The idea of a caudillo ruling a country is one that has held over in one way or another for several hundred years, an idea that is linked to a distant, more turbulent past. The caudillos emerged in the 1800s, as many Latin American states were throwing off colonial rule, creating a power vacuum. The Spanish king was no longer even nominally in charge and the Church, previously a powerful institution, was treated with suspicion because of its close ties to the colonial elites. In the midst of this turmoil the caudillo stepped up to fill the void. These were strong, charismatic figures who ruled over a small region through military power and providing for the local people, ensuring devotion. The devotion they inspired was in fact quite similar to the devotion given to the King in days recently gone by. Many Caudillos put themselves in power by overthrowing powerful officials or military leaders, they were able to demand attention in large crowds and control them to react in the caudillos' favor. Some caudillos would use their newly claimed power to promote their own interests and wealth.
The consummate caudillo was Juan Manuel de Rosas, military man and governor of Buenos Aires from 1829-1852; he consolidated his power by taking land and other property from his enemies and redistributing it to his followers, supporting the Afro-Argentine community in return for their loyalty, and creating a cult of personality around himself. Rosas was skilled enough as a politician to centralize power in Buenos Aires, gathering and binding a coalition of caudillos into a loose precursor of a nation-state.
Many of these traits can be seen in Latin American leaders to follow. Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala had a military background, overthrew a foreign-backed dictator, and was possessed of an extremely nationalistic sentiment. His policies of nationalizing US industry and giving the land back to the Guatemalan peasants so they could provide for themselves are very much in the tradition of creating a power base of peasantry or the poor.Stronger examples include Fidel Castro of Cuba, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and other Latin American contemporaries.