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Children of Facundo. Caudillo and Gaucho Insurgency during the Argentine State-Formation Process (La Rioja), 1853-1870. (Reviews).

Children of Facundo. Caudillo and Gaucho Insurgency during the Argentine State-Formation Process (La Rioja), 1853-1870. By Ariel de la Fuente (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001. 249 pp. $18.95)

Children of Facundo is a landmark study on several counts. The book stands out as one of the first examples of "history from below," illustrating the role of followers, as well as leaders, as the protagonists of provincial rural guerrilla movements in nineteenth century Argentina. Common enough in other countries, this approach is rare in Argentina, in which the careers of authoritarian leaders dominate the historiography. In de la Fuente's work, the gauchos represent the main actors in the "history from below" approach. The author defines the gauchos differently from conventional usage. Here, the term refers not only to the wandering cowboy outlaws made famous by the epic poem Martin Fierro, but also to all low-ranking members of rural society, including peasant farmers. The author examines the popular culture of the gauchos, drawing upon a rich collection of popular songs from the nineteenth century.

De la Fuente's book differs from conventional historiography in focusing on La Rioja, a single province in the Argentine interior. Always one of the poorest provinces, La Rioja stands in the arid sub-Andean region in the west, in another world from Buenos Aires and the pampas, which form the grist of most historical studies on Argentina. This book differs from the few other good studies of the interior provinces in reaching down within La Rioja to the level of the departamento or county. De la Fuente analyzes the contrasting departamentos of Famatina and Los Llanos, the former an area of conflict between large landowners and the rural population and the latter the focal point of the guerrilla movement throughout western Argentina. Concentration on two quite different local societies yields important insights into the relations between partisan loyalties, landowning, rural social class, and ethnicity.

Previous historians viewed the Unitarios and Federales, the self-styled political parties in Argentina during this period, as mere factions competing only for the spoils of office. Using Famatina and Los Llanos as illustrations, De la Fuente finds more substantive differences. In La Rioja, the Federales had a "mass" following of gauchos, but the Unitarios only the support only of a small elite. Extreme conflict in Famatina reflected a scarcity of land and concentration of land ownership, conditions that engendered class conflict between the elite and masses. With a very small population until around 1800, Los Llanos then attracted internal migrants of part-African origin, who commonly became cattle-raisers. The more open society of Los Llanos facilitated a vertical alliance of landowners and gauchos. In Los Llanos, people became less aware of ethnic differences than in Famatina, where a sense of racial separation and antagonism between whites and indigenous people grew quite pronounced. As an indicator of eth nic separation among the indigenous communities of Famatina, religious practices of Inca origin survived.

De la Fuente notes the importance in La Rioja of the merced, a colonial land grant that by the mid-nineteenth century produced the comuneros, the people living off the land comprising the merced. Informing an extended family enjoying use of the land in common, the comuneros appeared reminiscent of the Scottish Highland clans before 1745. The comuneros suffered a similar fate as the clansmen. In the 1860s, military defeat followed by the individual appropriation of land destroyed many of the mercedes and the comuneros (although a few survived in La Rioja). The civil wars in the Argentine interior became conflicts between two forms of society. The Federalist gauchos and comuneros represented the old society derived from the mercedes, while the Liberals or ex-Unitarios represented the new society embodied by private ownership of land.

Caudillismo represents one of the main concerns of the book. De la Fuente emphasizes that the clientele, as well as the leaders, created the charismatic authority and other subjective and cultural attributes of the caudillos. The caudillos acquired quasi-kinship links with their followers as "fathers." They enjoyed sacrosanct or semi-divine powers of intuition like those once attributed to kings. Caudillos also commanded popularity and respect because of the material goods and benefits they conferred. They provided military protection or opportunities to engage in pillage. On this issue, the author switches the focus away from the caudillos and their feats onto the perceptions of their followers. In other words to explain the phenomenon of caudillismo, de la Fuente changes the emphasis from "supply" to "demand" elements.

Seen in such terms, his explanation risks becoming an over-simplification like the one it replaces. An explanation based on "demand" alone is as inadequate as one based on "supply" alone. "Supply" and "demand" of course exist together: leaders can never be divorced from followers and vice versa. On balance, the author recognizes that the best "history from below" properly integrates "history from above." In La Rioja, de la Fuente is looking at a form of political leadership exercised by the caudillo in which the more complex issues are missing. For instance, as advertisers or propagandists manufacture demand, so too propagandists commonly fabricate the charismatic authority of political leaders. In underdeveloped La Rioja (unlike numerous examples of caudillo-style authority in twentieth century Argentina), the influence of "advertising" (the promotion of charisma by propaganda) remained absent.

Besides raising many interesting questions, de la Fuente has written an excellent history of provincial society in the Argentine western region in the mid-nineteenth century. His subjects include the civil wars and rebellions that reached a climax in the 1860s. His study of the caudillos focuses on Angel Vicente Penaloza, known as El Chacho, "The Boy" (although he was approaching seventy years old). Until his murder in 1863, Penaloza defended the gauchos against the Unitarian/Liberal military onslaught from Buenos Aires. De la Fuente notes the destructive effect of the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay on La Rioja and surrounding provinces, which became a "massive attack on the gaucho household" (p. 170). By detailing the repression of the Federalist gauchos, the book forms a critique of the Unitarios and of Liberal State formation in Argentina.

Extensive archival work in La Rioja has greatly contributed to the impressive originality of this book. The work might have benefited from a slightly broader interregional view comparing the western provinces like La Rioja with the provinces further north such as Santiago del Estero, Salta, and Tucuman. In developing a species of popular Unitarismo particularly in Santiago del Estero, the northern provinces, based on peasant agriculture, displayed quite different features from La Rioja.
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Author:Rock, David
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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