THE MAQUIS’S LAST BATTLE by Marc Font

Ramon Vila Capdevila - "Caraquemada" (1918-1963)

7 August 1963. A Civil Guard ambush near a farmhouse in La Creu de Perelló (Castellnou del Bages) ends the life of Ramón Vila Capdevila aka Caracremada. He was the last maquisard active in Catalonia. His demise, coming three years after the killing of Francesc “Quico” Sabaté in Sant Celoni put paid to the anti-Franco guerrilla campaign in Catalonia, which had been particularly active in the 1940s, albeit that it lingered into the early 1960s with fitful urban operations.

Barcelona, 7 October 2010. 35 years have passed since the death of dictator Francisco Franco and almost five decades since the last sabotage operations mounted by the maquis. However, these anti-Franco guerrillas have by no means achieved full recognition. Some 50 people gathered in the Plaza Uquinaona in the Catalan capital demanding immediate moral, legal and economic acknowledgement for the maquis, just the same as has been granted to the servicemen and carabineros who served the Second Republic.

The demonstration, orchestrated by the Berga-based José Ester Borrás Study Centre culminated in the demonstrators making their way to Democratic Memory in the Via Laietana where they put up placards inside the building. Among the protesters was Juan Busquets aka el Senzill, one of the last surviving Catalan maquisards. Busquets had the chance to speak for a time with María Jesús Bono, the general manager of the Generalitat of Catalonia’s  Democratic Memory Agency and she had warm words for the anti-Franco guerrillas but admitted that there are no plans to compensate the (few) surviving members of that group.

Juan Busquets Verges — "El Senzill"

“We are the great forgotten of the fight against Francoism. We have only received a half-hearted acknowledgement, unlike what happened in France”, el Senzill (a man who, at age 82, holds to the plain thinking and beliefs that prompted him to join the guerrillas at the age of 20, told El Triangle. Busquets joined the group led by the legendary Caracremada and Marcel.lí Massana and spent a year carrying out operations inside Catalonia, operating essentially in the mountains around Berga. “The barbarism enforced by the dictatorship led to my building up a hatred of the regime until in the end I made up my mind to flee to France and, shortly after that, to join the guerrilla campaign”, he explained.

“Life in the mountains in such conditions was very tough. We had to move around carrying a 40 kilo load”, Busquets recounted. After a time he decided to go back to Barcelona, his native city, to join the group led by the brothers Gregorio and Saturnino Culebras. In 1949, however, he was caught and a court martial sentenced him to death. In the end this was commuted and he served 20 years in a range of prisons. As part of the same trial, Manuel SabatéQuico Sabaté’s brother – and Saturnino Culebras were executed. Busquets was to be freed in 1969 and a year after that he chose to move to France, having lived there ever since.

“We have been ignored by every one of the governments in place since the start of the Transition”, el Senzill complained, insisting that the members of the maquis were not “maverick armed gangs” but had been set up by the government of Juan Negrín in 1937 with the aim of carrying out sabotage behind enemy lines and, in the event of defeat, carrying on the fight against fascism. In all, some 7,000 combatants were to serve in the maquis across Spain.

The unsuccessful invasion of the Aran Valley in 1944 – an operation involving some 4,000 men – cost the guerrillas the support of the Spanish Communist Party, one of the main organisations sustaining the fighters alongside the CNT trade union and other, smaller groups. In spite of everything, urban activities by the Sabate brothers or the operations mounted in the hinterland by Ramón Vila, Marcel.lí Massana or José Luis Facerias were a thorn in the Franco regime’s side.

A year before the Plaza Urquinaona rally in Barcelona, Joan Busquets sent a letter to the Catalan president, Joan Montilla, urging him to have the Generalitat grant a pension to maquis members. Following silence from the administration, el Senzill then published an open letter setting out the facts and his demands. That letter, published on 30 April, stressed that “Francoist slogans labelling the maquis as criminals, thugs, bandits and other such things are still ringing in the ears of some people”. His letter, with backing from organisations such as the CGT and CNT-AIT, from historian Dolors Marín, film-maker Lluis Galter and the northern Catalan activist Pere Manzanares, notes that the maquis must “ lobby for a right” that other countries in Europe concede without any prompting at all.

A response then came from the General Board of Democratic Memory. María Jesús Bono also conceded in a letter that the “maquis “made a brave contribution to the fight against fascism and for the recovery of freedom and democracy” and that its long unsung sacrifice “can never be overlooked.” And then Bono stated that the Law on Historical Memory passed three years ago does not allow for full rehabilitation of the memory of the anti-Franco guerrillas nor does it provide for any compensation for the few surviving fighters. And stressed that the Generalitat  “does not have the power” to amend the document and has no plans to offer them financial compensation.

Little by little, a few historians are filling in the gaps about the group and civic initiatives such as the ‘Tribute to the Maquis March’ have made it their business to keep the memory alive. Abandoned by the European democracies at the end of the Second World War, forgotten by the very organisations to which they belonged, subject to retaliation from the Francoists and ignored by democratic politicians, the maquis  lost their lives in the fight against dictatorship. And to this day the have not received justice.

Juan Busquets (centre) during the occupation of the Barcelona offices of 'Historical Memory' (7 Oct. 2010)

Source: El Triangle No 991, 8 November 2010 (translated by Paul Sharkey)

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