Commentary No. 029
Date: 1537, February 3. [Valladolid?], Spain.
Theme: Royal letter from king Charles V of Spain to the oidores or judges of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo ordering them to stop allowing judicial appeals submitted to the Council of the Indies against the Audiencia’s sentences by Indians and Blacks of La Española condemned to the death penalty or dismemberment or torture by the Audiencia, and to act as court of appeals of those same cases.
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles--Archivo General de Indias, SANTO_DOMINGO, 868, L.1,F.14V-15R.
This letter from King Charles V to the judges of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo in 1537 seems to be a firm indication that at least early on during the colonization process in La Española, Taino natives and Blacks who had been condemned to the death penalty by the local tribunal of Santo Domingo had been successfully using the Spanish judicial appeal mechanism at least to postpone the implementation of local sentences by the Audiencia by submitting their appeals to the Council of the Indies in the metropolis, a process that took at least a number of months, if we take into account the usual time of the transoceanic journey, plus whatever time these requests took, having reached Spain, to move up through the maze of the Council of the Indies’ justice bureaucracy.
The decision by the Crown to stop appeals to the Council of the Indies and to bestow appeal-review powers on the Audiencia of Santo Domingo in these cases must have been a big blow to La Española’s Amerindians and Blacks, whose alloted time for negotiating the toughest sentences must have been reduced considerably, while most likely having their chances for a different assessment of their case equally diminished by the fact that it was the same judges who had already condemned them who would now be in charge of taking a putative second look at those cases.
Based at least on this evidence, the year 1537 may be considered one in which the social control exerted by the colonial authorities or system upon Indians and Blacks, the bulk of the subaltern population of the island, harshened. It may be worthwhile, from a historiographical point of view, for us to ask why the harshening came precisely at this time. Did it have anything to do with an increase in actions of resistance by the most oppressed people in the colony?