04 June 2017

The Lascut Bronze

A few miles from Alcalá, in an area known as the Mesa del Esparragal, are the remains of an important city of Roman origin, Lascuta,  I blogged about it (and our failed attempt to visit it) a few years ago.  

This is where the famous Lascuta Bronze was discovered, the first Roman inscription found in Spain (189 BC).  The original, just 22x14 cm, is in the Louvre in Paris.

The Alcalá council have just erected a much-enlarged replica of the Bronze on the Paseo de la Playa, as part of the plan to make the town more attractive and interesting to tourists.

Unfortunately there is as yet no explanatory signage (these things don't necessarily happen in the logical order here), so here's an English translation.  I think it's rather nice that the early alcalainos were granted their freedom.

Lucius Aemilius, son of Lucius, Imperator, decreed that the inhabitants of the Tower of Lascuta who lived in servitude to the Hastensians shall be free. As to the land and town which they owned at the time, he ordered that their ownership shall remain unaltered, so long as the People and Senate of Rome deem fit. Done in the camp on 19 January.”

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.

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.