Perspectives: Know Your Dictator

Jun 30, 2020

Juan Manuel de Rosas is someone everyone should know, not because of his role in nineteenth century Argentine history, but because he created a template for the modern autocratic ruler.

A wealthy landowner with a strong interest in raising cattle and exporting meat, Rosas would dress as a common gaucho, brainwash illiterate populations into believing he was furthering their interests and whip his followers into a frenzy. In fact, one of his campaign slogans was "Let's kill the barbaric Unitarians!", a reference to the opposition party. At night, Rosas's secret police would lynch his opponents, leaving the cadavers hanging in full view as a warning. During the day, he created legislation that promoted the beef industry which made Rosas, and the ranch owners who supported him, even wealthier and more powerful. His most ardent supporters were exploited at the ballot box and got few advantages from Rosas's policies, but they followed him blindly because they believed his false rhetoric.

We may pride ourselves that things have improved in two hundred years, but the Rosas strongman dictator template has withstood the test of time surprisingly well. When an autocratic ruler appears on the world scene, his tactics mimic Rosas to an uncanny degree. So, I propose that all of us learn about Juan Manuel de Rosas, the modern dictator prototype, in order to see clearly when he reappears on the world scene.

I'm Frances Jaeger and that is my perspective.