Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Tribute of Blood/Soul Tax

One of the historical injustices suffered by Puerto Ricans was the imposition of a tax to attend Catholic Mass. According to the historian José Luis González, this tax was established by the Spanish Crown in 1815, as part of a series of reforms to increase its revenues from its colonies. 

The Tribute of Blood Tax, known in Spanish as "El Tributo de Sangre," was a burdensome policy enforced by the Spanish Crown during the colonial era in Puerto Rico. This tax mandated that Puerto Rican natives, particularly the Taíno population, provide compulsory labor for local infrastructure projects or serve in the military to protect the colony. The labor often involved working on fortifications, roads, and plantations, which were crucial for the colony's economy and defense but came at a great personal cost to the workers.

The implementation of this tax was part of a larger system of tributes that were common across Spanish colonies. These tributes included various forms of taxes and labor demands that significantly affected the indigenous populations. In Puerto Rico, the Tribute of Blood Tax had profound social and economic impacts, disrupting traditional ways of life and contributing to the decline of the Taíno population due to harsh working conditions and exposure to European diseases.

Resistance to this tax took many forms, from passive non-compliance to active rebellion. Over time, the Tribute of Blood Tax became a symbol of the broader struggle against colonial oppression and exploitation in Puerto Rico's history.

The tax required every Puerto Rican over 14 years old to pay a quarter of a peso per year to attend Mass on Sundays and holidays. This amount was equivalent to two days' wages for a laborer at the time. The tax was collected by the parish priests, who had to send it to the royal treasury. 

Many Puerto Ricans, especially the poor and marginalized, could not afford to pay this tax and were excluded from participating in the sacraments. This situation lasted until 1837 when the tax was abolished by a royal decree. 

Some of the details that can be added to this paragraph are:

- The tax was also known as the tribute of blood or the tribute of souls because it affected the spiritual life of Puerto Ricans.

- The tax was imposed on Puerto Rico along with other Spanish colonies in America, such as Cuba, Santo Domingo, Venezuela, and Colombia.

- The tax was opposed by many Puerto Ricans, who considered it an abuse of power and a violation of their religious freedom. Some even refused to pay it or hid from the collectors.

- The tax was abolished after a petition from the Puerto Rican clergy and laity, who argued that it was causing harm to the church and the people. The royal decree that abolished it also granted some concessions to Puerto Rico, such as allowing free trade with other Spanish colonies.

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: José Luis González, El país de cuatro pisos y otros ensayos (San Juan: Ediciones Huracán, 1980), 55-56.




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