11 May 2017

A bit of political history: The "Alcalá Clan"

This is a translation of an article by Pedro Ingelmo in Diario de Cadiz, 10 April 2011. It was written after the sudden resignation of Luis Pizarro from his senior position in the Junta de Andalucía, following differences of opinion with then President José Antonio Griñan.  Pizarro is the father of Alcalá's current mayor, Javier Pizarro, and brother of Paco, owner of the Restaurante Pizarro.

The Electrician’s Seed:  How the “Alcalá Clan” was Born

The history of the PSOE in Cadiz is linked to a small town in the gateway to the Alcornocales, Alcalá de los Gazules, out of which emerged a group which had a decisive influence on the politics of Andalucía for decades.

It is not possible to explain the symbolic significance of the sudden departure of Luis Pizarro from Griñan’s government without a trip into the past.  For many, Pizarro is the end of the line, a perpetual link with the origins of Andalusian socialism.  Luis Pizarro was, and is, the patriarch of that which during the 1980s was baptised as “the Alcalá Clan”, a group of young politicians who raised out of nowhere the PSOE in Cadiz and which has had a decisive political influence, for good or for bad, in the transformation experienced by Andalucía in recent decades.  It’s true that, as in any family, one can’t talk of uniformity.  The premature death of Alfonso Perales, the most brilliant member of the Clan, friction between its most outstanding members and the passing of time, especially, have created distance between them, but their legacy remains.

Luis Pizarro
Alcalá de los Gazules is a town which sprawls over a hill overlooking the Alcornocales Natural Park.  Well into the 20th Century, it had a disperse population living in sandstone shacks with roofs made of heather branches.  They lived off the forest, from charcoal and cork.

When Luis Pizarro was born, in 1947, the wounds of the war were still open.  In that year a legendary resistance movement, or maquis, was still active in the surrounding area; that of Comandante Abril, who would be shot down two years later in nearby Medina after being betrayed by one of his own.  Alcalá, like all the towns in the region, including the nearby Casas Viejas where the slaughter took place which helped bring down the Second Republic, was a breeding ground for Anarchism.  Francisco Pizarro, Luis’s uncle, was one of forty chosen by the Falangists to be shot as a lesson to the others.  One of his sisters was paraded through the town with her head shaved after being made to drink castor oil.  The father of Alfonso Perales ended up in a concentration camp in Huelva, where he survived a form of Russian roulette in which every night the prison guards chose someone to kill.  Another survivor was Juan Perales, nicknamed the Old Colonel in honour of his military adventures.  He saved his skin during a Summary Judgement in which he was accompanied by various Communists, who were executed.  His Anarchist allegiance (“I, Juan Perales León, member of the Iberian Anarchist Federation…” [FAI]) saved his life.

The influence of Juan Perales on the town’s younger generation, who had not lived through the war, and who had inherited a disorganised revolutionary restlessness, would be one of the primary references of the Clan.  Another would be Father Cid, the priest from the El Campano Salesian school in Chiclana.  Cid inculcated in Alfonso Perales and José Luis Blanco (Pizarro, being the eldest of the group, didn’t study there) the ideas of social justice.  The third reference would be Fernando Puelles, El Nani, of whom it is said had the biggest anarchist library in Spain.  El Nani was somewhat older than Pizarro, Pepe Blanco, Paco Aido (father of Bibiana Aido) and their companions, and came from a landowning family in decline, which hadn’t reached the point of preventing him living off their income and dedicating his time to a somewhat histrionic intellectuality which the other lads contemplated with admiration.

Alfonso Perales
But neither the anarchism of the Old Colonel, nor the social Catholicism of Father Cid, nor the intellectualism of El Nani, would be as decisive for the creation of the Clan as Antonio Guerrero, an electrician from Dos Hermanas who arrived in Alcalá in 1970 for the construction of a public housing estate.  Guerrero taught these young anarchists a little pragmatism and would influence the ideology of Alfonso Perales, maintaining that grand revolutions were useless.  The poet José Ramón Ripoll defined it very well: “Perales was as revolutionary as the rest, but his dreams were tempered by a dose of reality which, far from dispossessing them of their charm, could make them possible.”
And that “charm of the possible” is what Guerrero instilled in them.  The electrician was already in contact with the Capitán Vigueras group, named after the street in Seville in which was located the lawyers’ office where Felipe Gonzales, Rafael Escuerdo or Ana María Ruiz Tagle, and Alfonso Guerra, Manuel Chaves and Carmen Romero, would meet and look for alternatives to the better-organised and more numerous Francoist opposition, but also the one with closest links to the War – the Spanish Communist Party [PCE].  And they were going to do this by re-establishing the PSOE, which in exile had fragmented until it had reached the point of ineffectiveness, which made it innocuous.

José Luis "Pepe" Blanco
The contact with Guerrero linked up Alcalá’s revolutionary cell with the “possibilists” of Seville.  It was time to abandon the town. Pepe Blanco, who had the PSOE membership card No.1 in the province, which proved the existence of this formation in the province, moved to Cadiz to study educational practice. Then the rest followed.  Alfonso Perales decided to study history and Luis Pizarro found a job in an automobile financing company, FISEAT.  In Cadiz they met the photographer Pablo Juliá and Rafael Román, and in the student flat in Calle Becquer and over coffee in the Bar Andalucía emerged the discussion forums over how to change Andalucía and uproot it from that destiny of secular backwardness to which it appeared to be doomed.

Always on the lookout was El Charro, a kind of socio-political vigilante.  The young men were involved in a clandestine activity in a somewhat slapdash manner and weren’t very careful about the erasing their tracks when they were dedicating themselves to such “dangerous activities” as distributing propaganda in factories and neighbourhoods.  It was possibly a murmur from El Charro which enabled Perales to end up participating in the legendary meeting of the PSOE in Suresnes, in 1974, the place where the PSOE was converted into a genuine alternative of power.  Pepe Blanco, as Number One in the group, should have gone to that meeting but was arrested and beaten up by the police a few days earlier.  So it was that Perales, on the eve of his twin sister’s wedding, walked out of his house with a rucksack announcing that it would be impossible to attend the event because he had to go to Pau for a conference with the historian Tuñon de Lara.  Nobody in the family understood the snub; meanwhile Perales, accompanied by Chaves, set off in the car bound for Suresnes.
The rest is well-known.  The Madrid socialists headed by Pablo Castellano counted on the old Basque UGT unionist Nicolás Redondo to lead the party, but Redondo felt himself more unionist than politician, and the Betis pact which would deliver the direction of the organisation to the Andalusians was forged.  Felipe González was named Secretary General and Alfonso Guerra would deal with the political nuts and bolts.

On his return, Perales brought the good news that that group of members of a party with no card bearing its name other than that paper which Blanco kept in a shoebox, was being called on to make their dreams come true.  An Assembly convened in the University College of Cadiz, which was dissolved by the police, established its basis.  A few days later, Perales travelled with Juliá to Algeciras to meet up with local members.  He was stopped by the police, who as a welcoming gesture gave him a punch.  He was imprisoned, and when his mother María went to the jail to pay his bail she discovered that someone had beaten her to it – one Gregorio Peces Barba.  The PSOE was beginning to look like a serious political organisation, which could count on its leaders, and which was constructing its own dynasty.  Between 1975 and 1982 that group of revolutionaries from Alcalá who discovered in an electrician “the charm of the possible” felt itself strong.

L-R: José Luis Blanco, Luis Pizarro, Manuel Chaves,
Carlos Díaz, Rafael Román, Alfonso Perales.

The resignation of Pizarro, 40 years after that decisive meeting with Antonio Guerrero, is a good moment to look back at the legacy of the Clan, with its lights and its shades, at a run-down Andalucía now less run-down, which has reduced its backwardness compared to the rest of Spain: also at its tangled mess of patronage, its ambitions and obsessions.  But that Clan has played an undeniably important part in the recent history of Andalucía.