18 March 2017

Los estraperlistas - Andalucia´s black marketeers

It's carnival time again in Alcalá.  This year's theme for Galindo's comparsa (singing group) was "Los Estraperlistas" - the men who smuggled and sold much-needed goods on the black market during a time of acute shortages. Here's a video of their performance, followed by some historical background which I translated a few years ago from an original article by local writer Juan Leiva.


The shortages of the postwar era couldn't have hit Alcalá at a worse time: the fields had been abandoned, the able-bodied workforce had been recruited into the Civil War (many young men were recruited twice over); essential goods were scarce; measures imposed by Franco's regime to relieve the famine [which often made things worse], and many other misfortunes all landed on a large part of the population. Not only was there unemployment and a shortage of work, but basic foodstuffs were in short supply. As a consequence, many people turned to the "black market".

The word for black market, estraperlo, had its origin in a game of foreign invention, a type of roulette, which permitted the banker to manipulate the game [by pressing a secret button] in order to win. It was invented in the 1930s by a Dutch Jew (Strauss) and his colleague (Perlo), and from a combination of their abbreviated names came the word "Straperlo". In Spain, in 1934, some public personalities wanted to introduce it into the Casino of San Sebastian, although the police closed it after a few hours because the game was prohibited. Subsequently the name was used metaphorically to describe the black economy and clandestine trading of essential goods for financial gain.

Food producers and sharp-witted businessmen made a killing on the black market in the postwar period. This was a hard, cruel era of Spanish history. According to some historians it lasted ten years, from 1940 to 1950; according to others, fifteen years from 1940 to 1955, and yet others claimed twenty years, up to 1960, although in a more moderate form. In Alcalá it was as bad as everywhere else. Franco's regime wanted to control the situation with three measures: an autarchic political economy, ration cards, and foreign aid from friendly countries.

The first measure was to demand from millers the maquila - the portion of grain, flour or oil which they got in exchange for the milling. This failed to be applied to all the wheat, oil and cereals harvested during the year, because an unspecified part was hidden and sold on the black market. The ration cards also ended up on the black market, because many people sold them to the highest bidder. And the goods sent by friendly countries hardly ever reached their destination, because certain bureaucrats and distributors offered them to the black marketeers.

Within this world of famine and the black market, nobody could control the fraud and trickery. Everybody knew where they could get their basic goods, but  Alcalá was on the contraband route between Gibraltar and Jerez. It was like a gateway, through which the finest foodstuffs passed on their way from the countryside and the mountains. That world belonged to a more ancient practice, of which we will speak on another occasion – smuggling.

I remember, in this respect, that there was a food made from flour, water, oil and sugar which relieved much hunger. It was called poleadas or gachas, but we children called it espoleá [from the verb espolear, to spur on]. We hated it desperately, but it quelled a lot of hunger in Alcalá. One day I went with Father Manuel to visit a sick old woman. When we arrived at the house, we found a pathetic scene. The old woman and her son were embroiled in a violent argument, the two of them fighting over who was eating more spoonfuls. Father Manuel restored order, making them each eat a spoonful in turn instead of two at a time. These scenes were repeated frequently, provoked by the hysteria of starvation. It wasn't unusual to see children in the streets with their bellies swollen with malnutrition. There were cases of children who died of hunger.

29 January 2017

130th anniversary of the PSOE in Alcalá - a view from the Left

In response to the event described in the previous post, here is a translation of a statement from the local assembly of the IU (Izquierda Unida - United Left).  The original can be found on their Facebook page.

This weekend in Alcalá de los Gazules there is a meeting of the leaders of the fractured Spanish Socialist Workers Party. On this date is celebrated the 130th anniversary of the short-lived – it was only active for two years – but important socialist group at the end of the 19th century; a collective of workers which, during its years of existence, developed a programme of education, agitation and awareness on behalf of the most needy. These Marxists and atheists fought belligerently against the exploitation, misery and hunger of their countrymen and women. It was one of numerous associations, many of them anarchist and longer-lasting, which fought against the injustices of a regime of despotism, privilege and repression.

Alcalá was an undeniable example of the organised working-class struggle. Years before, in the anarchist congress of the Andalusian Regional Federation celebrated in Seville in 1882, was represented the Sociedad Campesina de Alcalá de los Gazules, which in its time had 180 members, of whom 175 were agricultural labourers, channelling the libertarian ideal of their aspirations. It was the same situation in the Second Republic, and more recently during the late Franco period with the CNT at the head. In these first democratic municipal elections, foreseeing the twists and turns of the politics of the Bourbon monarchy which would never offer a dignified future, the CNT asked for an abstention, which it won with more than 42%.

It was the Anarchist Confederation which organised the occupation of the Town Hall in 1981 asking for the direct management of the surrounding countryside, agrarian reform, work and dignity for men and women doomed to unemployment or emigration. More than 600 families occupied the building for weeks, counting on solidarity, as much from other Andalucian syndicalist organisations as from the State, and also from businesses, students, intellectuals and sympathetic neighbours. And it was the CNT which in 1983 organised the occupation of the Church, in a last attempt to block what they could see coming.

Because far from what those first founders were doing, the municipal “Psocialista” government did not take on board the complaints of the people in the occupation. Instead they established a system of strict personalised control over the scarce forms of access to work in the surrounding countryside, and over the PER [Rural Employment Plan] … essential at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st in order to receive unemployment subsidies. What some studious observers have come to call a “new form of despotism” was set up, based on the premise that those working-class people who disputed the ideas of those in power, now the PSOE, would be excluded from the means of access to work; they would be condemned to a life of unemployment. The first Bolsa de Trabajo [temporary jobs for the long-term unemployed, provided by the Town Hall] did not arrive until the 21st century.

This repression resulted in the sentence of unemployment, due to their political views, of many local people and the forced migration of others, totally defenceless, with the consequent stigmatisation and social marginalisation.

Today, Alcalá presents devastating levels of unemployment. The populations survives on subsidies and informal labour - without any form of guarantee – to be found in forestry and other work in the surrounding countryside. So only the cork harvest in these forests provides any sort of regulated salary, and revives the degraded economy of the inhabitants of this town.

The steady drip of emigration continues. The young have no future. Graduates are washing dishes in the British Isles, and the luckiest ones maybe, like their grandparents in Catalonia or Germany, finding employment abroad. Those who stay have to struggle along, like their parents, scraping a living off the land – an uncertain existence, far from the prosperity and hopes that their forebears fought for.

Alcalá de los Gazules owes its situation to the PSOE. It is the town where the “Psocialistas” crystallised. Where for decades they have relied, for good or bad, on the support of the organic party hierarchy and of the governing institutions in Andalucia and the State.

This weekend the representatives of this party are meeting in Alcalá. The majority of them are professional politicians in an organisation which despises its working-class past. A structure which is one, among others, of the biggest allies of the worst capitalism which humanity has lived through to this day. An organisation whose leaders have conspired with the most reactionary right-wingers and have allowed the PP to govern the country, and which maintains flagrant cases of corruption currently going through the justice system.

The Assembly of the United Left and Green Party in Alcalá de los Gazules wants to denounce the fact that these leaders have manipulated the sacred memory of those first Marxist founders of the socialist group in Alcalá, who in turn would feel ashamed of this indolent hierarchy, friend of the powerful. The IU wants to show instead its acknowledgement, not only of the men and women who founded that first group, but those who participated and gave the best part of their lives to the libertarian and communist groups which existed in Alcalá. To the ecologists, feminists, activists for human rights and sexual liberation, anti-militarists … to all those Alcalainos who fought and still fight today for the dream of achieving a world that is more just, free, fraternal and supportive.

Izquierda Unida Los Verdes Convocatoria por Andalucía

130th anniversary of the PSOE in Alcalá

This weekend Alcalá welcomed a number of bigwigs from the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, the Spanish equivalent of the Labour Party) to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the party in in the town.  It was the first rural branch in the whole country, but only survived a couple of years. Speakers at the event, which was held in the Santo Domingo cultural centre, included Susana Díaz, president of the Junta de Andalucía and candidate for leadership of the national party in the forthcoming elections, and Alfredo Rubalcaba, leader of the party from 2012 to 2014.

31 October 2016

Shhh, don't mention the abstention!

After 316 days Spain has a government again.  The general elections in December 2015 and June 2016 saw the conservative Partido Popular (PP) win the most seats, but not enough for an overall majority, and the various parties failed repeatedly to organise pacts with each other.  

Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP, needed the support of the other parties in last Saturday's investiture vote to allow him to form a government.   The anti-corruption party Ciudadanos agreed some time ago to vote Yes, the anti-austerity party Podemos would always vote No. Until recently, Pedro Sánchez, leader of the centre-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) insisted that it would vote against it too: "No means no". But a coup within the party last month, led by Andalusian leader Susana Díaz, saw him forced to resign.  Ostensibly to avoid a third round of elections, the PSOE general committee agreed to abstain, which was enough for Rajoy to win.  Sánchez resigned his seat in order to be able to vote No, and will stand in the forthcoming leadership election.

Here in Alcalá de los Gazules there is an air of betrayal and muted rage - few people want to speak out.  Below is an abridged translation of an article published in the online newspaper La Voz del Sur, in which the writers compare this silence with the "omertà" observed by those loyal to the Mafia.

The Cradle of Andalusian Socialism: between 'omertà' and indignation
A trip to Alcalá de los Gazules, a town in the La Janda region of the Province of Cadiz, which for decades has been one of the epicentres of the foundations of the PSOE's political power in Spain.  Here they are holding their breath in the land of the Perales, the Pizarros, the Blancos, the Aidos... in the week in which the Socialists, led by an Andalusian woman, awarded the government to the PP for the first time in the history of the democracy.

Sicily has a word to define the regime of silence and loyalty to the mafia: omertà.  Alcalá de los Gazules, christened by others as the "cradle of Andalusian socialism" and for years one of the biggest centres of the foundations of political power in Spain, seems to be living these days in a self-imposed silence.  Many of the inhabitants of this white village felt deeply that no must mean no.  However they feel they must remain quiet or say little about how "no" turned out to be an abstention (which in this case was the same as saying yes).

Kept going by cork and livestock, with a scrapheap of construction workers who lost their jobs after the crash, and with a brutal population decline since the middle of the last century, the town appears indifferent (superficially) to an investiture in which Mariano Rajoy will once again be president of the government thanks to the abstention of the PSOE.

"Of course people are indignant, but I prefer not to speak" commented Maria Luisa, of Curro Japón's butcher's shop in the covered market.  But she added;  "Personally I think it's terrible that the PSOE allowed Rajoy to govern, but what else could they do.  The town is very divided.  There are many disillusioned PSOE members and many who don't even want to talk about it.  Me, I don't like politics."  Manolo, the greengrocer, confessed "I'm PSOE, I have an opinion but I'm keeping it to myself.  We can't go eleven months with no government in Spain.  It's what Pedro Sánchez should have done before ... don't photograph me."  He doesn't believe that his party is definitively shipwrecked.  "The PSOE isn't finished.  There will be people who can revive the party, we have to had it over to the younger ones with fresh ideas,.."

Between the greengrocer and the butcher, Isabel, a regular customer, is taking a rest.  She takes out a packet of Ducados, lights up and says defiantly: "I am a socialist, this is the cradle of socialism, and here everyone is outraged but nobody wants to say anything.  Rajoy again?  All that's left for me is to not vote.  Felipe [Gonzalez, former president of Spain] and Susana [Díaz, current president of Andalusia] are the ones who set it all up.  At the end we're left with nothing."  She added: "As for me, I don't care whether I speak out, I'd tell her to her face if necessary."

But Isabel is an exception among those we spoke to while walking through the town.  The vast majority passed over the topic, or offered a timid gesture of approval when asked what they thought about the abstention.  "In the towns there is still an ingrained fear of taking sides, it's as if the agricultural workers still depended on the favours of the politicians", said another local who wouldn't even give their name.  In Alcalá, one of the "universities of Spanish politics", this unwillingness to speak comes as a shock, hiding behind the excuse: "I just don't talk about politics".

Up in the Alameda, the central square of the town, there is little movement on this Wednesday workday.  Even the old folks' centre is empty of its usual domino-players.  "It's hardly worth me opening" complains the proprietor of its cafe.  We throw the question at him: "What do you think about the PSOE allowing the PP to form the government, for the first time in the democratic history of this country?"  The only local who was propping up the bar promptly got up and left.  "The insurance for being self-employed is really expensive, and whoever gets in, it's going to be the same. I'm telling you the truth, neither Rajoy nor Sánchez nor anyone.  I'm staying neutral because I know that whoever gets in, it will be the same."

From Alcalá came the first MP for Cádiz in the new democracy, one Manuel Chaves, and from here also came the woman who became the Minister for Equality in Zapatero's PSOE government.  She then went to the USA to work with the UN.  Her name was Bibiana Aido, and her father, Paco Aido, was the first mayor of the renewed Democracy in this town.  In Casa Pizarro, famous for its wild boar stew, they speak of their illustrious guests as if they were visitors to the theme park of Andalusian socialism.  "Here we have fed Felipe González, Guerra, Manolo Chaves, Rubalcaba..." remembers Javi Pizarro, current owner of the family restaurant.  His uncle is Luis Pizarro, who held public office for 37 years - one of the most long-standing salaried politicians in the country and Manuel Chaves' right-hand man during a good part of his period as president of the Junta de Andalucia.

The hundred-year-old Party is living through an internal war such as nobody can remember.  "I'm not political, I don't know if what they are doing is a good thing or a bad thing", remarked a customer in Alcalá's Real Madrid supporters' club.  The waiter didn't want to talk either.  Others turned a deaf ear while drinking their beer and reading the sports paper.  "We aren't political", said another customer, as if inviting us to desist.  In the street, retired construction worker Antonio Garcia did speak:  "I'm a socialist, yes.  Right now I'm not very happy with them.  I don't look well on what they are doing, but I believe that they have done it so there won't be a third election..."

Caricatures of PSOE politicians at the St John's Eve
bonfire celebrations
We return to the area which is known as "La Playa".  In Pizarro's, a handful of customers order beer and tapas.  "Before, we had twelve staff, now there are six" said the owner.  While serving a tapa of wild boar, Javier Pizarro admitted that "before, I was PSOE but with Zapatero I made a clean break; I voted PSOE in the town because my cousin was standing as mayor, but I vote for Rajoy.  They are all the same, but the only PP supporter in my family is me."  First cousin of pop-singer Alejandro Sanz (Sánchez Pizarro), the innkeeper lamented the decline of the town.  "It's nothing like it was twenty years ago.  In the 1940s there were 16,000 inhabitants, today there are scarcely 6,000.  It should be one of the richest towns in Spain, others like Medina and Vejer have made a lot of progress.  It has been left in the hands of God by the politicians we've had, though now my cousin is doing reasonably well."

Paradoxically, the PSOE lost the mayoralty in 2011 through an "unnatural" pact between the PP and the IU [United Left].  In 2015 the PSOE once again occupied the mayoral seat; the current holder is Luis Pizarro's son Javier "Pata" Pizarro Ruiz.

Pedro Sainz de Andino
enjoying a Christmas drink
From the Alameda the lawyer Pedro Sainz de Andino, "favourite son" of Alcalá, looks unperturbed over the streets.  Far from the abstentions, this illustrious Alcalá man was founder of the Spanish stock exchange in 1831, but perhaps he could not have imagined that half a century later would be born the party which made his native town famous.  The families of the so-called "Alcalá Clan" strengthened the roots of the socialism of Pablo Iglesias Posse.  The clan started on its path in the Transition period, in a flat in Cadiz where they met amongst cigarette smoke and their study books: the Perales, the Pizarros, the Blancos, the Almagros ...

"Alfonso (Perales), he was a real politician, he fought for the people, not of the Left nor of the Right, with ethics and with morals.  Like Suarez and Anguita.  Now they only want to live the story. He was in politics to help people, not to sink them", roars the owner of Casa Pizarro.  During a posthumous homage to this historical socialist leader, Chaves came here and affirmed that "the people of Alcalá are in charge".  And so it goes on.  With much less power - like the PSOE itself - but in charge nevertheless; keeping quiet, immersed in their contradictions but keeping afloat, perpetuating the saga, keeping the network as closely knit as possible ...

Did I mention that Alcalá de los Gazules is twinned with the Sicilian town of Bisacquino?  It's there on a sign on a bend in the road as you arrive in the town from the A-2003 from Jerez.  A mere coincidence.

Juan Carlos Toro
Paco Sánchez Múgica
29 October 2016

26 August 2016

"Los Ranger's Black" - The Rhythm of the Sixties

Manuel Caro Rios, one of the founders of "Los Ranger's Black"  has just written up the history of Alcalá's much-loved '60s rock band, which I have translated below.  The original can be found here.

Their repertoire reflected the appeal of all things English in a country just emerging from the most repressive years of the dictatorship.  British pop songs were starting to be played on Spanish radio.  Miniskirts, psychedelic shirts, pachouli oil, gin & tonic, American tobacco were wildly trendy,   Alcalá artist and sculptor Jesús Cuesta Arana, a big fan who designed their stage sets, wrote about them:
In this [culture of modernity] the Rangers burst forth in Alcalá de los Gazules, which was used to a different kind of rancher.  Four kids jumped on the sonic bandwagon of the times. It was like a kind of alcalaíno Beatles. They did more than cheer people up with their music and self-assurance;  they brought freshness, new winds and sensations to an era of anxiety.  They openly challenged the moralizing and hypocrisy that never got the better of them. They travelled from Cadiz to many villages, playing in concerts and fairs. 
The name also reflects the anglophilia of the age.  "Rangers" = rancheros, a common enough profession around Alcalá.   The fact that there is a superfluous apostrophe and the adjective follows the noun are unimportant.  The band learned the English lyrics phonetically, often having no idea what they were singing.

On 9 September Los Ranger's are doing a gig on the Paseo de la Playa.  This is their second "comeback", following a performance on the Alameda three years ago which the whole town turned out to see.  At that time, they hadn't played together for over forty years. The surviving members of the original line-up were joined by two of Manuel's sons, Victor and Javi, and a lively group of female backing vocalists.  Here's what they sounded like.


The group was born in the years 1961-62. At that time the charcoal industry, which for decades had been extremely important in the local economy, was coming to an end due to the arrival of butane gas. This led to an increase in poverty, already widespread, and also to the emigration which the town suffered from around 1967 as a result of the shortage of work. The “Choriceros” (the name given to the men who went into the countryside with their animals) began a new activity which consisted in digging up cepas de brezos [bulbous roots of heather plants used to make tobacco pipes] and taking them to the pipe factory which was set up at that time. There they cut them, baked them and sent them to Barcelona where they were made into pipes. The cork harvest, livestock and crop cultivation (very important in those times) constituted the rest of the town’s economy.

In this environment, with students having to go to Cadiz to study for exams because there was no secondary school, at least for those families who didn’t have the means to send their children away to some fee-paying school, the group came into being.  As well as a musical group it was an important youth movement. “Los Ranger’s” wasn’t just four people. It was practically the whole of Alcalá’s younger generation, a big percentage. Many people came to our gigs. They helped us set up the stage, carry the equipment, and even our distinguished friend Cuestarana painted some impressive “Tiffanys” [Art Nouveau-style backdrops]. Our beloved and unforgettable Juan Romero, used to hit the roof when he went to get paid, because the entire fee had been spent on beer, wine and pinchitos morunos [meat kebabs].

The initial idea of the group came from Juan Manuel Rodríguez González “Juan Ulloa” and Santiago Romero Vera (brother of the fondly remembered elder Sister of the Beaterio, Maria del Amor). They both played the harmonica at that time. They asked me if I would accompany them on guitar. We did some canciones melódicas [popular Spanish ballads] and we weren’t too bad. When Santiago’s family moved to Seville, Juan and I started afresh with both of us playing guitar. On occasions we were joined by our dear friend Paco Álvarez Mateo, R.I.P.  Paco always said nothing sounded better than a group with two guitars and a bass.

We were missing something very important for any group: the drummer. We decided to talk to Juan Romero Díaz. Our unforgettable Juan Romero, he of the fried potatoes. In his youth, Juan had played in several orchestras, such as the “Orquestina Alcalaina” formed by Andrés Guerra Jobacho, Paco Puelles and himself. They also played serenades at saints’ days, birthdays etc. for whoever hired them.

At first, he was very unwilling. We were just two lads and he was a mature man with children of our age. But his love of music won him over and eventually he accepted.  Later on, his son Pepe Romero, R.I.P., took over ownership of the drumsticks and became our definitive drummer.

It was the age of the most brilliant music of the ‘60s, with the Beatles and the Stones in all their splendour, and with a whole lot of solo singers who still endured, as did the songs that made them famous.

Isabel Viaga “Beli” also joined the group, as our first vocalist. We lost her to emigration as well, when her family went off to Barcelona. Occasionally we had the support of Ana Jesús Rodriguez, Juan’s sister.

This was a little-known stage in the story of Los Ranger's. Juan and I were living in Cádiz. At that time we were taking our first steps in the capital, and rubbed shoulders with some pretty good groups like Los Simun, Los Abunai, Los Teka, etc. We played in the University, in the Plaza de Mina and in the competitions which took place on Sundays in the Gran Teatro Falla. There are still some posters of those events.

Shortly afterwards our Rangers "Canario” [native of the Canary Islands], Carlos Sánchez Ortega, arrived in Alcalá.  This gave us the opportunity of incorporating a rhythm guitar and a keyboard. Moreover, unlike most groups, we were able to interchange our instruments. He also brought his voice, giving the group a style more in line with the requirements of the time.

Los Rangers around 1968.  L-R: Manolo Caro Ríos, Carlos Sánchez
Ortega, Juan Ulloa, José Romero, Manolo Lazarich
In 1969, Juan went off to do his military service and in January 1970 it was my turn to do the same. Matias Muñiz, our substitute bass player, subsequently emigrated to Catalonia.

Then Carlos’s family flew to the Canaries.

Later on, our drummer Pepe Romero died. It was a big emotional blow, and very painful for us.

But we never stopped being Rangers. It’s something that we carry deep inside us. Carlos far away, Juan and I, have always stayed faithful to our friendship and between us there has always been an extra, eternal link formed by the strings of our guitars.

We will die being Los Ranger's, and leave behind to our descendants this story, forged in difficult times, but full of music and magical happenings.