Week Nine: Power to the People

Contrasting the political leaders who favoured the middle-class or elites, populist leaders appeal to the working class. These people often felt forgotten by repressive regimes and were empowered by leaders who respected them. Dawson argues that populism’s massive influence in Latin America came about at a time of social and technological change that inspired populists to change the role of a political leader while “crowds” became a unified “people.” He relates populism to caudillaje as well, claiming that both these types of leadership encompass a vast amount of leadership that otherwise is not defined as left- or right-wing leaning. These types of leadership seem to cater more towards the “people,” or at least, they appeal to the people’s demands and reflect what the people need and want at the time.

Social changes, like larger cities and a larger working class, coupled with new forms of media like the radio, inspired politicians to take advantage of technology to reach (and appeal to) a wider audience. Attempted by Getúlio Vargas and Carlos Lacerda in Brazil, and Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico, Juan Domingo Perón and Eva “Evita” Duarte seemed to successfully grasp the power of new media (radio, popular culture, music) to appeal to the working class of Argentina.

Perón’s emphasis on political loyalty from the working class is reflective of the caudillaje loyalty system. Caudillaje was popular in its time, and Peronism became very popular too. Perón coupled this loyalty with government-partnered unions to empower industrial workers while achieving his goal of rapid industrialisation that was successful during Argentina’s postwar economic boom due to its export industry. Dawson says that Perón was successful because he was charismatic, delivered on his promises, and respected workers.

The primary sources this week surround Evita’s speech about refusing the VP position alongside Perón. Though both Perón and Evita “subject [them]selves to the decision of the people” and “do as the people decide,” Evita really captured the people’s attention. From my analysis, she acted as a bridge connecting the people and their demands with Perón and his political actions. Dawson argues her relationship with the masses was due to her unique perspective on Argentina, created because of her working class upbringing and professional career later on. Before politics she was a bridge between worlds, and her association with Perón only strengthened that role. The question I had while reading this chapter was “why did Evita so badly not want to become VP?” In the documents she mentions the struggle and the honour of the VP position, and reliquishes the honour portion. She implies she would still be heavily involved with Peronism and the people. so why does she not want the VP position to make that responsibility official? Was she afraid this official title would lead to her being caught up in a revolutionary overthrow? I came to the conclusion (but am definitely open to other opinions!) that she appealed to the people through her humbleness (always crediting work to Perón, her one goal of supporting Perón, explaining her infinite debt to the descamisados) and an official title, anything other than “Evita,” would cause her to focus more on political bureaucracy (Perón’s responsibility?) than being a bridge, a voice for the people, the thing that made her popular in the first place.

2 thoughts on “Week Nine: Power to the People

  1. Daisy E Sessions

    Hey there,

    I kept wondering how much pressure Eva was to renounce being the VP. I kept wondering if her husband played a large part in that as he would likely feel threatened if the people began to follow her or showing mroe loyalty to her. There is something politically dangerous about how invested the people were in her as a leader and figure, especially in a time where Latin American politicians struggled to connect with a variety of classes and ethnicities.

  2. valeria perez

    It’s interesting to see how the figure of the caudillo has evolved through time. It makes me think that we’re always looking for a different way to influence and have a voice in the political agenda through specific political leaders. Answering to your question, I will like to know what was the real relation between Evita an Perón. Was they relation a true love story or just another political tactic to give a fake power to the poeple?


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