The Americas 59.3 (2003) 429-430
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For the nineteenth century, Bolivia is often used as a prime example of caudillo rule in Latin America. The early-twentieth century Bolivian writer, Alcides Arguedas, defined this type of leader, decrying many of them as uncultured barbarians who brought the country to ruin. There are many histories of individual caudillos, but surprisingly little systematic analysis of the caudillo as a phenomenon throughout the nineteenth century for Bolivia. The authors try to remedy this situation with this book. They succeed to a large extent.
The book is a contribution to the rapidly increasing literature on the formation of the Latin American state, though seen mainly through an administrative and top-down lens. Peralta and Irurozqui claim five propositions for their work: one, that caudillos were not anti-state but instead contributed to its formation; two, that caudillos were able to maintain the unity of the country through the control of regional caciques in clientelistic networks; three, that the Arguedian model of the barbarian caudillo was wrong because caudillos actually tried to create a republican ideal; four, that caudillos were agents of government modernization; and five, that caudillos attempted numerous "apolitical" administrative reforms to improve government efficiency. The implication is that, once closely examined, caudillo rule was not as bad as it seemed and that many strongmen advanced the growth of the Bolivian nation-state in significant ways.
The first part of the book is the result of Peralta's Master's thesis; the second part is a continuation of Irurozqui's interest in understanding nineteenth-century Bolivian politics, which she has elaborated in books and articles elsewhere. Peralta tackles the institutional aspects of caudillismo and how it worked in Bolivia. He does so by examining four aspects: the formation of a state bureaucracy, budgetary issues, relations with the Catholic Church, and dealings with Peru. Irurozqui adds a very long chapter on the citizenship under caudillismo. She examines the concept of citizenship seen through four writers of the nineteenth century, the role of artisans, and that of Indian communities. Both authors emphasize the role of education that both caudillos and citizens thought was essential for creating a functioning republic, though different groups often had very different ideas about the nature of this schooling.
Peralta's contribution is very good institutional history, especially in the first three parts. He shows convincingly that the caudillos had coherent political programs and were trying to solve many of Bolivia's problems (the perpetual lack of funds being the most important one), though the lack of continuity from one regime to another made this impossible. The weakest part is the discussion of relations between Bolivia and Peru. The problem of exiles threatening invasion from the other state overwhelms the discussion of the nature of caudillo rule in this case. [End Page 429]
Irurozqui's discussion of citizenship is more disappointing. Her analysis is almost exclusively top-down, surprising for an essay that presumably discusses the citizenship under caudillismo. Her argument about the notions of citizenship rests exclusively on the analysis of a small elite group of men rather than examining the ideas of regular citizens. Likewise, her discussion of how indigenous peoples fit within the national context rarely takes into account the voice of the native peoples themselves. Her framework, in which she asserts that the way to measure indigenous reaction to their place within society is through rebellions, is simplistic and ignores the multiple other forms of participation and resistance to be uncovered through diligent work in rural archives. Unlike Peralta, she rarely cites non-Bolivian bibliography, making it difficult to see how her analysis compares to other countries. Also, although she uses his argument throughout, she fails to explicitly acknowledge in her own work the path-breaking ideas of Tristan Platt's...