During week 5, we learned about the era of caudillos in Latin America and how their reign forestalled the implementation of national government, democracy and modernization. We discussed the impact of the vacuum left by independence in creating this political phenomenon that became a corner stone in Latin American political history. However, there were many additional and key factors that contributed to the setting of caudillismo and to the rise of local strongmen. The essay, “Caudillismo: Identity Landmark of Hispanic American Authoritarian Political Culture” by Alina Titei outlines these additional factors.
The setting of caudiillismo was largely borne out of the chaos created by independence. Prior to independence, some historians theorize that the oppressive colonial rule and the legacy of conquistadors contributed to caudillismo. The Spanish monarch ruled with absolute power, encouraging and allowing conquistadors to rampage and pillage in the Americas. This effectively transferred these ideals to the New World, paving the way for this style of leadership and patron-client relations to later establish itself. Later on, during the independence movement, the violent uprisings and revolts by lower class indigenous and slaves as well as by creole elites seeking sovereign power from the Spanish “penninsulares” resulted in a breakdown of social order. Along with this, these wars for independence resulted in economic downturn leaving many in worse situations of poverty and/or without means to make a living. Finally, post-independence brought about a political and social vacuum in Latin American nations that had no historical political system of their own to draw on. Attempts to fill the void by adopting models of liberal constitutions from European nations largely failed and violence and wars ensued throughout Latin America. Altogether, these factors set the stage for the local strongman to take the lead.
Caudillos could not be just anybody, but again were characterized by specific factors and traits that led to their power. Caudillos were successful in rising to leadership roles if they were militarily successful, were able to connect with the local people through popularity and charisma, and were cruel to those who threatened their power. Caudillos had to be able to manage and provide the two most valuable resources at the time: land and protection. Often, caudillos came from wealthier families with a good portion of land and/or were very successful in battle and appointed to lead over the lower-class peoples by other creoles. With these factors and characteristics, local strongmen became successful caudillos.
Thus, in addition to the elements creating caudillajae and leading to the success of caudillos that we learned about in the readings and discussion of week 5, there were many other key factors involved outlined in the essay.
Titei, Alina. “Caudillismo: Identity Landmark of Hispanic American Authoritarian Political Culture.” Philobiblon, vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, pp. 283-296.