Top Ten Villains of Latin American History

Painting of Spanish conquistadors torturing naive Americans

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Every good story has a hero and preferably a great villain! The history of Latin America is no different, and through the years some very evil people have shaped events in their homelands. Who are some of the Wicked Stepmothers of Latin American History?

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Pablo Escobar, Greatest of the Drug Lords

In the 1970s, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was just another thug on the streets of Medellin, Colombia. He was destined for other things, however, and when he ordered the murder of drug lord Fabio Restrepo in 1975, Escobar began his rise to power. By the 1980s, he controlled a drug empire the likes of which the world has not seen since. He completely dominated Colombian politics through his policy of "silver or lead"—bribery or murder. He earned billions of dollars and turned once-peaceful Medellin into a den of murder, thievery and terror. Eventually, his enemies, including rival drug gangs, the families of his victims and the American government, united to bring him down. After spending most of the early 1990s on the run, he was located and gunned down on December 3, 1993. 

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Josef Mengele, The Angel of Death

For years, the people of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil lived side-by-side with one of the cruelest killers of the twentieth century and they never even knew it. The small, secretive German man who lived frugally down the street was none other than Dr. Josef Mengele, the most-wanted Nazi war criminal in the world. Mengele became famous for his unspeakable experiments on Jewish inmates at the Auschwitz death camp during World War Two. He escaped to South America after the war, and during the Juan Perón regime in Argentina even was able to live more or less openly. By the 1970s, however, he was the most sought-after war criminal in the world and he had to go deep into hiding. The Nazi-hunters never found him: he drowned in Brazil in 1979. 

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Pedro de Alvarado, the Twisted Sun God

Selecting among the conquistadors to determine the "worst" one is a challenging exercise, but Pedro de Alvarado would appear on nearly anyone's list. Alvarado was fair and blond, and the natives called him "Tonatiuh" after their Sun God. The chief lieutenant of conquistador Hernan Cortes, Alvarado was a vicious, cruel, cold-hearted murderer and enslaver. Alvarado's most notorious moment came on May 20, 1520, when the Spanish conquistadors were occupying Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Hundreds of Aztec nobles had gathered for a religious festival, but Alvarado, fearing a plot, ordered an attack, massacring hundreds. Alvarado would go on to infamy in the Maya lands as well as Peru before dying after his horse rolled onto him in battle in 1541.

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Fulgencio Batista, the Crooked Dictator

Fulgencio Batista was President of Cuba from 1940–1944 and again from 1952–1958. A former army officer, he won the office in a crooked election in 1940 and seized power later in a 1952 coup. Although Cuba was a hotspot for tourism during his years in office, there was a great deal of corruption and cronyism among his friends and supporters. It was so bad that even the USA initially supported Fidel Castro in his bid to topple the government through the Cuban Revolution. Batista went into exile in late 1958 and tried to return to power in his homeland, but no one wanted him back, even those who did not approve of Castro.

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Malinche the Traitor

Malintzín (better known as Malinche) was a Mexican woman who aided conquistador Hernan Cortes in his conquest of the Aztec Empire. "Malinche" as she became known, was an enslaved woman who was controlled by some Mayans and eventually ended up in the Tabasco region, where she was forced to work under the local warlord. When Cortes and his men arrived in 1519, they defeated the warlord and Malinche was one of several enslaved people given to Cortes. Because she spoke three languages, one of which could be understood by one of Cortes' men, she became his interpreter. Malinche accompanied Cortes' expedition, providing translations and insight into her culture which allowed the Spanish to triumph. Many modern Mexicans consider her the ultimate traitor, the woman who helped the Spanish destroy her own culture.

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Blackbeard the Pirate, the "Great Devil"

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach was the most notorious pirate of his generation, terrorizing merchant shipping in the Caribbean and coast of British America. He raided Spanish shipping, too, and the people of Veracruz knew him as "the Great Devil." He was a most fearsome pirate: he was tall and lean and wore his matted black hair and beard long. He would weave wicks into his hair and beard and light them in battle, enshrouding himself with a wreath of foul smoke wherever he went, and his victims believed he was a demon escaped from Hell. He was a mortal man, however, and was slain in battle by pirate hunters on November 22, 1718.

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Rodolfo Fierro, Pancho Villa's Pet Murderer

Pancho Villa, the famed Mexican warlord who commanded the mighty Division of the North in the Mexican Revolution, was not a squeamish man when it came to violence and killing. There were some jobs that even Villa found too distasteful, however, and for those, he had Rodolfo Fierro. Fierro was a cold, fearless killer whose fanatical loyalty to Villa was above question. Nicknamed "the Butcher," Fierro once personally massacred 200 prisoners of war who had been fighting under rival warlord Pascual Orozco, picking them off one by one with a handgun as they tried to escape. On October 14, 1915, Fierro became stuck in quicksand and Villa's own soldiers—who hated the fearsome Fierro—watched him sink without helping him.

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Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon

Like Josef Mengele, Klaus Barbie was a fugitive Nazi who found a new home in South America after World War II. Unlike Mengele, Barbie did not hide in a shack until he died but rather continued his evil ways in his new home. Nicknamed "the Butcher of Lyon" for his counter-insurgency activities in wartime France, Barbie made a name for himself as a counterterrorism consultant to South American governments, particularly Bolivia. Nazi hunters were on his trail, however, and they found him in the early 1970s. In 1983 he was arrested and sent to France, where he was tried and convicted of war crimes. He died in prison in 1991.

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Lope de Aguirre, the Madman of El Dorado

Everyone in colonial Peru knew that conquistador Lope de Aguirre was unstable and violent. After all, the man had once spent three years stalking a judge who had sentenced him to a lashing. But Pedro de Ursua took a chance on him and signed him on for his expedition to search for El Dorado in 1559. Bad idea: deep in the jungle, Aguirre finally snapped, murdering Ursua and others and taking command of the expedition. He declared himself and his men independent from Spain and named himself King of Peru. He was captured and executed in 1561.

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Taita Boves, Scourge of the Patriots

Jose Tomas "Taita" Boves was a Spanish smuggler and colonist who became a brutal warlord during Venezuela's struggle for independence. Fleeing a conviction for smuggling, Boves went to the lawless Venezuelan plains where he befriended the violent, tough men who lived there. When the war of Independence broke out, led by Simon Bolivar, Manuel Piar and others, Boves recruited an army of plainsmen to create a royalist army. Boves was a cruel, depraved man who delighted in torture, murder, and rape. He was also a talented military leader who handed Bolivar a rare defeat at the second Battle of La Puerta and almost single-handedly brought down the Second Venezuelan Republic. Boves' reign of terror came to an end in December of 1814 when he was killed at the Battle of Arica.

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Your Citation
Minster, Christopher. "Top Ten Villains of Latin American History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). Top Ten Villains of Latin American History. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "Top Ten Villains of Latin American History." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).