Week Five: “Caudillos versus the Nation State”

It is clear that right after independence was gained by different countries in Latin America, the ‘caudillo’ figure was born out of necessity. Consequently, this was the care because some political similarities were necessary to maintaining pre-existing colonial ways of managing power relations. I find it interesting to know the story of Santa Anna, Mexico’s first and perhaps most famous caudillo and how he was regard as a hero in good times and as a villain when things went wrong. As I see it, caudillos were important political and military figures that used force to achieve their political goals throughout Latin America. Caudillos had powerful regional power alliances with other less important male caudillos in the country, not only to achieve dominion over vast territories, but also to maintain loyalties as a reciprocity relation with the main caudillo in power. Hence, hierarchical masculinity, commerce interaction, and political control by the use of arms, is what tied together all this new model of governance in the region.

As power struggle goes, I find even more interesting to study how other social groups resisted caudillo forces in Latin America. For example, the book mentions the Argentinian gauchos (cowboys) and their struggle to maintain a regional identity. This is why I’ve always found literary works related to the gauchesco subject and the ‘pampa’ region of Argentina very appealing to read. Indeed, I remember reading “Don Segundo Sombra” and “El gaucho Martin Fierro”, as two great best examples of this type of literature having powerful rebellious figures as protagonists and whom counteracted the authoritarian figures imposed by caudillos like Rosas may have presented at the time. On the other hand, figures like Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina can be seen as a mediator for the poor and less political dominant people within the region. In contrast, many other prominent opposition leaders blamed him of being cruel and authoritarian and someone whose political doctrine brought upon Argentinians barbarism forms of governing. On the other hand, Unitarians may have seen to fight such backward measures with a more liberal and progressive forms of governing.

In Esteban Echeverría’s “El Matadero” (the Slaughterhouse), we see a clear division between barbarism versus civilization. On one hand, we have the Nationalist party where Rosas is a leader representing backwardness, inter-racial mixing, and the interface of a conservative catholic charge in governmental affairs. On the other hand, we have the Unitarians who saw themselves in favour of liberal reforms, progress within their countries, but nonetheless, as people who could be unified progressively into one homogenous race of European origin. Likewise, in the “Slaughterhouse”, Echeverria makes many allusions to the bible such as the Great Flood and the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also important to notice that, even though there are some biblical references in the story as a way to criticize the influence capabilities of the Catholic Church in Argentina, one cannot forget how divisive and racist the views of the Unitarians were against blacks, mulatos, and mestizos in the story. People of other races are depicted as barbaric, scavengers, chaotic, almost non-human, to which I do not agree with. Furthermore, I presume that Echeverria’s intention was to represent a precise dark political period of Argentine’s history by showing Rosas as barbaric; however, one must not forget that history has many manifestations and that not all is white and black and that we need to be critical of what we read.


  1. I like that you bring up Echeverria’s view and language towards blacks, mulatos, and mestizos. I noticed that he uses very derogatory words to describe them. “Las negras” are repeatedly mentioned in relation to gruesome descriptions of slicing or ripping apart meat. It seems like he references these groups of people as a way of emphasizing the disgust of The Slaughterhouse. So, is there much difference between how Unitarians’ treat these minorities and how the Federals’ treat the Unitarians?

  2. Hi Emily,

    Thanks a lot for your comments. I think that the use of derogatory language in the story is very bias and speaks of a time, and perhaps still happens, people expressed themselves in a very nasty way. We as people have come a long way, but there is still lots of work to do.
    See you in class.

  3. It is interesting that even though Echeverria is critical of the Catholic Church, he takes advantage of it to portray the Unitarian as Christ, an admired figure.

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