During the Week 5 readings about caudillos we examined how they were able to come to power and how the appeal of immediate and concrete rewards in exchange for military or political support from followers outweighed the abstract appeal of liberalism or citizenship. I was left wondering more about the socio-political structure of caudillismo and how it compared to the strict social stratification and order of colonial times. The essay, “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”, by Valentina Ayrolo and Eduardo Miguez further explains these caudillismo dynamics.
Although, independence brought about many changes, the social hierarchies that existed during colonialism were largely the same with creoles being at or near the top. Creoles, wealthy landowners and those who had won military prestige became the new ruling class – the caudillos. What was different was the way in which social power was defined and achieved. One was no longer able to gain or hold power through class alone but now power was dictated by one’s ability to connect with rural people. In this sense, power was “ruralized”. The lower class peasants that made up the caudillos following included vagrants, farmers, former military men who had either deserted or lost another battle and freed slaves.
I wondered why rural, lower class people were so inclined to follow an elite leader with whom they had little in common and in some cases may have contributed to their oppression. According to their essay, the bond formed between caudillos and their followers was based on three main elements: the charisma of the leader, distribution of goods gained from pillage and the administration of justice. The charisma of the caudillo was ingrained in his ability to mobilize and garner the respect of the rural people through displays of courage, wisdom, cruelty to enemies and benevolence to allies. Caudillos had to tactfully distribute the bounty of their raids so to quell insurgencies and reward loyalty. The used mercy and justice as tools to demonstrate the return of having close ties with the caudillo. In this way, a strong patron-client relationship was established.
Furthermore, caudillismo was not specific to one political ideology as presented in our readings, there were Unitarian caudillos as well. The Federalist caudillos were more powerful and prominent as quintessential caudillo examples because the federalist ideology they pushed was so hyper-local that they and their followers saw even the neighbouring regions as being complete foreigners. I can see how this would forestall the generation of a national identity and government as we discussed in class. However, caudillismo did create a sort of social order in a time where anarchy was constantly on the brink.
The essay, “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”, by Valentina Ayrolo and Eduardo Miguez illuminates the soci-political dynamics of caudillo rule in terms of the patron-client relationship, they background of caudillos and their followers and how caudilloism prevented national government.
Ayrolo, Valentina, and Eduardo Miguez. Reconstruction. “Reconstruction of the Socio-Political Order After Independence in Latin America: A Reconsideration of Caudillo Politics in the River Plate”. Jahrbuch fur Geschichte Lateinamerikas, vol. 49, no. 1, 2013, pp. 107-131.