Week 5: Caudillos Versus the Nation State


After watching the lecture and reading Caudillos Versus the Nation State”, I could see some of the appeal behind a caudillismo system. The Caudillos could appeal to the marginalized, as it is claimed that Guatemalan caudillo Rafael Carrera did when he restrained the state and vouched for the peasant’s rural autonomy. With the power vacuum and institutional upheaval following all of these independence movements, it makes sense why regional power brokers would emerge to unite people amidst uncertainty and change.

I think the Caudillos offered a lot: substantial and practical financial benefits to their gauchos, along with the food, apparel, and other currency that’d entail. Under the wing of a caudillo, political and personal vendettas could be enacted against enemies. If we look back on previous lessons discussing Latin America’s confounding identity, the caudillos might’ve instilled a sense of identity better than a liberal democracy would have. After all the caudillos united communities, empowered commoners in local affairs, offered protection in legal and more visceral conflicts.

This amounts to a system of clientelism, patronage, but most importantly, reciprocity, which I would think there’d be a high demand for after the inequitable tyranny of the Spanish. Mixed-race and impoverished people had a part to play and reward to gain in newly formed states. While the caudillos were responsible for much suffering, I think a nuanced view can still condemn them and see the benefits they brought. As far as post-independence periods go, perhaps the caudillos do provide caveats that a liberal democracy wouldn’t. Whereas elites are able to manipulate pretty much all political systems, caudillos seemed to have more to say to the elites than most corruptions in democracies do. Another flaw in a liberal democracy lies in the populace’s ignorance and biases. This is true of the United States now, which is more polarized now than in a long time. To impose that on an uneducated and inexperienced nation would likely yield similar results, and even now the multiculturalism and equality of democracy is yet to be hashed out in parts of Latin America.

With all of this being said, I came across this political ad for the 2020 election. I can’t attach the video here but I can give the URL, just enable the ads to access.


What is there to say about a country that prides itself on being a liberal democracy when the #1 person in power begins acting like a “caudillo” (according to this ad)? What could this advertisement tell us about the way the United States perceives Latin America?

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