The caudillo is the system of leadership or government of a caudillo. The notion of caudillo, on the other hand, comes from the Latin capitellus and refers to the person who directs a community or body and who acts as a guide or leader.
As a social and political phenomenon, caudillismo developed in Latin America during the 19th century. The caudillos were charismatic leaders who used to come to power through informal procedures, thanks to the influence they had over the great popular masses. People saw the caudillo as an unusual man, capable of representing and defending the interests of the community as a whole.
Many caudillos were demagogues and manipulated the population; Behind the promise of ensuring the common welfare, of defending the interests of the entire region, lay their own ambitions, the thirst for power. In certain cases, caudillismo led to dictatorships with harsh repression of opponents. In others, on the other hand, caudillismo was adapted to the democratic and federal regimes that were established in Latin American countries.
The formalization of the power of the caudillos followed a similar process in several nations: the caudillo’s forces confronted the current ruler until he was deposed, then they dissolved the congress under the argument of not responding to the people or the law, and finally the caudillo proclaimed himself provisional president. After a time, the caudillo himself called for elections and a new congress was formed, formalizing the power of caudillismo.
Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina, Antonio López de Santa Anna in Mexico and José Antonio Páez in Venezuela are some of the historical examples of caudillismo in Latin American territory.
With the consolidation of the nation-state and the fall of regionalisms, caudillismo lost strength and ended up mutating into other types of socio-political regimes.
Consequences of caudillismo
Caudillismo was characterized by coming to power through force, and that imposition has left scars in many nations. With the establishment of the Republic as a state organization system, a series of mistakes were made that also contribute to the unstable character of governments, which adds to the vestiges of decades of bloody struggles to obtain the coveted scepter.
The republics that today suffer the consequences of caudillismo were born in a terrain of inconsistencies, with a disorganized economy, a political order that bordered on chaos, and a total absence of future vision and discipline on the part of the government. These are the reasons why they are not capable of applying a democratic regime effectively: they do not fight to ensure freedom for its residents, but they do not admit it either.
There are certain characteristics of caudillismo that persist in the present; such is the case of the search for popularity through the cancellation of the actions of the opponent, discrediting his campaign to convince the people that a change is necessary. This is the strategic base of most of today’s rulers and, since it is a manipulation of the truth, nothing prevents them from replicating the decisions of their former enemies once in power, making it clear that they were not really in against their behavior.
Another of the current phenomena that evoke the days of caudillismo is the existence of regionalism, also known as autonomism. It is a political movement that demands that a specific region be defended, distinguished from the rest of a country for cultural and physical reasons, despite accepting the superiority of the nation as a political community. This reality, very strong in certain parts of the world, makes certain unification plans impracticable.