Woodward on Hamill, 'Caudillos: Dictators in Spanish America'

Hugh M. Hamill. Caudillos: Dictators in Spanish America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. . $24.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8061-2412-4.

Reviewed by Ralph Lee Woodward (Department of History, Texas Christian University)
Published on H-LatAm (December, 1995)

This is a fine anthology of twenty-seven essays dealing with the phenomenon of caudillismo in modern Latin America. Drawn from the vast literature on caudillos in Latin American historiography, there are selections by Latin American, North American, and European authors. It is a valuable and representative collection of the writing on this major topic in Latin American history. Central America, certainly a part of Latin America well populated by caudillos and dictators is well represented in this volume, which has much relevance, for the history of the isthmus and the entire Spanish-American nation.

The work is divided into three parts. An initial section is dedicated to "theories and background," a second section treats the nineteenth century, and a final section deals with the present century. Hamill defines caudillo and caudillismo broadly as the Hispanic versions of dictator and dictadura.

The first section opens with an essay by Francois Chevalier on "Caudillos y Caciques" (1962), which emphasizes the strong personalismo and personal links inherent in cuadillismo. Glen Dealy on "The Public Man" (1977) follows with his controversial argument emphasizing the monistic nature of Latin culture as the source of caudillismo in Latin America. From a very different perspective, a portion of Eric Wolf's and Edward Hansen's "Caudillo Politics: A Structural Analysis" (1967) follows. While it also emphasizes personal relationships and machismo as critical caudillo characteristics, it provides an excellent analysis of the historical evolution of the institution. In a yet more theoretical vein, Richard M. Morse, "Political Theory and the Caudillo" (1954), relates caudillismo to the polarized trends of Thomism and Machiavellianism which carried forth from medieval to modern times as counter themes in Spanish and Spanish-American history, offering considerable insight into the phenomenon of the caudillo. Finally, Peter H. Smith, in "The Search for Legitimacy" (1974), pursues the theme of caudillismo as a natural product of the Hispanic legal tradition, rejecting the frequent North American view that it is a failure to achieve democracy.

Ten chapters on the nineteenth century offer rich variety. Hamill includes a selection of his own, revised from his 1989 essay on "Caudillismo and Independence: A Symbiosis," focussing on the adversaries in Mexico's initial struggle for independence Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and General Felix Maria Calleja del Rey to point to the colonial bases of caudillismo. This is followed by Domingo Sarmiento's classic account of Facundo Quiroga from his classic work, Civilizacion y barbarie (1845). A selection from E. Bradford Burns' Poverty of Progress (1980) describes his concept of "folk caudillos" with specific attention to Rafael Carrera of Guatemala. Scholarly treatments of two more 19th-century caudillos are provided by Jane Rausch's "The Taming of a Colombian Caudillo: Juan Nepomuceno Moreno of Casanare" (1986), and Roger M. Haigh's "The Creation and Control of a Caudillo" (1964), in which he describes Martin Guemes, ruler of the Argentine province of Salta from 1815 to 1821. Hamill then includes Francisco Bilbao's fiery denunciation of mid-19th-century Latin American dictatorship from his La America en peligro (1863). Bilbao, strongly influenced by Andras Bello, provides one of the most forceful of the liberal attacks on traditional caudillismo in Latin America, which, he claimed, exposed the region to exploitation by foreign interests, having in mind specifically the French invasion of Mexico. A late 19th-century contemporary Latin America view is presented by Rafael Nunez from his "La paz cientifica" (1885). This reflects his strongly positivist views in an analysis of what was wrong with Colombian politics and society. Ironically, although this reflected a moderate position in Colombian politics at the time, Nunez would go on to become a strong Conservative caudillo himself from 1886 to his death in 1894. A selection from Carlos Octavio Bunge' Nuestra America (1918) offers another positivist rationalization of caudillismo by an Argentine sociologist, with a strongly racist explanation for what he called the "cacicabilidad" of Latin America. Luis Gonzalez describes the classic Mexican liberal dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1986), and the section closes with John J. Johnson's analysis of "Foreign Factors in Dictatorship in Latin America" (1951).

Focus on "Twentieth-Century Dynamics" begin with Lyle N. McAlister's discussion of military dictators taken from his "Civil-military Relations in Latin America" (1961), an article that surveys the relation between dictators and the armed forces in many Latin American states. Russell J. Fitzgibbon then describes (1940) the widespread practice of "continuismo" among many caudillos of the twentieth century, especially in Central America and the Caribbean. A 1955 address by long-time Dominican Republic caudillo Rafael Trujillo on "The Evolution of Democracy in Santo Domingo" is a splendid example of how the most totalitarian dictators have propagandized their regimes as democratic. A very different, contemporary, and negative view of Trujillo is offered by Jesus de Galandez in "Un reportaje sobre Santo Domingo" (1955). A more balanced, scholarly account, analyzing the use of authoritarian methods by Trujillo and by his successor, Joaquin Balaguer, is offered by Howard J. Wiarda and Michael J. Kryzanek, in their "Dominican Dictatorship Revisited: The Caudillo Tradition and the Regimes of Trujillo and Balaguer" (1977). Nicaragua's Somoza dynasty is described by Alain Rouquie, in a selection from his Military and the State in Latin America (1987). The importance of machismo in caudillismo is a constant theme throughout this volume. Women are notably absent in the ranks of caudillos. A selection by Marysa Navarro on Eva Peron (1977), therefore, is of special interest. But Navarro argues that Evita was not a "caudilla" in her own right, but only accessed power through her special relation to the caudillo Juan Domingo Peron. This is followed by a strong theoretical defense of caudillismo, with particular reference to Peron, by the Argentine sociologist Fernando N. A. Cuevillas, from his "El regimen del caudillaje en Hispanoamerica" (1953). Two selections focus on the remarkable Cuban caudillo, Fidel Castro. The first records an interview (1965) between Lee Lockwood and Castro in which the caudillo comments on personal power. The second is drawn from Maurice Halperin's Taming of Fidel Castro (1981) and is a remarkably objective appraisal of the Cuban leader. The remaining selections include a description of General Augusto Pinochet's route to power in Chile, by Genaro Arriagada Herrera (1986), and an analysis by James D. Cockcroft of Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay (1989).

Collectively, this is a diverse and valuable anthology of selections regarding caudillismo in Latin America. It is an excellent teaching tool as well as a convenient source to review a significant sampling of the large literature on the topic. Attractively bound, the work is enhanced by a collection of photographs, an excellent index, and a bibliography. In order to save space, however, notes on sources and documentation in these selections were not included in this edition, diminishing the value of the reprinted selections as research sources.

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Citation: Ralph Lee Woodward. Review of Hamill, Hugh M., Caudillos: Dictators in Spanish America. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. December, 1995.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=246

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