Friday, January 17, 2020

More Than a Contract Part I, Premo with J. Mansilla

As I’m joined by my colleague and fellow historian of Peru, Judith Mansilla, for the next two blog posts, we bring in another voice to harmonize with us: the contemporary Spanish musician Alejandro Sanz. In his ballad Hicimos un trato (We made a deal), he croons:

Hicimos un trato, no sé si te acuerdas …     We made a deal, I don’t know if you remember…  
…que un trato es un trato                             that a deal is a deal
Mucho más que un contrato                         Much more than a contract  (cont'd)

In Spanish, “trato” connotes both a deal or treaty and interpersonal “treatment,” defying boundaries between the legal and the social, business and intimacy. That’s the beauty of Sanz’s play on words: the lovers’ deal is much more than a contract. We wish to emphasize the fundamental legality and social seriousness of tratos, or extrajudicial deals which followed the lines of the formal contratos of the type that might be found in a notarial register. The existence of tratos are evidence that ordinary Latin Americans themselves legally ordered the “anarchic confusion of social life” following the blueprints of the Lettered City.

The remnants of tratos remain strewn around the imperial archive, tucked into official writings. But one seismic event scattered even more evidence of their existence. After an earthquake and tidal wave leveled the viceregal capital of Peru in 1687, inhabitants began to quickly break old deals and make new ones in order to rebuild. Alongside official arrangements they made in front of judges and notaries, they also resorted to informal contracts. Owners and tenants, all hustling to rebuild private real-estate properties, bargained over construction labor and materials, making deals on all kinds of papers, and often on no paper at all. 

We learn of informal contracts by looking outside the courts and notary registries, inside, for example, the account ledger of Agustín de Castro, steward of a religious confraternity located in Lima’s cathedral. Castro faced the challenge of rebuilding the confraternity’s urban real estate holdings without draining its own resources. Like many real-estate owners in the city, the Cofradía del Santísimo Sacramento suffered material damages to one-third of its properties, which included houses, stores, and second-story rooms (altillos). After recognizing that repair costs would be excessive for the confraternity, Castro negotiated various informal contracts with former and new tenants, all captured not in formal contracts but as annotations in his own account book. For instance, he discounted various pesos from one Juan de Mena’s rent payment to compensate him for cleaning the ditch that ran next to the property. Another tenant, master silversmith Bartolomé de los Arcos, lived in one of the confraternity-owned houses so damaged by the earthquake that Castro reduced the rent from 20 to 8 pesos per month so De los Arcos would cover repairs. The tenants Castro made rent deals with were not all existing, long-term residents, either. Castro granted a new tenant, Antonio de Herrera, four months of free rent because Herrera agreed to cover the repairs the store needed. 

These deals were “on the books”—meaning Castro’s account ledger-- but they were also “off the books” since they were not official notarial contracts for rent or labor services. The next post continues to follow tratos into the courts, where they were caught on paper. 

--Bianca Premo