Category Archives: Week Five

Week 5: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

The topic for this week was particularly fascinating for me. I enjoyed learning about how such a large area of land dealt with an extreme transition from monarchy rule to independence. After reading about the context of their situation, it’s understandable why the people, both elites and indigenous, struggled to find the right balance of power.

I noticed each group had their own self-serving definition of what freedom meant to them. These values were amplified when the Spanish colonial age ended and the people felt they needed to protect their own interests in this unpredictable time.

This led to the rise of caudillos, who proved to be complex figures. They were contradictory, providing what many needed while prohibiting any progression of a strong, centralized union for countries in Latin America. A large majority of a caudillo’s following would consist of peasants and Indians in need of a leader to defend their autonomy. With liberal elites trying to change communal land holding laws to their advantage, villagers would heavily rely on the caudillo to protect their land and sometimes even grant more land to the rural poor for their military service. The dissimilarities in interests within countries were one of the main reasons it was so difficult to establish an overall institution that could equally serve the people. As difficult as it is for me to imagine living under a caudillo ruler, who acquires many enemies and only provides a temporary solution to problems, I can recognize why certain Latin Americans during this time period would depend on this style of leader.

The map on page 51 of the textbook also stood out to me as I was reading. It provided a shocking depiction of the negative repercussions of a weak central state. Actually seeing the receding borderlines due to lack of union emphasized the seriousness of the post-colonial crisis. Bolivia’s divided people made them extremely vulnerable to attacks, with only a series of independent caudillos to act as military figures. This up against more stable and somewhat prosperous states, such as Chile, led to the loss of almost half of their territory.

Overall it was very interesting to learn about a segment of history that I have not been taught before. It still amazes me how my secondary school provided practically nothing on history of Latin America.