Week 5: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

This week’s lecture spoke about post-independence Latin America and the rise of Caudillos. Initially, one may think that life after independence would be great, but unfortunately, this was not the case for Latin America. In reality, Latin America was spotted with wars between different nations and neighbours. Independence left many people susceptible to harm, and this lead to the rise of Caudillos.

Caudillos are defined as military ‘strongmen’ who would gather support from their ‘clients’ by promising protection,  or land. In return, these caudillos gained political and even military support. With this support, they gained power. The lecture asks us why post-independence Latin America was fertile ground for the rise of said Caudillos; I believe this was because after independence, the poor and powerless were extremely vulnerable with worn-torn regions. Furthermore, the Caudillos were essentially leaders who could provide a sense of direction for the people, and as they advertised a form of ‘inclusive community’ and ‘fictive kinship’ to the indigenous peoples, (who were previously looked down upon due to the Casta system) they tended to be popular amongst them.

The Age of Caudillos reminds me of the saying “out of the frying pan, and into the fire”. I fount it slightly ironic that people fought for independence, only to find themselves lost and in need of a strong leader, ultimately holding centralized power. Granted, the new leader was not foreign which could’ve formed a sort of connection between the people and their leader. Nevertheless, foreign or local, corruption is still possible as we saw in the age of Caudillos.

After watching the lectures and reading the textbook, I was left wondering: were Caudillos seen as good, or bad? In a way, they did unify the nations and in a sense, created the foundation of a nation. However, they were both popular and unpopular amongst a vast majority of people, such as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who, despite having been forced to retire or resign and was even exiled, was elected and re-elected a whopping 11 times and is even seen as a national hero. I feel like this type of irony that occurred in Mexico was representative of how tumultuous post-independence Latin America was. It was in need of direction, and Caudillos were the ones to provide it. Whether or not they did a mediocre, good or great job doing so, they indeed helped shape contemporary Latin America.

A question for discussion – What do you think of Caudillos? Do you think they did more harm than good? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

4 Replies to “Week 5: Caudillos Versus the Nation State”

  1. I like you point about the paradox of Caudillismo in the post-independence era. It does seem rather strange that people returned to another sort of authoritarian rule so soon after. I guess, however, that they had not yet experienced other systems and perhaps that lessened their imagination of other possibilities.

  2. I find myself leaning towards the Caudillos, at least from the information I have so far. I feel that the Liberals were only hoping to perpetuate the caste system, with the elite and city dwellers reaping the benefits of modern society while the people that lived outside of these areas suffered. Within the Caudillo system, rural life flourished and it is obvious to see why people would want to support a system that allowed them to live better than they previously had or would in the new system.

  3. Hi! I agree with your point of view. I believe the Caudillos really gave the people a much needed sense of direction. Whether they were good or bad is as you said subjective. In that time, I think they were probably good for the people because they had such a strong sense of leadership. In the short run, they benefited many. In the long run, it is clear that they were really only a temporary solution. However, at that time, it would have been nearly impossible to know.

  4. I think that though the caudillos can’t necessarily be classified as ‘good’, they were in a way needed during the aftermath of the revolution and the subsequent disassociation with the Spanish monarchy and all that it represented within a political/economic context as well as its ties to a larger societal identity. The caudillos were flawed, but they gave the precarious society a semblance of stability which I think many of the people needed at that time.

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