Three French Libertarians in Franco’s Jails — Alain Pecunia, Bernard Ferri and Guy Batoux by Steven Forti (Atlantica). Translated by Paul Sharkey

Alain-Pecunia-1965
Alain Pecunia-1965 (Carabanchel Prison)

“Those were bright and happy years. Awesome times! We were out to make revolution. Was it worth it? On that I am clear; it was worth it!” So says an amiable and chatty Alain Pecunia in a phone conversation from his Paris home. Thereby summing up his teenage years back in the 60s, divided between De Gaulle’ France and Franco’s Spain. Alain Pecunia’s story is little known this side of the Pyrenees, although his life has a lot to do with Spain and anti-Francoism. In 2004 he wrote an account of those years in Les ombres ardentes. Un francais de 17 ans dans les prisons franquistes (The Burning Shadows. A 17 Year-Old Frenchman in Franco’s Prisons). “There is a lot of talk about the intellectuals who opposed Franco but very little is said of the workers and peasants who did so. Which is why I wrote the book”, he says. “In Carabanchel prison I ran into peasants from Valencia and miners from Mieres. I dedicate Les ombres ardentes to them, lest we forget about their struggle.” (en Français – en Español)

A young Libertarian in Paris

In 1958, aged just 13, Pecunia took part in some demonstrations organised by the Young Communists in Paris against the war in Algeria. Within two years he was flirting with the Vérité -Liberté (Truth-Freedom) group led by Pierre Vidal Naquet and with the Louise Michel libertarian circle, a bunch of humanists very much into Léo Ferré, as he recalls in his book. By the beginning of 1961, Pecunia, still at that point a “rebellious, romantic republican”, made the acquaintance of a Spanish exile, Paco Abarca, with whom he set up an Anti-OAS Section, the OAS (Organisation de l’armée secrète) being the far right terrorist organisation headed by General Raoul Salan and launched in the wake of the referendum on self-determination for Algeria. Through Abarca, Pecunia was to be introduced into the world of the Spanish libertarians in exile in France. Over the ensuing months he was to meet with Octavio Alberola and Luis Andres Edo.

Those were years during which the CNT, in the wake of its Limoges congress in the summer of 1961, had been reunited and had decided – not without some oppositions, fro the likes of Federica Montseny – to launch the Defensa Interior group, a secret agency whose mission was to revive the fight against Franco and the membership of which included both older anarchist leaders (Cipriano Mera and Juan Garcia Oliver) and members the younger generation (Octavio Alberola). The first operations were scheduled for the spring and summer of 1962. The Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation (FIJL )embarked upon a series of symbolic actions against Spanish tourist interests, like banks, aircraft and Iberia offices, to force the French and world press to mention the Franco regime.

Pecunia become more and more involved. In June and July 1962 he and another two Frenchmen – Francois Poli and Jacques Noël – took part in operations inside Spain. Within less than two months he crossed the border at least three times via Hendaya and La Jonquera – travelling by train or coach – bringing in gear for a comrade in Barcelona and observing Francoist police checkpoints. This was at the time that Jorge Conill’s group was active, planting three bombs in Barcelona on the night of 29 June 1962. Shortly after the attempt by a team co-ordinated by Mera and Garcia Oliver, no less, to assassinate Franco in San Sebastian, Conill was to be arrested and condemned to death. Only a worldwide protest campaign, featuring, notably, a message from Pope Paul VI to Franco and the kidnapping of Isu Elias, the Spanish vice-consul in Milan. By some Italian libertarian youth, induced the Council of War to commute Conill’s sentence to life imprisonment.

It was at that point that Pecunia made the acquaintance of Jacinto Angel Guerrero Lucas aka el Peque, at that time a very close collaborator with Alberola inside Defensa Interior and, in all likelihood, an informer for the Spanish police. At one encounter on the beach in Canet de Mar, Guerrero Lucas managed to lose a suitcase containing an organisational diagram of much of the libertarian sector in exile. “Guerrero Lucas, I didn’t like as a person. He didn’t seem like a libertarian, for he was very bossy and there was a whiff of the informer about him”, says Pecunia. “The fact is that the Spanish libertarians in exile gave no thought to infiltrators. That all looked like paranoia. There wasn’t a lor of seriousness involved. Everybody was very naïve .”

Operation “Primavera”

In late March 1963, against the advice of Alberola, Abarca asked Pecunia to take part in a further operation. He was the only one of the three Frenchmen still active. Fearful of being identified, Poli and Noel had withdrawn from operations. On 3 April, via Toulouse, Pecunia arrived in Barcelona with two charges of plastic explosives hidden in a packet of ‘Pierrot Gourmand’ pacifiers and some tiny bottles of sulphuric acid and potassium chlorate in his jacket pockets. Everything needed to make two small bombs. Ib Barcelona, Pecunia took the ferry to Palma de Mallorca, staying there two days like just one more tourist on holiday. On the way back he planted the two devices on the ‘Ciudad de Ibiza’: the first one did not explode, but the second one went off before the ferry reached Barcelona. No one was hurt, but an America family on holiday had a bit of a scare. Pecunia managed to catch the train bound for France but on the afternoon of 6 April was arrested on the border between Port Bou and Cerbère. He was to spent two nights in Barcelona Police Headquarters in the Via Layetana and some three weeks in the Modelo Prison in Barcelona. “That was our war against fascism”, Pecunia says. “My father had been in the resistance in France and my Italian great-grandparents had been Carbonari. You know, at the age of twenty, nobody thinks about getting old.”

The problem is that Pecunia was not on his own on that operation, albeit that he did not know the identity and missions of his comrades. The arrangement was that another two young Frenchmen were to enter Spain once he had returned. But that is now how it went. Guy Batoux arrived in Madrid on 3 April via Hendaya, his mission being to plant a bomb outside the US Embassy, but the 23 year old from Lyon was taken ill and was arrested on 7 April before he could plant anything. 20 year old Bernard Ferri, a member of the Voix Ouvrière group, was picked up in Valencia on 8 April while planting a bomb outside the Iberia office. “A serious-minded lad” was how the French press described him at the time. In the very first letter written to his family from prison in Valencia on 14 Aril, Ferri candidly explained that “there is no point crying over spilt milk now; what was done, was done. I am here for political reasons; I planted a bomb against the regime here. But such there was a leak in the organisation in France, they grabbed me at the station just before I was due to return to France. There had also been a fourth man who has never been arrested nor identified. That mysterious individual had made for Alicante and on 9 April managed to get across the border with no great difficulty.

Inside Franco’s Prisons

As far as the Franco regime was concerned the trio made up a commando, which fact enabled it to haul them before a drumhead Council of War headed by examining magistrate Antonio Balbas Planelles. This was a delicate point, with the Francoists demonstrating all of the cruelty of which they were capable. Julian Grimau was executed on 20 April and on the morning of 17 August it was the turn of young libertarians Francisco Granados and Joaquin Delgado, charged without the slightest evidence, with having planted two bombs in late July at the General Security Directorate (DGS) at the main HQ of the Francoist Vertical Syndicates in Madrid. This was to be yet another “lawful crime” perpetrated by Francoism. Pecunia, Ferri and Batoux were by then being held in Carabanchel prison from early August. It was thee while waiting for their Council of War that they became acquainted with one another. Pecunia’s cell was located just above the cells in which Delgado and Granados were to be held for a little over one week. “They went to their deaths very much alone”, Pecunia recalls. “We and all the other political prisoners were in mourning for a week.”

His Council of War finally met on 17 October in the Calle del Reloj in Madrid. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. Only Batoux’s lawyer, Alejandro Rebollo, who had previously defended Grimau, did his job right. Ferri got thirty years plus one day, Pecunia got 12 years and one day and Batoux fifteen years and one day. The French consul in Madrid intervened personally but could not secure a reduction in the sentences.

The trio were split up into three separate prisons: Caceres, Carabanchel and Burgos. Pecunia was to serve nearly two years in Carabanchel in Madrid. “The prison was a chool for revolution, as the saying was back then”, he remembers. In 1964 the 6th Gallery held some 250 political prisoners. There he met the Asturian miners, communists from Levante, a few Catalan members of the PSUC and other libertarians – such as the Scot, Stuart Christie – and three members of the Alianza Sindical Obrera : Francisco Calle Mancilla aka Florian, Jos Cases Alfonso and Mariano Agustin Sanchez – plus a number of member of the “Felipe” (FLP/People’s Liberation Front) such as Nicolas Redondo and Nicolas Sartorius. “We were all comrades inside prison, despite any political differences between us”, he points out.

Some strange mishaps

There was growing pressure brought to bear from France: the De Gaulle government, a number of senators and lots of intellectuals lobbied publicly or in letter sent to the Francoist government. Among the lobbyists was the former collaborator Alfred Fabre-Luce who was o very good terms with Manuel Fraga, the then Tourism & Information Minister. Le Monde carried several articles about the case. Pecunia sees all of this in terms of “our being petits-bourgeois and the sentencing very severe. Moreover, we anarchists and the right drew a distinction between communists and anarchists.”

At the prompting of the French consul, Pecunia signed an appeal for clemency in July; it was granted and on 17 August he walked out of prison. He discreetly returned to France; that was a pre-condition if his two comrades were also to get out of Franco’s prisons as soon as possible. But Ferri and Batoux were kept waiting. In the months thereafter, Pecunia carried on with his political activities, serving on the Comité Espagne Libre and helping to put together a list of non-communist leftwing candidates for the municipal elections, in concert with what was to become Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s 22 March Group . He also became acquainted with the Spanish exile Jose Pascual Palacios with whom he had weekly meetings for a year.

In late June 1966, both Ferri and Batoux were freed. On 31 July Pecnia and Ferri were reunited in Paris. They had been planning to hang around over the next few weeks to talk about further operations, but on the night of 4 August, following a party at some friends’ house, Pecunia was caught up in a freak accident on the road near Nantes. He spent several weeks dangling between life and death before being discharged from hoasital in the autumn of 1967 and the breaking of his back left him confined to a wheelchair. The French police would not hear talk of anything but an accident, but Pecuni believes – in part on the basis of testimony from his friend Roger Noel, an inspector with the French Rseeignements Généraux – that the ‘accident’ was arranged by the French police with the involvement of some Spaniards. “They were probably out to teach me a lesson, but things too a much more serious turn and I survived by sheer chance.”A lot of OAS members live in the Loire region, as do survivors from the Cagoule and Milice fascist movements from Vichy times. In the years after that Alain Pecunia struggled to unearth the truth, but in July 1976, the French courts closed the file on his last attempt.

Queer coincidences did not stop with that incident. On 5 August 1976, only ten days after Pecunia’s accident, Bernard Ferri was killed by falling boulders whilst climbing in Gavarnie in the Hautes Pyrénées in France. Ferri never got to return to Spain. For some years the woman who was his then partner, Jacqueline Tardivel, has been working on a life of Ferri which will very likely be entitled Café des Oiseaux after the Paris café where Ferri, aged 16, bumped into a gypsy girl who predicted that he would die young from a head injury. Tardivel is convinced that his death was an accident. “Such things are common enough when climbing. Morever, those responsible for the falling boulders have been identified; two teachers on holiday. The rocks could easily have hiit the friends who were climbing with Bernard. It was a quirk of fate.”

Batoux is the only one of the trio not to have had an accident. In the years thereafter he joined the French Communist Party in Bordeaux and now lives in La Corneuve on the outskirts of Paris. One way or another Pecunia’s activism carried on too over the ensuing years: the cause of Spain marked his life up until the events of 23-F. He was involved with the Alianza Sindical Obrera and the Comite Espagne Libre and in 1978 Luid Andres Edo suggested to him that he should returned to Spain as a paid organiser for the CNT, but he declined that offer: “I just couldn’t see myself in that role”, says Pecunia. Since the start of the 1980s Pecunia has devoted himself mostly to writing and to his work as a proof-reader. In his book there is something that he told his French anarchist comrades back in the 1960s: “The fascism of the future will come up with a version of fascism that involves no one getting arrested, no one tortured. Because it will have succeeded in worming its way into everybody’s head by means of manipulation or psychological conditioning and successfully sold the notion that any effort on behalf of a different world is pointless. And it will be all the more dangerous for that.” When we take a look around us, maybe Pecunia was not mistaken.