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After establishing the municipality the next step was the exploration and pacification of the country, and after that the disposition of the spoils captured, including the land and natives. These were usually divided among the Spanish followers of the military commander, onefifth of all gold, silver, and Indians being turned over to the revenue officers of the Crown.
As in the mother country, the colonial municipality was the local political unit, and its government was vested in an ayuntamiento, or municipal council, consisting of mayors (alcaldes) and councilors (regidores). There was also an alguacil, or sheriff, and in the large towns a procurador syndico, or city attorney. The alcaldes acted as judges and conducted trials.
In the early history of Spanish municipalities they were, to a limited extent, self-governing, electing the mayors and councilors. With the extension of the royal authority following the union of the Spanish provinces the control of these offices was gradually assumed by the Crown and they were filled by nomination or appointment, being sold to the highest bidder, and often made hereditary. With the return of more liberal government this practice was discontinued, and finally they again became elective. This was the experience of Cuban municipalities. Not all the councilors were selected in this way, however, as some were elected. For such elections a royal decree of 1558 conferred the elective franchise on the forty largest taxpayers and on those who had academic or university degrees. The alcaldes were appointed by the Governor-General from the members of the council. This plan of government continued with slight variations until 1812, when it was modified, but was reestablished in 1814.
In 1859 each municipality was given a council consisting of 1 mayor, 1 syndic, and 6 aldermen, if the population was 5,000, and 2 deputy mayors and 10 aldermen if the population was 10,000. Exception was made of Habana, which was given 7 deputy mayors, 4 syndics, and 16 aldermen. All councilors, except those appointed for life, were elected in each municipality by the largest taxpayers, subject to the approval of the Governor-General, the number of electors being twice or thrice as many as the number of councilors to be elected, according as the population was less than or exceeded 10,000. The elections were held annually, and the Cubans claim that under this system the offices were generally filled by Spaniards, although they did not comprise one-fifth of the white population.
By the electoral law of August 20, 1870, amended by that of December 16, 1875, the elective franchise was conferred on the heads of families actually engaged in some profession or trade, who had resided in the district for two years at least, and who paid a tax of 5 pesos on their own property one year before the formation of the electoral list, or who were civil employees of the state, the province, or municipality, in active service, or retired or pensioned from the army or navy, and all adults who had resided in the district two years who could furnish proof of their professional or academic education by means of an official certificate. Other electoral laws, orders, and decrees regulating the elective franchise have been promulgated since the law of 1875. Property education and tax tests were always qualifications of both provincial and municipal electors until 1897, when universal suffrage in municipal elections only was granted. • Very little authority, especially in fiscal affairs, was conferred on the municipal councils, the members of which performed a variety of duties, and their existence as well as their acts were absolutely under the control of the Governor-General.
By a royal decree of 1878, the organic municipal and provincial laws of the peninsula, somewhat modified, were extended provisionally to Cuba. By these laws a municipality is defined to be the legal association of all persons who reside in a municipal district, and is to be represented by a municipal council as a financial administrative corporation. A municipal district is the territory under the administration of a municipal council. Municipal districts are established, increased, diminished, annexed to other municipal districts, wholly or in part, or abolished, by the Military Governor as the lawful successor of the Governor-General. They correspond in a measure to American counties or townships, and as prerequisites to their establishment must contain not less than 2,000 inhabitants, a territory proportioned in extent to the population, and be able to meet the obligatory municipal expenses.
Municipal districts differ in area, and each forms part of a judicial district and of a province, but can not belong to different jurisdictions of the same order. There are 6 provinces, 31 judicial districts, and 132 municipal districts in the island.
To facilitate the administrative service, each municipal district is divided into subdistricts and the latter into wards (barrios), depending on the number of residents in the subdistricts. For political purposes the subdistricts are further divided into electoral districts and the latter into electoral sections.
As far as practicable, ward limits are arranged so that the wards shall have approximately the same population; but every part of the municipal district must form, or be included in, a ward, no matter what its population may be.
Thus the province of Matanzas has 24 municipal districts and 128 wards, so that the entire province is embraced within district and ward lines. The seat of municipal government is the principal town or city in the district where the enumeration of the subdistricts and wards begins.
Each municipal district has a municipal council and a municipal
board. The council governs the district, subject to the supervision of the governor of the province and Military Governor of the island, and is composed of a mayor, a certain number of deputy mayors, and aldermen taken from the members of the council."
The census of the population determines the number of councilors to which each municipal district is entitled, as follows: Up to 500 inhabitants, five; 500 to 800, six; 800 to 1,000, seven; between 1,000 and 10,000, one additional councilor for every additional 1,000 people; and between 10,000 and 20,000, one for every additional 2,000 people. For more than 20,000, one for every additional 2,000 inhabitants until the municipal council has the maximum number of 30 councilors.
The number of deputy mayors is determined on the same principle. Municipal districts of less than 800 inhabitants have no deputy mayors; between 800 and 1,000, one; 1,000 to 6,000, two; 6,000 to 10,000, three; 10,000 to 18,000, four; 18,000 or more, five. Up to 800 inhabitants there is but one subdistrict, and between 800 and 1,000 two, but thereafter the number of subdistricts corresponds to the number of deputy mayors. Each deputy mayor is in charge of a subdistrict as the representative of the mayor, discharging such administrative duties as he may direct, but having no independent functions.
Up to 3,000 inhabitants there is but one electoral district; between 3,000 and 6,000, three; 6,000 to 10,000, four; 10,000 to 18,000, five; 18,000 or more, six.
The councilors are elected from the municipality at large by the qualified voters of the district, one-half being renewed every two years, the councilors longest in service going out at each renewal. They are eligible for reelection. The regular elections are held in the first two weeks in May, but partial elections are held when, at least six months before the regular election, vacancies occur which amount to a third of the total number of councilors. If they occur after this period they are filled by the governor of the province from among former members of the council.
All male citizens over 25 years of age who enjoy their full civil rights, and have lived at least two years in the municipality, are entitled to vote, provided they are not disqualified by sentence for certain criminal offenses, bankruptcy or insolvency, or are not delinquent taxpayers or paupers.
The mayors and deputy mayors are appointed by the Military Governor from among the councilors on the recommendation of the council. But while under the law the deputy mayors must be selected from the council, the Military Governor may appoint any person as mayor, whether he belongs to the municipality or not.
In each ward there is also an alcalde de barrio or ward mayor. He
This law was in force when the census was taken.