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The open cabildo (Spanish: cabildo abierto) was a special mode of assembly of the inhabitants of Latin American cities during the Spanish colonial period, in case of emergencies or disasters. Usually, the colonial cities were governed by a cabildo or an ayuntamiento, a municipal council in which most of the officers were appointed by the authorities. In cases of emergency, the cabildo could convene the heads of household (vecinos) in an "open" cabildo.
At the beginning of the Spanish American wars of independence open cabildos played a decisive revolutionary role, acting as organs of popular participation, as they were able to remove the colonial authorities and establish new autonomous governments.
In modern times, some Latin American countries have used the name "open cabildos" for public assemblies convened by municipal governments to decide local matters of public importance. The term is sometimes used for present-day public meetings to make decisions.
Traditional open cabildos
During the colonial period in Latin America, the heads of household of a city convened an open meeting, usually called to deal with an emergency. Frequently those attending were summoned by the cabildo of the city. Such summonses were selective, "the most healthy and principal" were invited and others were excluded: the poor Criollos, Indians, mestizos, women, and slaves.
Such meetings were held in the town hall or a church. The open meetings gave these representatives the opportunity to discuss and resolve issues on an ad hoc basis. Although the summonses went to the local aristocracy and principal citizens, the informal and non-hierarchical nature of these meetings gave them a form of democratic legitimacy, unlike the ruling council which was appointed by and for the benefit of the colonial authorities.
During the first centuries of this period, open cabildos were not overtly political and were called for several purposes, including:
- Authorizing donations
- Taking action against Indian uprisings
- Employing a physician for public health concerns
- Attending the reading of royal proclamations
In the early years of the colonial period open meetings were frequent, but became rarer, as control passed to the Spanish and Criollo aristocracy, and the administration became increasingly bureaucratic and hidebound.
Revolutionary open cabildos
The old tradition of open cabildos was again restored after 1808, after the imprisonment in France of the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII by Napoleon. The open cabildos appointed governing boards (juntas) to govern in the absence of the monarch, triggering thus the independence process.
In Argentina, the first revolutionary councils were held in Buenos Aires during the British invasions, on 14 August 1806 and 10 February 1807. The latter deposed the viceroy Sobremonte and elected the French viceroy Santiago Liniers.
On 22 May 1810, an open meeting convened in Buenos Aires triggered the May Revolution that began the independence process in Argentina and Uruguay.
In the early years of the revolution, the town-hall was used for the popular election of representatives. On 19 September 1811, an open meeting convened in the town-hall in Buenos Aires of 1,000 residents, elected deputies from the city to Congress.
The cabildos were abolished in the Province of Buenos Aires in 1821.