Caudillos and the related phenomenon of caudillismo are primarily associated with the colonial era and the early-mid 19th century, including a few decades after independence was achieved. These local and regional “strongmen” commanded political loyalty and paramilitary forces but were usually not officially part of the government. Especially in colonial times, they were often criollos, people of primarily European heritage born in the Americas, who opposed the rule by peninulares, people born in Spain, whom the Crown exclusively appointed to high-ranking administrative posts. The increasing militarization of Latin America leading up to and during the wars of independence strengthened their hold considerably.
In the new nations, some caudillos gained more power and became national leaders, but not all of them maintained control. The situation varied considerably in different nations, and persisted in Brazil while it remained a monarchy. Caudillos exerted influence through patronage, bestowing favors on their followers, and a cult of personality, or charisma. In many cases, the institutionalization of power in governance structures allowed the caudillos to assume official positions; in others, regional bosses treasured their independence as they opposed the central government, especially the imposition of taxes.
The 19th century saw widespread civil wars, redrawing of national boundaries and regions seceding from countries, and the emergence of dictatorships that included popular support for quelling chaotic conditions. Ongoing bureaucratization, which increased the number of government positions and rewarded loyal followers with those positions, often diminished the caudillos’ followings.