The term is also used in the Portuguese language to describe the leaders of indigenous communities in Brazil. It is also frequently used in Portugal to describe how certain influential and well known students use their powerful social character to influence student body elections in the student movement in Portugal's major universities. In Spain and in Brazil the word is most commonly used in the third sense, meaning "a person in a village or region who exercises excessive influence in political matters."
Cacique comes from the Taíno word kassiquan, meaning "to keep house."
In the Taíno culture, the cacique rank was apparently established through democratic means. His importance in the tribe was determined by the size of his tribe rather than his warlord skills, since the Taínos were mostly a pacifist culture. They also enjoyed several privileges for their standing: they lived in a larger rectangular hut in the center of the village and had a special sitting place for the areytos (ceremonial dances) and the ceremonial ball game.
The derivative term "Caciquismo" has been used to describe a democratic system subverted by the power of local bosses (caciques) who successfully influence the electoral process in their favor. It has been used most notably referred to late nineteenth century Spain and twentieth century Mexico.
The persistence of archaic political forces in present-day Latin America manifests itself primarily in the large role that caciquismo still plays, even in countries sufficiently advanced to prevent personal dictatorships by caudillos.