pituto is therefore a broader concept than tenersantos en la corte.

Moreover, from the word pituto derives the concept of apitutado (adj/n). Chile Transparente, the Chilean chapter of Transparency International, describes an apitutado as:

‘a Chilean character who is the son, parent, cousin or friend of a person who holds a position of power in any public or private institution, who typically has no education, merit or sufficient preparation to do some work, but remains in that position with benefits that others usually do not have because of his kinship or friendship with the person in power.’[5]

Other derivatives of apitutado can be found in traditional Chilean slang. (1) apitutar (verb) which gives the idea of ‘providing someone with a job or other benefit by influence' and (2) apitutarse or in other words ‘to get a job through the influence of a third party with whom there is a close link'[6].

It has been argued that Chile still suffers dysfunction in terms of its development, its modern, strong capitalist economy coexisting with a social organization belonging to the rural economy which favours some kinds of patronage and more widely pituto[7]. The institutionalised practice of pituto conflicts with meritocracy or the selection process based on the merits that a person may have. This situation clearly represents a threat to open and clean public and private procedures. While the levels of corruption in Chile are lower than those found in its Latin American counterparts [8], it is still possible to observe such deeply rooted practices throughout Chilean society. Practices like pituto have a negative impact on the levels of transparency and integrity in the country, affecting not only the quality of democracy but also society’s confidence in its public institutions. As a logical consequence of this situation, there is a general distrust of recruitment processes – which are often thought to be based on pituto despite of the efforts of the Chilean state to make them more transparent. The state has introduced a number of measures to prevent and disincentivise pituto in the public sphere. These include the creation of the Consejo de la Alta Dirección Pública (Council of High Public Administration) in 2003; the enactment of the Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (Law of Transparency and Access to Public Information) in 2008; and the creation of the Consejo de Auditoría Interna General de Gobierno (Council of General Internal Audit of Government) in 1997 (amended in 2005). Nevertheless, the practice of pituto remains deeply institutionalized in the behaviour of the Chilean population.


  1. Bazoret, Emmanuelle. (2006). El valor histórico del pituto: clase media, integración y diferencia social en Chile. Revista de Sociología del Departamento de Sociología de la Universidad de Chile.N°20. Pp.69-96.
  2. Bazoret, Emmanuelle. (2006). El valor histórico del pituto: clase media, integración y diferencia social en Chile. Revista de Sociología del Departamento de Sociología de la Universidad de Chile.N°20. Pp.69-96.
  3. Real Diccionario de la Lengua Española. (2014). Pituto.Available at: http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=pituto (Accessed: 19 of October, 2014).
  4. Rivano Fischer, Emilio. (2010). Dictionary of Chilean Slang. Your key to Chilean Language and Culture.AuthorHouse, USA.
  5. Chile Transparente. (2009). Diccionario del Corrupto de la Lengua. Súmate al Chile sin Corrupción. Capítulo Chileno de Transparencia Internacional. Available at: http://es.slideshare.net/nuestrocanto/diccionario-del-corrupto-de-la-lengua (Accessed: 17 October 2014).
  6. Academia Chilena de la Lengua. (2010). Diccionario de uso del español de Chile. (2010). MN Editorial Ltda.
  7. Cleary, Eda. (2009). El pituto, un flagelo permanente contra el progreso de Chile.The Clinic. Available at: http://www.theclinic.cl/2009/11/15/el-pituto-un-flagelo-permanente-contra-el-progreso-de-chile/ (Accessed: 19 of October, 2014).
  8. Transparency International. (2014). Corruption by Country / Territory. Available at: http://www.transparency.org/country (Accessed: 19 of October 2014).