Early Cabildos Abiertos Cases
- General Issues
- Governance & Political Institutions
- Components of this Case
- Cabildo Abierto in Pasto, Colombia
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- Repeated over time
- Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Listen/Watch as Spectator
- Express Opinions/Preferences Only
- Information & Learning Resources
- Expert Presentations
- Participant Presentations
- Decision Methods
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Evidence of Impact
- Implementers of Change
- Lay Public
- Elected Public Officials
Cabildo Abiertos are Central and South American "Open Town Councils". This case entry includes examples of its use since the beginning in the 16th Century.
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Problems and Purpose
The Cabildo Abierto translates as "Open Town Council." At the time of colonization, the meetings were used to communicate issues of immediate importance between colonial-appointed municipal councils and governors and the local elite. Over time, the meetings became more deliberative and, in some regions, gave locals more power over political decision-making. In more contemporary times, Cabildo Abierto meetings gave the public a chance to meet with public officials and vote on various issues that were important in their city and state. Cabildo Abiertos are still held periodically in South America and Central America, and are still considered an effective and efficient means of resolving a variety of issues.
Background History and Context
Beginning sometime after the initial conquering of South and Central America by the Spanish in the 15th C, the Cabildo Abierto or 'open town council' became a way of holding popular assembly on important issues such as natural disasters or community-related events. Over time, the Cabildos became more deliberative and, by the end of the 19th Century, played an important role in the political organization of local populations to gain control over their conquerers.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In 1541, in Santiago, Chile. Pedro Valdivia was elected governor of Chile after a series of Cabildos Abiertos following rumors that the previous governor, Francisco Pizarro, had died in Peru. The Spanish conquerors of Chile did not want to award the governorship to anyone without merit, or anyone who would go against their wishes. Conquerors are generally not Democratic. By even holding the Cabildo Abierto, progress was made toward representative democracy.
Of all the colonies, Paraguay had the most privelege bestowed upon their Cabildos Abierto. They actually had a Democratic system in place. In most colonies, a governor could be selected by the people but King Carlos V had the power to override the decision. In Paraguay, the people elected their own governor (cabildo or an ayuntamiento) with almost any outside interference. When the incumbent governor died or suffered a mysterious death or disappearance, the Cabildo Abierto of all the neighbors of Ascunsion were charged with electing new governors. This signified the beginning of a more democratic structure although King Carlos V of Spain was still considered to be the leader of the colonies. However, this privelege given by King Carlos V was lost after a revolution was attempted by the commoners, who did not believe the king's power should exceed that of the people's will.
In Cuba, Cabildos Abiertos worked differently. Citizens could propose two candidates for municipal elections in addition to the one who was nominated by the governor. The "regidores," who were part of local Cuban government, would also propose 2 more candidates. 5 candidates in total were nominated, and the election happened at the Cabildo Abierto. Cabildos Abiertos were used in the cities like Havana until the mid-1550's . These kinds of public elections of officials only lasted until the 16th century in the Spanish colonies such as the Antillas, Panama, Quito, Lima, Santiago and Cuzco. However, some of the other Spanish colonies and cities like Guatemala, Caracas, Pamplona, Potosi and Buenos Aires and Ascunsion continued to elect at least some of their own officials via Cabildos Abiertos, because there was a more democratic (relative to most of the Spanish colonies) system in place in these areas.  For example, the people of Santiago de Cali, in Nueva Granada held a Cabildo Abierto in a church to organize a protest to the Audience of the Quito (which was a political assembly in Nueva Granada) against Spanish commissioner Medina, who was sent to Cali to check the money and treasure accounts of royalty in the colony. He was accused of committing injustices against the people of the colony. The audience heard the protest and discharged the commissioner and sent him away from the colony. This is an example of Cabildo Abierto that was heard by the authorities, and made a difference in local politics. Cabildos Abiertos had the potential to make a difference.  The citizens of Havana also met in Cabildos Abiertos to discuss issues such as how to improve city defense against potential attacks from pirates. This was a major issue in Havana and many other countries in Spanish and Latin America. Many Cabildos Abiertos were held to discuss topics like these.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In Chile, the Cabildo Abierto was used both as a diplomatic tool and a way to introduce representative democracy. By holding a Cabildo Abierto, the Spanish conquerers demostrated that they were not trying to completely suppress the political rights of the citizens of Chile. The Cabildo Abierto was an attempt to quel protests and introduce some sort of political structure to Chile - one which included the local population.
However in the 19th century, many colonies began fighting for independence from Spain and the Cabildos Abiertos - many introduced centuries before by the outside forces - were vital tools for the local population's political organization and promotion of freedom and resistance. When the Criollos decided it was time to form their own nations, they spread the word via Cabildo Abierto. For example, in the capital of Nueva Granada (modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela), independence was proclaimed in a famous Cabildo Abierto on July 10, 1810. It was called by citizens against the will of the Viceroy, who was needed in Nueva Granada to approve any Cabildo Abierto. The citizens met anyway, and declared a rebellion and declared Nueva Granada's independence against Spain.(Tapia, 64)  Similar events took place in Nicaragua on December 22, 1811, Argentina on May 21, 1810 (which influenced the uprisings in Nueva Granada and Peru) on and Peru on July 28, 1821. All countries declared independence via Cabildos Abiertos.
Cabildos Abiertos continue to be held today. Cabildos were officially institutionalized in the 1991 Consitution of Colombia and contiue to be used in various municipalities such as Pasto . An example was found of a recent one in Esperanza, Argentina on February 12, 2010. Important Argentine officials such as the Secretary of Government, Secretary of Public Service, and the Secretary of Finance showed up to meet with the people to discuss the public's awareness of the financial situation that the city was in. They presented tax and budget proposals to the people of Esperanza and held discussions and took questions, much like a town hall meeting would go in America. Cabildos Abiertos are still being used today to solve a wide range of issues and make citizens aware of what the options are. ("Todas Las Vecinales en el cabildo abierto", La Region Noticias, 2-12-10) .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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 ↑ Newton, Ronald C., Tapia, Francisco X. "Review of El Cabildo Abierto Colonial un Estudio De La Naturaleza y Desarollo del Cabildo Abierto, Durante Los Tres Siglos de la Administracion Colonial Espaniola en America." Hispanic American Historical Review, Aug. 1967, vol. 47, no. 3, p. 402-403.
 ↑ Gongora, Mario. "El estado en el derecho indiano." (Santiago, 1951) p. 71
 ↑ Arboleda, Gustavo "Historia de Cali", p. 235
Lead image: By Pedro Subercaseaux. Died in 1954. Uploaded to commons by Belgrano. Cleaned by Julielangford [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Cabildoabierto-Subercaseaux-edit.jpg