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an Indian chieftain in Mexico, the West Indies, and Central America before the Spanish conquest. The post of cacique was usually hereditary in a particular clan or family. The caciques and their descendants formed the aristocratic elite among the Aztecs, Mayans, and other tribes. Some of the caciques went over to the side of the Spanish colonialists and became feudal landowners and officials.
In Latin America and in Spain, influential politicians from among landowners, the bourgeoisie, and the military who have seized power in a particular region of the country are called caciques. The system of administration whereby the central government exercises its authority in localities with the help of caciques has come to be known as caciquism.