Week Five

The reading hinted that post-independence Latin America was rife with caudillos because they sort of took on the role of their past colonial kings. I tend to agree with this suggestion because though many wanted a change and fought for exactly that, it’s very difficult to completely switch up the whole system for a country within a matter of years. Therefore, the easiest option would be to look for someone who is similar to what they are used to.

What struck me the most in this week’s reading is that, as I was reading about the characteristics of caudillos in 19th century Latin America, I couldn’t help but see a relation between Hugo Chavez and the caudillos. Chavez was a strong, charismatic, military-man who came from humble beginnings and ended up becoming the president of Venezuela from 1999 to 2013. He campaigned by promising improvements in conditions for Native Venezuelans as well as the poor. As a result of his favoring of the underprivileged he was hated by elites. Similarly, Rafael Carrera also came from a working-class family and enlisted in the army before beginning his political career as the Guatemalan caudillo during the mid 19th century. He was despised by elites but adored by the lower classes because he sought the latter’s favor by protecting their interests. I found it interesting that, though centuries apart, these two leaders had a similar approach to leadership. This then led me to think about the progression of Latin American politics over the years, and whether the socio-political contexts have significantly changed.

One of the issues that has stayed relatively constant is the large inequality gap between the rich and poor in many Latin American countries. It’s easy to see why the disadvantaged would love caudillo-type leaders; they new they needed a large fan-base, therefore they catered to the needs of the lower cast. This large minority that was overlooked or mistreated by the elites and looked to make alliances with whomever would offer security. By giving them favors and looking out for their welfare, caudillos gained their support and loyalty which helped them keep their positions of power despite large opposition by the elites. Juan Manuel de Rosas and Chavez both worked to show the poor that they were just like them and had their best interests in mind.

My questions for this week are can you think of any other modern-day caudillos? And do you think Latin American countries are bound to keep having caudillos?


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