Juan Facundo Quiroga (1788-1835) was an Argentine caudillo who mastered a large part of northern Argentina for several years.
Juan Facundo Quiroga, often known as Juan Facundo, was born into a ranching family in La Rioja Province. Although his father was moderately wealthy, Juan had little formal schooling, learning only the basics of reading and writing. He spent most of his boyhood working on the family ranch, showing qualities of leadership and shrewdness. He left home in 1806, having gambled away the proceeds from his father's cattle sale.
Quiroga spent several years in and out of military service. He joined both cavalry and infantry units but disliked the discipline and regimentation of formal military life. Finally he was discharged—or he deserted—and returned home, where he was reconciled with his father.
From 1816, when he became a captain in the provincial militia, Quiroga began his rise in political and military affairs. By 1823 he was virtual dictator of La Rioja. Skilled in battle, of unflinching courage and daring ruthlessness, he had an almost mystical ability to command the absolute loyalty of his mounted troops.
From his power base in La Rioja, Quiroga extended his sway to surrounding provinces and was soon caught up in national politics. Argentina had declared its independence from Spain in 1816, but the nation's leaders could not agree on a permanent from of government. In 1826 Bernardino Rivadavia became president and attempted to establish a unitary system of government with control emanating from Buenos Aires. Quiroga joined other provincial caudillos in opposition and helped force Rivadavia's resignation in 1827. After a series of seesaw battles, Quiroga finally fragmented unitary forces in the interior of the country in 1831, and the various provinces became virtually independent.
Quiroga soon moved to Buenos Aires Province, where Juan Manuel de Rosas was trying to fasten his dictatorial hold. The two were never close, for Quiroga insisted that Argentina must have a truly national government, a concept Rosas always resisted. For more than a year the backwoods caudillo enjoyed the delights offered by the chief city of the nation and indulged his passion for gambling. Late in 1834 Rosas persuaded him to undertake a mission as mediator between quarreling provincial governors far in the interior. While returning from this assignment in 1835, Quiroga was killed in an ambush. The "Tiger of the Plains, " champion of provincial autonomy, was a harsh man who lived in harsh times, when leadership was tested at the point of a lance and intellectual ability was valued less than raw courage. He gave northern Argentina a measure of stability in chaotic times, but he left no heritage of stable or progressive institutions, no base on which to build a greater Argentina.
Domingo F. Sarmiento, Life in the Argentine Republic in the Days of the Tyrants: or, Civilization and Barbarism (trans. 1961), viewing Quiroga as representative of the "barbarism, " recounts his life and times in a sensational and anecdotal fashion. Frederick A. Kirkpatrick, A History of the Argentine Republic (1931), and Ricardo Levene, A History of Argentina, translated and edited by W. S. Robertson (1937), place Quiroga in the larger scope of Argentina's history.
Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino, Life in the Argentine Republic in the days of the tyrants: or, Civilization and barbarism, New York: Gordon Press, 1976. □