Caracas, Audiencia of
Caracas, Audiencia of
Audiencia of Caracas, the juridical and administrative tribunal established by the Spanish crown in the province of Caracas. Created by a royal cédula of 31 July 1786 as part of the Bourbon dynasty's politics of centralization of control over its American dominions, it had jurisdiction over all the territory of the captaincy general of Venezuela.
From the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was a special commitment to reorganize the Spanish Empire in hopes of guaranteeing royal authority, centralizing colonial administration, and obtaining more wealth in order to maintain Spain's internal economy and recover its imperial status in Europe. During the first few decades of that century, the Compañía Guipuzcoana was established (1728); the posts of lieutenant governor and judge advocate were created; the power of the town magistrates was eliminated; and the vice-royalty of New Granada was formed.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, during the reign of Charles III, the politics of centralization and control was pushed even further through the creation of the intendancy of the army and royal finances (1776), the captaincy general of Venezuela (1777), the Royal Council of Caracas (1793), and the Royal Audiencia of Caracas (1786). Altogether these reforms tended to consolidate Bourbon absolutism, enhance the economic prosperity of the colonial territories, and raise the efficiency of their administrations.
The object of the Spanish system of audiencias was to restore royal authority in the American dominions and to regulate the activities of colonial authorities and society in general. They were organs of enormous relevance not only from a judicial standpoint, but in terms of government and administration of the most diverse affairs. Before the creation of the Audiencia of Caracas, judicial affairs of the provinces belonging to the captaincy general of Venezuela were handled by the audiencias of Santo Domingo and Santa Fé de Bogotá. In 1673 the ministers of the tribunal of Santo Domingo solicited the king to establish a tribunal in Caracas. A similar solicitation was made in 1753 by the governor of the province of Venezuela, and another in 1769 by the Cabildo of Caracas. In this last petition, the officials stressed the high costs of administration of justice due to the great distances involved and the increase in the number of cases as a result of population increase. They also denounced the corruption and delays which plagued the system of audiencias. Nevertheless, the petition was denied in 1770. Not until the separation of the provinces of Maracaibo and Barinas from the Viceroyalty of New Granada and their incorporation into the captaincy general of Venezuela would the creation of the Audiencia of Caracas take place.
The creation of the Audiencia of Caracas meant the centralization of all the judicial, political, and administrative functions within the territory known today as Venezuela, which before had been handled by the audiencias of Santo Domingo and Santa Fé de Bogotá. Its first members were the commander in chief of Venezuela, Juan Guillelmi, who presided; the regent, Antonio López de Quintana; the judges, Francisco Ignacio Cortínes, Juan Nepomuceno de Pedrosa, and José Patricio de Ribera; and the civil and criminal prosecutor, Julián Díaz de Saravia. Administrative personnel included a chief warrant officer, a court clerk, a court reporter, a recording chancellor, an attorney for the poor, litigating attorneys, four solicitors, an appraiser, a distributor, two ordinary receivers, a receiver of court punishments, and assistants.
The audiencia, or tribunal, had various functions: It saw to the maintenance of royal authority, controlled the functionaries of the Crown, advised the governor, resolved ecclesiastical affairs, saw to the supervision of the royal finances, intervened in military statutes, ensured fair treatment of the Indians, and maintained constant communication with the king and the Council of the Indies to keep them up to date on provincial affairs.
The fact that the audiencia possessed the highest judicial authority also meant that its actions were determining factors regarding political control of the territories within its jurisdiction. This helped integrate judicial and political forces throughout the disjointed and dispersed provinces which made up the Venezuela of the day. This integration was a basic contributing factor toward the development of legal studies in Venezuela, aiding the founding of the Caracas Academy of Attorneys in 1788 and the creation of the Academy of Spanish and Public Law in 1790, both initiatives sponsored by the regent Antonio López de Quintana.
Nevertheless, the administration of justice was irregular and arbitrary, which resulted in the arrival of Joaquín Mosquera y Figueroa, who was sent to investigate accusations against the Audiencia of Caracas which had been brought before the Crown. Moreover, the predominance of Spanish ministers occupying high positions, the large amount of power with which the audiencia was invested, and its fierce reaction against any move to alter the colonial order resulted in numerous confrontations between the creole elite and the predominantly Spanish authorities of the audiencia. The Caracas city council made known its reservations regarding the authority of the tribunal. The prerogatives invested in the audiencia resulted in a loss of municipal autonomy and affected the political interests of the prominent citizens of Caracas. The Royal Council of Caracas, again under the control of the powerful creoles, also had reservations. As a result of this attitude, when the emancipation movement broke out, one of the first measures taken by the Junta Suprema of Caracas was the dismissal and expulsion of the ministers of the audiencia. It was reestablished in 1812, but because of the war it functioned irregularly. In 1813 it was dissolved, then reinstated for a short time in 1814, and dissolved once again in 1816 by order of Fernando VIII. With the final defeat of Spanish forces in 1821, the Royal Audiencia was permanently dissolved.
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Mago de Chópite, Lila, and José Jesús Hernández Palomo. El Cabildo de Caracas (1750–1821). Caracas: Cabildo Metropolitano de Caracas: Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador, 2002.
Suárez, Santiago Gerardo. Los fiscales indianos: Orígen y evolución del Ministerio Público. Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1995.