13 October 2019

Francisca Pizarro Torres 1910-1989

In the brutal suppression of civilians that followed the Nationalist uprising in July 1936, women were not spared.  It was enough simply to be related to a Republican sympathiser.  This is the story of an incredibly courageous Alcalá woman who saw her family members gunned down by firing squad and who only survived by the skin of her teeth.  It was written by her granddaughter, Juana María Malia Vera, and published in Apuntes Históricos de Alcalá de los Gazules 2006.  The original is also available on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules.




My grandmother Francisca was born in Alcalá in August 1910 to Francisca Torres Amador and Antonio Pizarro Álvarez.  She had three brothers, José, Antonio and Francisco, and one sister, Maria.  Her mother died when Francisca was only nine years old, leaving her in charge of the household and her four siblings.  The youngest, Maria, was only two.  At that point she started to wear black, remaining in mourning for the rest of her life, and started work in her godmother’s bakery, peeling and crushing almonds.

Manuel Vera Jiménez, a young man a few years older than Francisca, fell in love with her.  Like almost everyone in Alcalá, he worked in cork production.  He was the son of Manuel Vera and Juana Jiménez (la Espejita).  He had two brothers, Juan and Rafael, and a sister, Maria.

Manuel and Francisca were married in 1926, when she was 16.  They were overjoyed when their first son was born, but he died a few days later, which was a hard blow for them.  Later came Francisca, Manuel, Juana Antonia and José.

My grandfather was a man of the Left, a Republican, and wrote books on those topics, as did my grandmother’s brother Francisco, a shoemaker and a member of the CNT [the Anarchist union].  Everything was going well, with the real hope of better times in Spain, until one night in the summer of 1936.

The Civil War was already a reality across Spain, but even so, the majority of people in Alcalá were trying to return to their day-to-day lives.  Then the relative peace they had enjoyed for just a few short days began to collapse.  Suddenly people from the town itself, fanatical supporters of the new regime, took up arms and with much hatred began what would be a most tragic period for Alcalá, the most atrocious and cruel repression anyone had ever known.  My grandmother said that it was rare for morning to break without some dead body thrown onto the street.

Within this group was a particular “gentleman” (whose name I will not reveal, out of respect for his family) who caused so much harm to my grandmother and her kin that many years later, on his deathbed, he called out her name saying that when he closed his eyes he saw corpses and blood on all sides, and in the agony of death he begged for her to come and forgive him.  Of course he died without seeing her; I don’t know if she would have ever found it in her heart to forgive him.

My grandfather Manuel Vera Jiménez, his brother Juan, and my uncle Francisco Pizarro were “sentenced”, as was  Manuel's mother Juana Jiménez, “la Espejita”.  On one occasion they warned her “Juana, shut up or we’ll come and kill you”.

My grandfather was advised to gather his family together and go far away from Alcalá, but he said that he had never done harm to anybody and that he would leave, but only to work on the cork as he had always done.

One day a bomb fell from a plane and landed right in the Calle Real.  My aunt Francisca Vera remembers this event clearly, in spite of only being six years old at the time.  She tells how people went running all over the place, not knowing where to go.  She herself was with her mother in the bakery where she worked, and they ran out to find the rest of the family.

My grandmother was warned that they were asking the whereabouts of her husband in order to arrest him.  That same afternoon she, along with her sister Maria and their children, went off to look for him without knowing exactly which farm he was working on.  Nightfall found them in La Palmosa, and they slept in the open air, huddled together under a tree.  The next morning they carried on walking, asking the workers on their way home if anyone knew where Manuel Jiménez was.  Someone told them he was in Las Cobatillas, so they set off in that direction.

On the way they met a lorry loaded with Moroccans who were coming to assist Franco.  Many were the barbaric deeds they committed.  When they saw Maria, so pretty and just 16 years old, they called at her, wolf-whistling, and almost forced her into boarding the lorry.   It could have been disastrous.  She screamed and sobbed, resisting. My grandmother fell to her knees, begging them tearfully to leave them in peace.  Fortunately another lorry arrived, and one of their superiors ordered them in their own language to let Maria go.

My grandfather froze with shock when he saw them arrive.  That was when he realised how bad things were in Alcalá, and that he had no alternative but to flee far away, before they found him and shot him along with the others.  They decided that it would be the best thing for all of them.

My grandmother, with her sister and the children, set off for La Bovedilla to rejoin her in-laws.  They had a shack there where they all stayed for a while, until some Falangist thugs turned up and arrested Juana Jiménez and her son Juan.

Detention record for Juana Jiménez, from the municipal archive.
 Prisoners would never give their address: "No lo dice".

Francisca stayed there with the others, but soon another armed gang arrived, interrogating her about her husband.  They took her to the prison in Alcalá to be held until Manuel Jiménez showed up.  The whole family implored the men to leave her with them, but their tears were to no avail as they separated them with the butts of their shotguns.   When I asked my aunt about this time, she still remembered how much her stomach hurt from the blows.  She was just a little girl.  They took Francisca and her little daughter to the jail in Alcalá, but as the days passed and my grandfather Manuel didn’t appear, they decided to transfer them to La Linea de la Concepción.

Maria, now in charge of everyone, put her pain to one side and set about speaking to anyone who might be able to help her sister return home safely.  She also contacted her brothers to let them know the situation, with the hope that they might help resolve the tragic situation.

Her brother Antonio was doing military service in the Legion when war broke out, and was caught in the Nationalist zone, so he could do nothing to help.  Francisco, “Faico” as he was known, remained in Alcalá.  Faico was a real worry for María, in constant fear of being arrested and shot, which would indeed happen a few days later.  It would be José who eventually helped secure Francisca's release.

In prison at La Línea, my grandmother realised straight away that neither her mother-in-law Juana nor her brother-in-law Juan were there, and when she asked about them she was told they had been moved to the bullring.  They explained that was where they took people to be be shot by firing squad.

I can imagine the terror and desperation with which Francisca received this news, which would be aggravated even further a few days later when she herself and her sickly little daughter were taken to the bullring.  When they arrived she saw how all the prisoners were packed together sitting on the ground.  Straight away she saw Juana and Juan, and they embraced each other weeping, not understanding why she had been arrested too.

My grandmother remembered with real panic how names were constantly being called out, sometimes to be interrogated and sometimes to be executed.  They interrogated her about the whereabouts of her husband, and she kept repeating that she didn't know.  When she asked what whould happen to her daughter after she had been killed they told her not to worry, as there was a soldier prepared to adopt her.

I remember when I was very small, at the end of the programmes broadcast by the two television channels we had then, around midnight, they would show a photo of Franco and play the national anthem.  My grandmother would have a panic attack on hearing it, and always asked us to turn off the set.  Later when she told me her life story for the first time, everything that had happened to her, I understood why: when they executed someone in the bullring they would play the national anthem.  This happened the day they called Juan Vera Jiménez. They told his mother to say goodbye to her son, as he was about to be shot.  Juana Jiménez ran towards him; they shot her as well.  My grandmother always said that the two of them died embracing each other.  She heard the shots.

When they took away the bodies they realised that Juana, executed for the crime of being a Communist, was carrying in her pocket a bunch of holy saints' medals attached to a pin.

With almost all hope lost, there came the news that her brother José had managed to obtain a pardon for Francisca.  At that time he was working in the bakery of Agustin Pérez, a gentleman with some influence.  Without much explanation they let her go.  She  walked from La Línea de la Concepción to Algeciras, carrying her daughter in her arms.  From there she took the bus to Alcalá.

On her return she discovered that her brother Francisco, “Faico”, was being held in custody.  They wouldn’t let her see him.  The jailer took pity on my grandmother with everything she had gone through, and told her to come back in the morning when he would let her in.  One morning she was told he was no longer there.  The same answer must have been heard by many other families of execution victims.  They had taken him the previous night to Casas Viejas.

There were witnesses to his execution, most notably a woman who lived nearby and saw how they shot him in the legs, leaving him badly injured.  This woman said that when he asked for water, he was told to go to the river.  This he did, dragging himself along, finally managing to reach the river where he bled to death.

Of my grandfather Manuel Jiménez little is known, I imagine he was hiding out in the mountains. He stayed there for some time, once coming down to Alcalá in the early morning despite the risk he ran.  A friend of his who during the war was taken prisoner by the Republicans, told my grandmother that he had seen him wearing a captain’s uniform.  We don’t know how he died.  There are various different versions: that he died trying to pass into France, or that he died of an injury in Valencia and is buried somewhere there.

One morning there appeared painted on a neighbour's door the name of the owner of the house, followed by the word “murderer”.  They blamed my aunt María and took her to the cells.  Sometimes luck is on the side of the victims.  María Pizarro did not know how to write; it could not have been her.  She decided to go and work in Algeciras.  My uncles and my mother told me that they used to go crazy with joy when she returned at weekends and they would meet her off the bus, loaded with presents for everyone, especially for the littlest ones, who always adored her.

Little by little things started to get better.  My grandmother started to make confectionery, getting more and more orders over time.  She set up a sweet-shop on the Calle Real, and my mother used to serve behind the counter.

Before she herself passed away, Francisca had to endure the great pain of losing her siblings José and María, her niece Margarita and her own daughter Antonia, my mother, that sickly little girl who was with my grandmother during her stay in the prison at La Línea.

I am amazed by what an incredible woman my grandmother was, and how she found the strength to get up each morning trying to find a chink of light in her life to keep her from going under and taking her whole family with her. I admire her even more on remembering how she would mask over all the hardships she had endured with such special grace, sometimes bad-tempered, but always wonderful and affectionate.

My grandmother FRANCISCA PIZARRO TORRES died in Alcalá de los Gazules, the place where she always said she wanted to die.  She was 79 years old.

She never wanted us to raise our arms in a Francoist salute, even in play.  She was terrified and immediately raised her left fist in the Republican salute, sometimes singing a verse from some song of protest.


14 September 2019

Miguel Fernández Tizón: "El Cartucho"

In the early 20th century in Alcalá de los Gazules, Antonio and María had five sons and a daughter.  Then in July 1936 the country was torn apart by a nationalist uprising and a civil war, which inflicted tragedy on this family as on countless others.  One son died at the Front in a bomb blast.  One escaped to France and never returned.  One was executed by firing squad.  One had to hide out in the hills for years. One, Miguel, spent most of his adult life in prison - this is his story.  Of the daughter, nothing is known except her name, Catalina.

L-R: Miguel, Cristóbal, Francisco
"Miguelillo", born in 1915, was the youngest and most daring of the brothers.  He used to say he had so many narrow escapes on and off the battlefield he must have had his own guardian angel. The nickname Cartucho (rifle cartridge) was inherited from his grandfather, who as a boy had liked to hide and explode cartridges to frighten the girls.  Miguel adopted it when he joined the Resistance and it was too dangerous to use your real name.

Miguel was a member of the CNT, an anarchist union with a large following among the exploited agricultural labourers of Andalucia.   After the July 1936 uprising, members of the CNT were high on the fascists' hit-list. Miguel fled with many of his colleagues to hide out in the rough scrubland and forest in the hills between Alcalá and Jimena, now the Alcornocales Natural Park.   He and his comrades were involved in several raids on farmsteads looking for food, which he would pay for dearly later in life.

From there he headed to Málaga, where he joined the Republican army first as a volunteer then, following the fall of that city to the fascists in February 1937, as a member of the 79th Infantry Brigade.  Along with three hundred thousand others, he walked the notorious "Road of Death" to Almería (which was still Republican territory), pursued by Italian tanks, bombed by German aircraft, and shelled by Nationalist ships.  In April 1938 while fighting in Valencia he helped save the life of his fellow alcalaíno Juan Perales León, badly injured after being shot in the face.

Refugees on the "Road of Death"

Shortly afterwards Miguel was arrested, accused of taking part in armed attacks by Marxist gangs on farmsteads in the hills outside Alcalá, and of defecting to the Republican army because of his Marxist beliefs (the fascists defined everyone on the left as Marxists).  Miguel responded that he fled from Alcalá because his membership of the CNT put his life in danger, and that he had only ever carried the arms issued to him as a member of the Infantry.  Nevertheless he was found guilty of Adhesion to the Rebellion and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, later commuted to 20 years.

In June 1943 Miguel managed to escape from the penitentiary in Guadalajara, and returned to the Alcalá area.  He joined the maquis, the underground resistance movement, in a group run by Pedro Moya from Casas Viejas (now Benalup):
Miguel Fernández Tizón (Cartucho), between 1945 and 1946, along with two men from Benalup and two from Medina, were in hiding in the La Janda area, living off the land and petty theft when it became too dangerous for their friends and family to help them any more. In summer they stole grain and sold it to black marketeers. One night they were caught in the act, and split up. Two were subsequently shot by the Guardia Civil ... but Miguel, with the aid of the CNT, escaped to Tangiers. (2)
Unlike some other maquis groups, they do not appear to have resorted to kidnapping to obtain funds. (3)

Cartucho's escape to Tangiers in August 1947 was organised by colleagues from the CNT in La Línea and Gibraltar.  He was to go for a swim at a specific place on the beach, where a motor boat would pick him up and take him to the ferry in Gibraltar. Spanish sailors helped him enter Tangiers without being detected.  There he met up with Pedro Moya, who had arrived a few months earlier.  After the two of them were implicated in an armed robbery on a gas station, Miguel was tricked into returning to Spain by the promise of an amnesty.  He was arrested as soon as he set foot on Spanish soil.

Miguel spent many years incarcerated in Madrid and in Valencia, where he learned upholstery and shoe-making.  He sent home shoes for his nieces and nephews, and an armchair for his mother.  He twice appealed against his sentence, on the basis of a Decree issued in 1945 pardoning crimes committed during the Civil War, but his misdemeanours were considered to be outside the scope of the amnesty.

When he was finally released he returned to Cadíz, took up with a widow called Carmen, and worked as an upholsterer in the Teatro Falla.  His friends Alfonso and Juan Perales testified to his military rank, but he never managed to get a service pension. After Carmen's death he went to live with his niece Juana.  He died of diabetes-related conditions, some time after 1988.



Miguel's brothers 

Before July 1936 Francisco Tizón, married with two sons, had been president of the Alcalá branch of the CNT.  When war broke out he fought at the Front and reached the rank of captain.  When the Republican government finally collapsed in 1939, he and half a million others went to France to seek refuge from the inevitable reprisals.  He never returned to his homeland; while working as a bricklayer he fell off a scaffold and died from his injuries.  But he did send letters home:
Here in exile I write to my family with advice to pass on from parents to children. Of all the wars I have known, the Spanish one was the worst because we killed our own brothers, destroyed towns and left cities in ruins. While we were killing each other, when I arrived with the mail [he had worked for the forces’ postal service] they would be having coffee together and arguing about the terrain with toy soldiers which represented ourselves, and while they were drinking coffee, we were killing each other. (1)
La Retirada  - Republican soldiers head for France to escape Franco's revenge

The name of José Fernández Tizón is recorded in a book written clandestinely in the vaults of a church in San Fernando, documenting the executions which took place there between July 1936 and May 1940. 
On 15 December they took six prisoners from La Cacería, who went in silence to face the firing squad with total submissiveness, such as should characterise them as innocent. Once again the lunatic who took their names didn’t bother to record their age, marital status, profession etc. – nothing, just as if they were dogs. They were executed … (4)
José was one of the six.


Cristóbal Fernández Tizón was deaf, which prevented him going to the Front, but he acted as cook for the Alcalá men who hid in the hills after the Falangists took over the town.   Once when he was collecting some charcoal to cook with, he was caught by the Civil Guard, tied to a tree and tortured. Fortunately one of them was a relative and he was released, but he spent two years hiding out, sleeping in caves, frightened, hungry and out of contact with his family who had no idea whether he was alive or dead.

His wife earned a living doing laundry for the wealthy.  One of her friends there used to sing about the social revolution promised by the left-wing Popular Front government: "Now we are on our way, now they are going to pay".  For this, she was tortured and had her head shaved.


REFERENCES

1.  J. Carlos Perales Pizarro:  Los Cartuchos: Mi Homenaje y Reconocimientos, Apuntes Históricos y y de Nuestro Patrimonio 2018 (annual collection of essays and research papers produced by the Ayuntamiento of Alcalá de los Gazules).

2. Desde la historia de Casas Viejas - un blog de Salustiano Gutiérrez Baena. Los maquis en Casas Viejas. La Derrota. - La huida a Tanger  

3.  CNT Puerto Real: Bibliografias Anarquistas. Luchadores anarquistas durante el Franquismo: La partida del Moyita

4. José Casado Montado, Trigo Tronzado: crónicas silenciadas y comentarios, 1992, San Fernando, self-published.

26 August 2019

Homage to the Muleteers of Alcalá


The Alcornocales Natural Park is one of the last places in Europe where mules still work for a living.  During the cork harvest, which takes place in the summer months, they are used to carry the strips of cork down steep narrow tracks through dense woodland to a clearing where it can be loaded onto lorries.  The rest of the year they graze peacefully on patches of open space in and around the town.  They are cared for year-round by a dedicated team of arrieros (the dictionary translation of that word is muleteer, but as you will see, the are more than just drovers). 

Last weekend during the feria, the arrieros of Alcalá were honoured at a special event in the caseta la Gloria.  Here are some extracts from the tribute speech, written and presented by local anthropologist Agustin Coca.


"Today ... we acknowledge the professionalism and wisdom of a handful of people who weave their lives in with those of their animals, through good times and bad, through rain, wind and heat ...  We are a rarity in Europe, or to put it another way you, the arrieros, maintain a reservoir of wisdom that is transmitted down through the generations.

Behind a beast of burden such as a mule, there is an entire lifetime of learning ... The dialogue with the animal starts from childhood and will never end.  The job involves pampering and caring for the animal.  It eats before you do, you love it as if it were part of the family, you must care for it whether it is working or not, and be as attentive to it as if it were a child ...  Inside every arriero is a surgeon, a vet, one who knows about remedies, herbs and potions. He is also a blacksmith and a saddler, always ready out in the forest to do a repair job.  He is an expert at finding his way around the densest woodland, by day or night, with our without moonlight.  He knows about knots and packing, and a thousand ways to load up the cargo ...  He knows about contracts and business deals, reaching agreements in good times and bad, and has a family which extends beyond the home among comrades, forming a network of solidarity and mutual help ...

The women also carry this knowledge, the mothers, wives and daughters of the arrieros who used to carry bundles from farm to farm, looking after the men, the children and the animals, taking care of their food, clothes and other needs, quietly working alongside the men as they do today ...  And now is the time to acknowledge their value.


The arrieros are the professors in the world of beasts of burden; their knowledge is becoming extinct, and we are fighting to preserve it in Andalucía ... This is why we are here today, with the local authorities and representatives of ACOAN [Asociación de Corcheros y Arrieros de Andalucía]. We must demand that everything possible is done to defend this profession ... a mule is more eco-friendly than a tractor and ideally suited for any kind of work in the forest.  To defend this collective means that the sector must be professionalised, the breeding of mules must be supported, and ways must be found to make the job of arriero attractive to future generations, a job which although difficult and labourious must be treasured by Andalucian society and protected by its institutions.

Today the Alcornocales Natural Park has many problems.  But to resolve them we must depend on these experts amongst us ... Your knowledge must be passed on via dialogue with those who learn about the forest from books, not on a daily basis since childhood.

Now is the time to act, for if not, tomorrow there will be neither cork-oak forest nor people to work in it."

Returning to town after the cork harvest


Watch the corcheros and arrieros in action in this video clip:


16 August 2019

Diego Valle and the birth of socialism in Alcalá

The source of material for this article is a paper by Ismael Almagro Montes de Oca, "El Movimiento Obrero en Alcalá de los Gazules en el Último Tercio del Siglo XIX", published in Apuntes Históricos y de Nuestro Patrimonio 2019, and online at historiadealcaladelosgazules.blogspot.com.

Alcalá de los Gazules is known as the “cradle of Andalusian socialism” mainly because of the work of those who rebuilt the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in the dying days of the Franco dictatorship.  But its socialist history dates back to the 19th century, with the Agrupación Socialista  founded by Diego Valle Regife and his comrades in 1886.  It was only the second such group in the whole of Andalucía, and the first in a rural context.


The first signs of workers’ organisation in Spain came with the foundation of the Asociación Internacional de Trabajadores (First International) in 1864, and the Glorious Revolution of 1868 which led to the rapid spread of anarchism amongst the agricultural labourers of Andalucía, reduced to the most miserable existence by the custom of only being paid for the days they worked. But their hopes for a brighter future would not last long, because the First International was banned in 1874, obliging the workers’ associations to go underground.

The first recorded instance of organisation in Alcalá was in March 1883 when, following a spate of crimes committed by the infamous Mano Negra, the authorities discovered a field-workers' union affiliated to the anarcho-syndicalist Federación de Trabajadores de la Región Española, founded in Barcelona in 1881. Nearly fifty men were arrested for belonging to an illegal organisation, but the judge could find no evidence of any connection with the Mano Negra, and the Mayor confirmed that they were all of good character, so they were released.

By March 1885 the number of affiliates had increased, and the association extended its remit beyond agriculture. The man in charge of administrative correspondence was Diego Valle Regife, one of those arrested in 1883.  They opened a Centre for Instruction and Recreation for the working class, aware that one of the best ways to promote their ideas was to fight against the illiteracy of the workers, most of whom had been obliged to labour in the fields from a very early age and had thus received no formal education.

However there is no further evidence of this association after October 1885. It appears from correspondence published in the newspaper El Socialista in January 1887 that many of the workers of Alcalá were abandoning the anarchist current, which they found too utopian, to follow the other current which emerged from the First International – socialism and political class action.

El Socialista 44 p.3, Jan 1887
(Hemeroteca de la Fundación Pablo Iglesias)

The committee at the head of Alcalá's socialist group, formed in December 1886, comprised several of the former anarchists arrested in 1883.  Diego Valle became President in June 1887.  Clearly a committed and articulate man, he was the local correspondent for El Socialista, graphically describing the working conditions of agricultural labourers in the town:

El Socialista 41, Dec 1886, pp 3-4
If the exploitation suffered by workers in manufacturing industries grows more insufferable by the day, imagine how the agricultural workers must suffer, not having, apart from a few exceptions, the backing of the association. Wages squeezed to the bare minimum, working days of 14 hours or more, and to top it all, the brutal and rude treatment by landowners and half-savage foremen; this is the picture of the miserable situation of the field workers, aggravated and sustained by the very position in which they find themselves, and which makes more difficult the concentration of their efforts to contain the excesses of the ferocious exploitation of which they are victims. 
 He wrote again in June 1887, this time signing the letter, as part of the campaign to reduce the working day to eight hours:

El Socialista 67, June 1887, p.3
The bourgeoisie of this district exploits them scandalously; the working conditions could not be worse. The daily wage is miserable in the extreme, as they are considered fortunate to be earning 75 cents in exchange for working a 16 or 18-hour day. So the workers are agitated by continuous and unsuppressed misery, cursing the monopolist society and the thieves who squander the riches that they tear from the earth.
As you can see, comrades, this ground is not so abandoned that the seeds of socialism cannot bear fruit on it.  The way is open for our ideas, and in spite of so many obstacles which we have to fight against, we, the handful of revolutionaries who defend with love and energy the theories of Karl Marx, are confident of organising on solid bases the Agrupación Socialista in Alcalá de los Gazules, and we also hope that in a short time the neighbouring villages will join us in rallying round the flag of the Workers’ Party. 
Jornaleros near Alcalá

But there were further setbacks to come.  During raids on anarchist groups elsewhere, the Guardia Civil came across a reference to the Agrupación Socialista in Alcalá.  As a result, Diego was arrested at the cork-processing factory where he worked and taken by force to his house in Alcalá, where they seized the membership book and some correspondence. Other members of the group were then arrested and they were all taken to the jail in Medina Sidonia (curiously, not the jail in Alcalá itself).  They were then carted around the province, handcuffed and chained, via Chiclana, San Fernando, Puerto Real, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez, Arcos, Ubrique and ultimately to Grazalema where the trial would be held - a journey of well over a month, treated like criminals and given barely enough bread and water to survive.

In Grazalema the judge ruled that they had committed no crime, as the socialist workers' party was not an illegal organisation.  They were released within half an hour, and had to find their own way back to Alcalá.  Nonetheless, a few weeks later other members of the group were arrested and given similar treatment.

The group dissolved temporarily, but soon reconsituted itself with a new committee, Diego Valle being re-elected as president. The revitalised group proposed organising societies of resistance for various trades - shoemakers, cabinet-makers, blacksmiths, cork-workers, wine-producers, farmers, builders and horticulturalists, and setting up a night-school to educate people over thirteen years old.   Diego Valle had already made his views on education known in the pages of El Socialista:

El Socialista 67, June 1887, p.3
... The majority of workers here work in agriculture, they are somewhat ignorant and superstitious, qualities which they owe to the bourgeoisie. Attached to the old systems and almost totally lacking an education, it is not strange that among them fixed ideas don’t last, they are subject to a multitude of ever-changing theories which they experience when any passing orator approaches them and preaches four words empty of meaning.
Alcalá de los Gazules consists of 12,000 inhabitants. Education of women is undertaken by the Holy Mothers of the Sweet Heart of Jesus, whose establishment takes in all the young girls who have no resources to access any other form of education. At barely 15 years old they leave this sanctimonious place impregnated with religious fanaticism, deaf to humanitarian sentiments, and implacable enemies of the world and of the family.
The consequence of this appalling moral organisation is the ignorance of the working class of Alcalá who, ignoring the causes of their ills, continue to roll down the fatal slope on which religious sectarians have placed them. At the same time the Republican bourgeoisie itself, preaching a deceptive and seductive equality, continues to spìn this kind of nostalgia which overwhelms them.
The school opened in Calle los Pozos on 1 January 1888 and within two months had more than forty adults attending classes in reading, writing, grammar and arithmetic.  It was named la Escuela Regeneracíón, possibly as a way of restoring good relations with the leaders of the Partido Republicano Progresista, who had opened a masonic lodge in the town also called Regeneración.  There had recently been some biting criticism of that party's administration of Alcalá in El Socialista, and although anonymous, the finger was pointed at Diego Valle.  The President and Secretary turned up at the school, insulting and threatening him, saying that he was a traitor to the town.

Plaque in C/ Montesa, off C/ los Pozos

The first few months of 1888 were especially hard for the day-workers because due to a lengthy period of heavy rain, they were unable to work and their families were starving.  On 29 March a group of them petitioned the mayor for assistance, but were told there were no funds available.  They then turned to the Socialist group, who interceded with the administation resulting in a payment of 50 cents per person per day, shared amongst more than 300 workers.  The Socialists also shared out the money they had reserved for a dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Commune.  But it was not enough, the daily rate was quickly reduced to 25 cents, and workers were reduced to begging from door to door.

From that point, there is no more documentary evidence of the Socialist group in Alcalá.  No more publications in El Socialista, and no representative at the PSOE First National Congress in August.  It is likely that, rather than being formally dissolved, it ran out of steam - partly because of a lack of funds, both within the party and among the workers themselves, and partly because its driving force Diego Valle left Alcalá to work in Jerez de la Frontera.  It was certainly still in existence in late September 1889, because it was declared an illegal organisation, and the municipal judge ordered the search and capture of 27 individuals who belonged to it.  Their names included all the various committee members as well as the former president of the anarchist group, Cayetano Rodríguez.

So maybe it is not surprising to see, on 13 October, a group of Alcalá families heading for Cádiz to board the steamship "Giana", bound the following day for Argentina.  They had dreams of setting up their own community there, "Nueva Alcalá", and the trip had clearly been planned for some time because there is evidence of passports and permits being issued for some of the emigrants.  Cayetano Rodríguez and his family were amongst them; they and most of the other families established themselves in the newly-founded city of Resistencia, in the Chaco district of Argentina, which welcomed thousands of European immigrants.

Monument to migrants in Resistencia
Diego Valle also emigrated at some point, but it is possible that on finding himself on the judge's hit-list he assumed the identity of his brother Eduardo.  Eduardo had certainly planned to emigrate, because his passport arrived in Alcalá on 12 November, but in fact he stayed in Alcalá and eventually became secretary of another workers' group in the early years of the 20th century.

In the Argentine port-town of Paraná, on the river of the same name, there is a record of one Diego del Valle whose year of birth coincides with that of the alcalaino.  Moreover, in the census documents for that place, the only one who filled in the box stating which religion they belonged to was Diego del Valle, who classified himself as Libre Pensador  - Free Thinker.

Paraná, around 1900



18 May 2019

"When I die, don't let anyone touch my things" - R.I.P. Juan Carlos Aragón

Cadiz is mourning the death of one its best-loved Carnival characters, Juan Carlos Arágon Becerro, aged just 51.  Philosopher, writer, poet, singer and musician, Aragón was the brain behind more than forty of the colourful singing groups that participated in this unique festival over the past 25 years, writing lyrics, designing costumes, and performing in many prize-winning chirigotas and comparsas

Aragón was one of the generation that made the Carnaval de Cádiz famous across Spain and beyond. It's up there with Mardi Gras in terms of ingenuity, if not scale, and has now been nominated for inclusion on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list.

It's impossible to describe the harmony and colour of a comparsa in full flow: the video below, his contribution to this year's Carnival, gives you a hint of the flavour.



A few years ago Aragón wrote a poem, "Testamento", giving instuctions on what to do after his death.  I enjoyed it so much I translated it into English.
When I die, don’t let anyone touch my things.
Let them stay as they are for when I come back,
Just as I left them.

The wine out of the fridge,
The capo on the first fret,
The telephone ringing,
The heating on,
The child at school,
The letters unopened,
The alarm set for seven,
The accounts at zero,
The blinds up.

If they kill me without pain,
I want the number of the killer.
Let someone record the funeral;
Buy me tobacco and the newspaper,
Don’t wait for me to wake up,
Save me some tuna in case I come back in the flesh.
And don’t keep this verse,
In case I want to change the ending.
Ah,
And take out the rubbish.