Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Good Old Days in Ecuador

It is easy, at times, to become discouraged and to feel that the human race is not progressing at all. At such moments, it's good to take a cold, hard look at what life was really like long ago.

Although I'm a believer in law and order, I'm glad things have eased up a bit since this sentence was passed in Cuenca, Ecuador.
On September 10, 1783, Cuenca resident Melchor del Valle was convicted by the Spanish Royal Court of murdering his brother Sylvester. The sentence: “Two hundred lashes in the public square, then hanging on the gallows until death.” 
The court further ordered that, when the body was removed from the gallows, it was to be stuffed into a leather bag, along with a dog, a rooster, a snake and a monkey. The bag was then to be sewn shut and thrown into the Rio Tomebamba.
Although capital punishment was outlawed in Ecuador in the early 1906 (and had fallen into disuse well before – the last execution there, Wikipedia says, took place in 1884), justice was still quite rough.
The humiliation cross at Iglesia San Sebastian.
Public spectacle continued to be a central element of Cuenca justice until the second decade of the 20th century. Petty criminals were often tied to humiliation crosses at the entrances to the city, where they were kept for as long as two days. Citizens with grudges against the offenders showed up to apply personal versions of justice, usually with fists, whips and sticks. 
One of the humiliation crosses, made of marble, still stands on the corner of Simon Bolivar and Coronel Talbot, in front of Iglesia San Sebastian.
And it wasn't just justice that was tough in the old days. Public entertainment in Cuenca in the 18th Century was not for the squeamish.
According to the Spanish chronicler Marquez Gonzalez Suarez, [Governor] Vallejo [introduced] the popular Spanish pastime of cat roasting to Cuenca. The governor encouraged families to come to the central plaza, now Parque Calderon, on Sunday nights to watch cats in wire mesh cages lowered into a bonfire. According to Gonzalez Suarez, “The caterwauling and writhing of the burning felines always delighted and amused the spectators.” 

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