An institution found in Spain, later transplanted to Spanish America. In Spain, it demanded that an office or offices be alternated between members of different regions or nations. In Spanish America, it usually meant the alternation in office between a native of Spain, called chapetón (tenderfoot), and a native of America, called Creole. In Spanish America, the alternativa is found both in civil and in Church life; however, it was employed most widely in Spanish America in the religious orders. There it meant that the most important offices in a province had to be filled alternately by Spanish and Spanish-American religious respectively: the head of the province, at least half the members of his council, the heads of the more important houses as well as the occupants of the key posts in the province, such as regent of studies and master of novices. In other words, 10 to 12 posts alternated in each chapter by force of law. In the state of present research, it is not known when the alternativa was first established in Spanish America. The earliest known date is 1601, when it was imposed on the Dominicans of Quito. Soon thereafter, it was found officially in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, and in the Philippines. In 1627 the Franciscans in Mexico even received the alternativa, the alternation of office between three parties: the friars who had received the habit in Spain, Spanish boys who entered the order in Mexico, and the Mexicans. The alternativa was not found among either the Mercedarians or the Jesuits; the first were governed usually by Spanish superiors, and the second by direct appointees of their general. Most frequently, the alternativa was requested by the Spanish friars because they were the minority party. In Guatemala, however, both the native Dominicans and Franciscans asked for it because they were the minority. Theoretically, the alternativa could have been advantageous since it could have ensured broadening intellectual contacts. Actually, it was a source of endless friction and dissension and is one of the factors which helped to weaken and corrupt the religious orders in Spanish America wherever it was found. Essentially, it predicated that election to office was less dependent on merit than on race.
Bibliography: a. s. tibesar, "The Alternativa: A Study in Spanish-Creole Relations in Seventeenth Century Peru," Americas 11 (1954–55) 229–283. j. gonzÁles echenique, "Notas sobre la Alternativa en las provincias religiosas de Chile indiano," Historia 2 (1962–63) 178–196.
[a. s. tibesar]