Week 5 – Caudillos

Echeverria’s The Slaughterhouse was very hard to read. Not only was it told from the perspective of an elite with deeply rooted racist opinions, but the tone of the story is one of dejected acceptance of the inevitable loss of culture to “barbarism.” The depictions of, as Dawson puts it, the “dark skinned people of the countryside” are vile and unfair. They are presented as individuals capable of torture and murder, as completely lacking in social decency, and they repeatedly make a mockery of the revered Catholic church. In contrast, the light skinned European is pained as an innocent victim, destroyed by the barbarians. The text may offer us deeper insight into the mind of an elite in Latin America during this period, but at the same time, it is disturbing to read the embedded racism of the time in such stark language.

The emergence of the caudillos post-independence seems a natural progression. After decades of continued repression peasants, the indigenous, and the lowest classes, would certainly pounce on the opportunity to gain from the ineffectiveness of a weak state. Who wouldn’t rally behind a champion of the poor, after generations of oppression? If you happened to be a charismatic and militarily-minded man after independence, you were in a unique position to gain power and allegiance by forming relationships with the right people. And with an army of underprivileged, angry, non-elite people demanding an interlocutor to defend their interests, you could bolster your own might by appealing to them. It is difficult to ascertain the motives of these caudillos. Were they really championing human rights? Or were their actions driven by personal ambition? Either way, the political landscape of the region shifted away from the state and toward these, in a way, military powerhouses.

Of course, the rise of the state once again drove out these opportunists, or more appropriately, created infertile soil for the sort of domination caudillos practiced. With a move toward liberalism, as in the example of Mexico, the state gained stability and institutions appeared, but so did capitalism. And as Dawson points out, in the span of 50 years, 90% of Mexican land was owned by 1% of the population. Though I certainly support state intervention in the name of equality and aid for the poorest, I admit that I can understand the allure of a charismatic champion, fighting for the rights of the poor, despite that champion’s own motives.

How did the end of the caudillo era affect other states in Latin America?


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8 Responses to Week 5 – Caudillos

  1. Matilda

    I think you made a great point on Echeverria’s “The Slaughterhouse”. When first reading it, I didn’t notice the racist undertones of his short story. To be honest, I’m not so sure that the caudillo age truly ever ended. Since the mid-19th century, there have been numerous examples of charismatic leaders who catered to the poor and were despised by the elites of their country. I think there’s still an onging political debate in some Latin American countries about which type of leadership would be best for them

  2. kito gordon romero

    I very much agree with your interpretation of “slaughterhouse.” how interesting is it to see the way that the elites perceive themselves. It’s truly amazing to see the self-deception of the elite class(then and now). Clearly, they were the barbaric murders of the ere.

  3. Leobardo

    I agree with what you said about caudillos, it was expected that the charismatic-military educated people would be the one to domain in this scenario of chaos. Their methods might not be fair (the fact that people had to favor the caudillo) but in the end, they worked. There was a necessity and the caudillos provided a temporary solution for people.

  4. Liz

    I also very much agree with your opinions. I found the Slaughterhouse quite disturbing, especially with it’s depictions of the Federalists. The deep rooted racism and grim analysis of the people only helps to illustrate why the Caudillos had the support they did. With “liberal” friends like these, who needs enemies?

  5. Silas

    Hi! Great post. I really like your perspective on the slaughterhouse. I must admit that I was more fixated with the explicitly disturbing details of the story and missed some of the more implicit messages it- like the stuff you pointed out. Thank you!

  6. Lourdes Kletas

    Great post! I agree with your analysis of The Slaughterhouse. It was very disturbing to read the piece and see the blatant racism.

  7. craig campbell

    When I read “The Slaughterhouse” I almost got the impression it was a dark comedy. Absolutely, the depiction of the lower classes, the mulatto, the black folks, and the indigenous made my skin crawl, but it was such a calamity that it was almost humorous. But now I wonder if the narrator knew that how things were going in that society at that time was a colossal joke; that ultimately, the narrator knew society was a disaster waiting to happen.

  8. sabeeha manji

    Great post- especially about the part where you talk about the tone of the story being one of dejected acceptance of the inevitable loss of culture to “barbarism. This is an excellent point. Moreover, I feel like charismatic leaders always have a way to win over the crowds even if what they are saying is utter garbage. If you have a way with your words you are able to easily manipulate the crowds.

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