From Academic Kids

Caudillo is a Spanish (caudilho in Portuguese) word designating "a politico-military leader at the head of an authoritative power".

The related caudillismo is a cultural phenomenon that first appeared during the early 19th century in revolutionary South America, as a type of militia leader with a charismatic personality and enough of a populist program of generic future reforms to gain broad sympathy, at least at the outset, among the common people. Effective Caudillismo depends on a personality cult.

The root of caudillismo lies in Spanish colonial policy of supplementing small cadres of professional, full-time soldiers with large militia forces recruited from local populations to maintain public order. Militiamen held civilian occupations but assembled at regular times for drill and inspection. Their salary from the Crown was a token; their recompense was in prestige, primarily because of the fuero militar ("military privilege"), that exempted them from certain taxes and obligatory community work assignments (compare the feudal corvée), and more significantly, exempted them from criminal or civil prosecution. Away from colonial capitals, the militias were at the service of the criollo landowners.

Typically, the Caudillos took it upon themselves to attain power over society and place themselves as its leader. Caudillos were capable of commanding large sums of people and holding the attention of large crowds with growing excitement. In the late Roman Republic men like Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar and Octavian were populist commanders who had strong personal ties with their soldiers, and imagery of revived Roman values is often brought to bear in support of caudillismo. A similar phenomenon in Italy from the 13th to the 16th century repeatedly brought the condottiere, the charismatic leader of a band of mercenaries, to power, when institutions of power temporarily failed. In the upheavals of the decades of revolution and its aftermath, leaders who were able to draw to themselves bands of loyal followers and keep them well armed and otherwise well cared for could assume the title of "general." Caudillos began to attain this power in the course of the South American Wars of Independence, where the militias did much of the fighting and earned a heroic reputation. The Caudillos used their small armed bands to overthrow the vulnerable newly independent states in South America. If these Caudillos were not always welcome, also they were not generally publically condemned. Some were large landowners (hacendados) who sought to secure their private interests, but more typically they began as vigilantes keeping the local peace for the hacienda, then gained independence of action and developed an anti-oligarchic public stance and finished by supporting an acquiescent establishment that included the Church. Since the Caudillo typically held power by controlling a patronage network that brooked no rival structure, some Caudillos took up an anti-clerical stand. Many of the Caudillos used their newly gained power, which was unchecked because it was extra-constitutional, to promote their own wealth and interests. At the height of caudillismo, as in Venezuela, the national army was rendered superfluous by the personal armies of the caudillos: in 1872 Venezuela's federal troops were dismissed entirely.

A few examples of powerful Caudillos in South America during the early 1800s include Juan Manuel de Rosas and Juan Facundo Quiroga in Argentina, Antonio López de Santa Anna in Mexico, and José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, "El Supremo" in Paraguay. In Venezuela, a century of caudillismo was initiated with the 1848 coup of José Tadeo Monagas who ruled Venezuela in partnership with his brother, followed after the Federal War by the rule of Antonio Guzmán Blanco, but the tradition of caudillismo has lingered; after the coup by which the designated vice-president Juan Vicente Gómez overthrew the elected president, Gómez ruled Venezuela by his personal authority until his death.

Caudillos are remembered with admiration in popular nationalist histories: Rosas rose from being one of the largest and most productive ranchers in the area; Santa Anna was Mexico's greatest military leader, best known for defending Mexico from outside invasion (much being United States); the Monagas brothers abolished slavery; Dr. Francia was a Creole with an advanced law degree who used only three men in his leading of the country.

Well-known later caudillos have included Gabriel García Moreno in Ecuador and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The strongman with a military following who controls political developments continues to be an unsettling factor in Latin American societies.

The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco used from 1936 the title "Caudillo de España, por la gracia de Dios", as a local adaptation of "Führer" and "Duce". English speakers are reluctant to use the term "caudillo," which they imagine must have pejorative connotations: in Spain, it resounded of the old warriors of history. The word had already been used for men like Viriathus and the Cid Campeador.

His contemporary Juan Domingo Perón, however had to fight the connotation of the uncultivated Argentinian caudillos of the 19th century. In spite of the nationalism of Peronism, the supporting press used the Anglicism líder (from English "leader").

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