Caudillos | Definition, Origin & Features

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Caudillos – Meaning and Definition

Caudillos: Political, military and ideological leaders who emerged during the 19th and 20th centuries.


Who were the Caudillos?

The caudillos were political, military and ideological leaders that emerged during the 19th and 20th centuries in various countries of Southern America.

These were not popular leaders, but led the popular sectors leading a coalition of elite forces.

The appearance of numerous caudillos in the different South American countries formed a social phenomenon.

Features of the Caudillos

Among the main characteristics of the caudillos, we can highlight the following:

  • They were charismatic leaders who generally came to power through informal procedures, such as inclusive and populist speeches with simple and dogmatic rhetoric, or by resorting to patriotism, regionalism, and gift giving.
  • They were seen as exceptional men, capable of defending and representing the interests of the community and with a developed capacity for political-military command.
  • They were characterized by having a great ambition for political and social power, and by being able to face fighting to impose their ideals.
  • Most of them were landowners who stood out in the protection of the borders, the fight against the Indian or in their participation in the independence struggles.
  • They enjoyed economic resources; some were merchants, landowners or military men who had great power and prestige.
  • They managed the sectors according to their needs, the social actors through interest and approval, and their opponents through repression.

Origin of the Caudillos

After the independence movements throughout Latin America, at the beginning of the 19th century, the politically unstable scenarios and the long armed conflict led to the appearance of caudillos in several of the new countries, who stood out for being strong and charismatic men.

Their power was based on the support of important fractions of popular sectors, which trusted them for their expression of joint interests and their ability to solve common problems.

Caudillism, as a political and social phenomenon, occurred during long periods of republican history in Latin America.

In some cases this led to strong dictatorships, political and economic stagnation, while on other occasions it led to the first federal and democratic modalities in the respective republics, as well as the implementation of ideals of autonomous development.

Main Warlords

Among the main leaders who stood out for their actions, we can mention the following:

  • Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877): Argentine military and politician, governor of the province of Buenos Aires and main leader of the Argentine Confederation.
  • José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850): Military man, statesman and messenger of federalism, who participated in the war for the independence of the united provinces of the Río de La Plata, was head of the Orientals and protector of free peoples.
  • Manuel Dorrego (1787-1828): Politician and military man who participated in the Argentine War of Independence, was one of the main referents of federalism and, on repeated occasions, governor of the province of Buenos Aires.
  • Bernardo O’Higgins (1778-1842): Military and politician who had a great participation in the process of Independence of Chile. He is recognized as one of the fathers of the Chilean homeland.
  • Agustín Gamarra (1785-1841): Peruvian military and politician who, based on his great ambitions and participation in the politics of that country, was a military leader and president.
  • Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811): Priest and revolutionary who participated in the Mexican War of Independence. This was captured and shot in Chihuahua after being defeated in these battles for independence.
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