Caudillos: dictators in Spanish America by Hugh M. Hamill

By Hugh M. Hamill

During this significant revision of the Borzoi booklet Dictatorship in Spanish the USA, editor Hugh Hamill has offered conflicting interpretations of caudillismo in twenty-seven essays written via a global staff of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, reporters, and caudillos themselves. the decisions characterize revisionists, apologists, enemies, or even a sufferer of caudillos. The personalities mentioned comprise the Mexican priest Miguel Hidalgo, the Argentinian gaucho Facundo Quiroga, the Guatemalan Rafael Carrera, the Colombian Rafael N??ez, Mexico’s Porfirio D?az, the Somoza family members of Nicaragua, the Dominican "Benefactor" Rafael Trujillo, the Argentinians Juan Per?n and his spouse Evita, Paraguay’s Alfredo Stroessner - referred to as "The Tyrannosaur," Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

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The next three essays illustrate and capture the mood of the transition from the nineteenth century. The ideology of that period was heavily influenced by French Positivism, Social Darwinism, and various theories of racial superiority and inferiority. These theories helped to establish a climate in which authoritarians like Porfirio Díaz could flourish. Carlos Octavio Bunge was an Argentine sociologist who used what we would now consider outrageously racist theories to condemn what he held to be the weaknesses of Latin American civilization.

Among the multitude of interviews Castro has granted to foreign journalists, none has come closer to producing a frank self-assessment of Castro as a charismatic leader than the one conducted by Lee Lockwood in 1965. In the excerpt in this book Castro deals candidly with the sources and nature of his power (chapter 24). Maurice Halperin, a Canadian scholar with long experience in Cuba, offers a contrasting view of Castro's leadership in the next essay. Impressed by the optimistic facet of Fidel's personality, Halperin nevertheless discovers a major weakness in the Cuban's failure to delegate authority and to make his bureaucracy function creatively.

Students wrote criticisms of each before the class met and then debated their value for a new book about caudillos. Votes were cast for and against each potential reading after the discussion. Students were enthusiastic about their involvement in the editorial process. Seminars were exciting events and they convinced me that a new volume would succeed. My own perceptions changed, too, in the course of the debates as well as over time. Eventually I elected to retain twelve of the original pieces and to add fifteen new ones.

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