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Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 771-772
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Children of Facundo: Caudillo and Gaucho Insurgency during the Argentine State-Formation Process (La Rioja, 1853-1870). By Ariel de la Fuente. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. xiii, 249 pp. Cloth, $54.95. Paper, $18.95.
In 1863, Domingo Sarmiento commissioned a photograph of the defeated followers of Angel Vicente "Chacho" Peñaloza, leader of one of the last Federalist insurrections in the Argentine interior. By the time the blurred portrait of some 70 bedraggled gauchos was taken, the Unitarian governor of San Juan province had already ordered the execution of their leader and exhibited his head on public display. Doubtless Sarmiento, biographer of Juan Manuel de la Rosa (the other famous caudillo from that troublesome province), found in the picture of barefoot peasants, seemingly impotent without their charismatic hero, confirmation of his hope that this act of exemplary violence by a new generation of liberal state builders had finally closed the chapter on local warlords and prepared the path for national unity.
This evocative photograph graces the cover of Children of Facundo, a pioneering exploration of the popular experience of state-formation. Focusing on 1860s La Rioja, de la Fuente analyzes the mobilization of rural inhabitants of this poverty-stricken province in what would be a final challenge to political centralization as they defended their homegrown version of federalism. Nineteenth-century liberal historiography frames many of the central questions of this work. Yet, while those historians triumphed the achievements of nation building and thus were only too willing to dismiss and criminalize the rural "fanaticism" that hindered their goals, this study examines agrarian power relations, the culture of patronage, and provincial folklore in order to comprehend the fervent loyalty of local people to their chosen leaders.
In La Rioja, party conflict and identity were nurtured by land tenure patterns. Examining tax and census records from the 1850s, the monograph presents a closely [End Page 771] observed contrast between two regions, the fertile valley of Famatina and the modest ranching economy of the Llanos. A wealthy Unitarian elite dominated access to water and the best lands in Famatina, as they had done since colonial times. Linked to the leading merchant families of the province, Unitarian landowners were unable to control post-Independence politics as their increasing pressure on Indian community lands gave rise to an oppositional lower-class culture. Land was markedly less concentrated in the Llanos, where migrants of African descent had begun to settle after the 1800s. There, even the largest landowners shared a lifestyle not all that different from their poorer neighbors. De la Fuente's prospographic analysis of federalist leadership confirms how partisan identities drew upon these differences: culturally and racially divided from "white" educated Unitarians in Famatina but founded upon strong patron-client ties in the Llanos. Indeed, one of the most interesting contributions of this book is its elucidation of the ethnic and religious dimensions of Argentine federalism, which makes it much more comparable with the historiography of other Spanish American nations. In this comparative perspective, however, the movement's remarkable ability to unite indigenous communities and mixed-race poor is a phenomenon that merits considerably more explanation.
The author is most original in detailing the rural sociability that shaped caudillo leadership. Federalists alone had the capacity to mobilize popular forces and therefore control the province. While the isolated Unitarians were reduced to courting national allies in their bid for power, federalists like Facundo Quiroga and "El Chacho" assiduously cultivated a local following by fulfilling popular expectations of patronage: basic needs of "subsistence and protection" in times of peace and luxuries of "beef, clothing and work" when at war. More importantly, caudillos identified closely with popular culture, a theme developed through the analysis of La Rioja folklore. Examining a large collection of folk songs and stories collected in 1921, de la Fuente shows how the "charismatic relationship" was consolidated as rural people projected their own sometimes contradictory values onto their...