Week 5 Reflections

The rise of the caudillos can be understood in the powerlessness of the average worker during the post-independence era. Pre-Independence, the interests of the ruling Creole elites were kept in check by the Spanish Colonial establishment. However, once these protections were stripped away, indigenous peoples, poor, working, or otherwise disenfranchised people had to look elsewhere for protection against increased exploitation and displacement. Within this context, many groups opt for different solutions, which ultimately means aligning with larger political entities that can provide protection.  It is these decentralized conditions which led to the rise of the caudillos. It’s worth noting, there was a substantial degree of anxiety among all walks of life during this period. War and national tragedies were commonplace aspects of life in 19th Century Latin America. These are the conditions in which political/military strongmen thrive; a status quo that builds upon itself the less checks and balances exist.

The appeal to the poor and powerless in particular can, in part, be understood by looking at the colonial system which had previously subjugated such people. As previously mentioned, many disenfranchised people enjoyed certain protections under the overarching colonial leadership of the Spanish system. This sort of detached god-king role similarly meshed with the role of Catholicism in the region, and the worship of idols or symbols that were thought to represent some sort of otherworldly power. The sum of these factors was such that caudillos fit quite nicely into the power vacuum left by the Spanish; offering similar protections and fitting into a similar authoritarian role. It’s worth noting that many of those who supported caudillos likely lacked any real agency of their own, and one of the primary ways of attaining land or other sorts of wealth, was fighting for one of these warlords, who would sometimes split up the spoils of war with their soldiers. I suppose I’m trying to say that it seems as if the caudillos were often the best option around in terms of attaining prosperity, or even simply survival.

It’s difficult to say whether Echeverria held any degree of respect for the caudillos themselves. However, in “The Slaughter Yard,” he demonstrates a small degree of flexibility within their system that allows for recognizing human needs rather than focusing on structural ideals. For example, instead of letting the bull go to the dogs, the judge looks the other way as its meat is used to feed a starving populace. While this is certainly not high praise, it’s a small slice of ‘benevolence’ within an otherwise depraved moment. Should we look at this as Echeverria displaying a small silver lining of the caudillos? Or is it simply a image of humanity in a moment when it’s hard to come by?

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