PERE (PEDRO) BOADAS I RIVAS was born in Barcelona in 1894 and died in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1972. Together with Medir Mart and Pere Vandellós, he was one of the leaders of the first anarcho-syndicalist action group organised in Catalonia from late 1917 onwards, before the six-year period of “pistolerismo” erupted in Barcelona. He can, therefore, be regarded as the pioneer of those Barcelona anarcho-syndicalist action groups of which so much has been said; though little is known about the individual protagonists themselves.
From 1917 to 1924, when he was arrested for the last time in Barcelona, Pere Boadas was the coordinator of the many action groups that emerged in the course of the social warfare between anarcho-syndicalist activists and the employers’ and police gunmen.
In 1927 he emerged from prison and, after a trip to Paris in 1928, he emigrated to Montevideo in Uruguay where he contacted the expropriator anarchist action groups carrying out holdups for the cause; the most active and most wanted of these groups in both Uruguay and Argentina was the one led by Miguel Arcángel Roscigno.
After an abortive armed robbery in Montevideo with another two Catalan anarchists, which left three dead and three people wounded, he was arrested and held in a Uruguayan prison for 25 years, which made him famous.
During his 25 years in prison he became a proselyte for anarchism and for the Uruguay’s revolutionary movements, and acquired notoriety for radicalising and introducing the revolutionary idea to many ordinary prisoners who had, initially, been merely criminals.
The man who became president of Uruguay in 2012, José Mugica, a former guerrilla chief with the Uruguayan Tupamaros group from the late 1960s and the early 1970s, has stated that as a young man he made Pere Boadas’s acquaintance during the 1950s and that Boadas was one of his revolutionary mentors.
1917 — BOADAS’S FIRST ACTION GROUP
In August 1917 a general strike was declared throughout Spain by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT and the socialist UGT unions, after the police disbanded a gathering of parliamentarians out to change the cacique (political boss) system on which the monarchy depended. As well as standing foursquare behind the parliamentarians, the strikers also made the usual demands of the labour movement. Once the strike had been harshly put down by the army and the police, the conflict had claimed a death toll of no less than 36 in Catalonia alone, especially in Barcelona and Sabadell. Of the dead 32 were trade unionists, mostly from the CNT; 2 were police officers and 2 were soldiers. A further 35 lives were lost across the rest of Spain.
Following at once from this, many Catalan employers agreed among themselves not to hire or tolerate unionised workers, whether or not they belonged to the CNT or to some craft union that had participated in the strike. This generated a widespread climate of violence in industrial relations.
In view of this situation, one group of anarcho-syndicalists established the first action group with the purpose of carrying out actions that served the unions, rather than just mounting individual attacks or spontaneous clashes between strikers and strikebreakers, as had been the practice in previous years.
By September 1917 the first anarcho-syndicalist action group had been set up and was operational. Its main members were: Pere Boadas i Rivas, Joaquim Vandellós i Romero, Pere Vandellós i Romero, Pere Valero i Ariño, Carles Anglès i Corbella, Medir Martí i Augé, Francesc Font i Oliveras aka “El Caracola” and Eduard Lara i Oliver. The group called itself “Els Sense Nom/Los Sin Nombres” (The Nameless Ones).
These armed activists, all CNT members, offered their services to the CNT leadership, specifically to Ángel Pestaña, as he himself recalls in his memoirs; at the time he was the publisher of the Catalan CNT’s newspaper Solidaridad Obrera. It was an offer that the CNT leadership was to decline
Despite the refusal by the Catalan CNT leadership, some of the craft unions, especially in the textile industry, both those from the CNT and others which were not part of the CNT, such as the Radium Foremen’s Union, welcomed the offer of the anarcho-syndicalist action group headed by Pere Boadas and agreed to help fund their activities against the more repressive employers who were continually being denounced from the pages of Solidaridad Obrera.
The first attack targeted the textile manufacturer Joan Tàpies, who was gunned down in the El Clot barrio on 7 October 1917. Within days, on 24 October 1917, Jaume Casedevall, a chargehand at Eusebio Bertran’s textile factory, was shot and killed. On 30 November 1917, Antoni Trinxet, owner of one of the largest textile plants, was shot and wounded while riding in his car, but his driver Miquel Esquirol was killed. On 4 January 1918 Jeroni Figueras, director of the Busquets Germans (Busquets Brothers) firm, another textile company, was wounded in an attack.
1918 (JANUARY) — THE ATTACK ON JOSEP ALBERT BARRET
On 8 January 1918 the business leader Josep Albert Barret, chairman of the metalworking employers’ association, was shot dead at the entrance to the Industrial School on the corner of the Calle Urgell in Barcelona, where he taught classes and where he was director of the Labour Elementary School. Francesc Pastor, a teacher who was with him at the time, was shot in the leg. For the first time, however, the attack targeted not a textile industry employer, like the others, but a prominent businessman from the metalworking industry.
During January and February 1918 the police rounded up the anarcho-syndicalists Medir Martí, Francesc Font, Eduard Lara and Pere Vandellós, all of whom belonged to that first action group. They were not charged with the Barret murder, but with the deaths of the other textile industry magnates.
Shortly afterwards the police arrested Eduard Ferrer, then chairman of the CNT Mechanics’ Union, suspecting him of having funded the attack on the businessman Josep Albert Barret. Ferrer was, however, released a short time later.
On 30 March 1918, Inspector Bravo Portillo ordered the arrests of Pere Boadas, Joaquim Vandellós, Pere Valero and Carles Anglès, as suspects in the Barret killing. He also arrested, as the prime suspect, Josep Solé, the serving chairman of the CNT Mechanics’ Union who had taken over from Eduard Ferrer. The union’s treasurer, Josep Dardes, another suspect, escaped.
Inspector Bravo Portillo was an old hand when it came to cracking down on trade unionists, having been at it since 1909. Three months after the arrests, however, the French intelligence service discovered that Bravo Portillo was not merely a police officer but had been an active German spy throughout the First World War. According to the French, Bravo Portillo was passing intelligence to the Germans regarding shipping movements of Catalan exports. The French authorities passed on this information to the Spanish government and to the Catalan CNT leadership, which had an interest in investigating Bravo Portillo.
The Spanish authorities arrested and charged Bravo Portillo with espionage in July 1918; subsequently, the Catalan CNT’s lawyers accused Bravo Portillo with planning the attack on the industrialist Barret because the latter had been producing shells and other war materiel for sale to the Allies, the intention being to sabotage an Allied supplier while simultaneously manufacturing an excuse to crack down on the CNT in Catalonia.
In November 1918, with the end of the First World War, Bravo Portillo was freed, but dismissed from the police service. However, even though he had been sacked by the police, Catalonia’s captain-general, Joaquin Milans del Bosch, collaborating clandestinely with the more extreme right-wing employers, recruited him to organise gunmen to eliminate the anarcho-syndicalist militants.
THE BOADAS GROUP ON TRIAL
While Boadas’s group was in prison, the Catalan CNT held a congress in July 1918 — initially just for its Catalan sindicatos únicos, unions based on sector or industry, replacing the craft-based unions. This boosted the Catalan CNT’s membership no end (the CNT there was headed by its general secretary Salvador Seguí). Soon the CNT membership in Catalonia grew to 450,000. During the Catalan CNT’s congress, from inside prison, Pere Boadas, Medir Martí, Pere Vandellós and Carles Anglès sent a message of support to be read in public.
The tremendous power of the Catalan CNT’s sindicatos únicos was demonstrated in the strike at the power supply company known as La Canadiense; this turned into a Catalonia-wide general strike that lasted from early February to the beginning of April 1919. Even though the strike ended with thousands arrested and detained, a state of emergency throughout the ensuing months and the introduction of lockouts by employers, in the course of that strike the Catalan CNT compelled the government to introduce the historic eight-hour working day, not just in Catalonia but across Spain.
In the wake of this spectacular strike, Catalonia’s more right-wing employers sought to strengthen their contacts with Bravo Portillo by hiring gunmen from his gang, known as the “Banda Negra” (Black Gang), to kill anarcho-syndicalist leaders in Barcelona.
This was the backdrop against which the Boadas gang was brought to trial in April 1919, for the assassination of Barret in January the previous year.
At that trial, Eduard Ferrer, the chairman of the CNT Mechanics’ Union at the time of the murder (the union had funded the gunmen who killed Barret), informed the judge that he was in a position to state that Josep Solé and Josep Dardés – vice-chair and treasurer of the CNT Mechanics’ Union at the time of the murder – had incited and paid Pere Boadas, Joaquim Vandellós, Pere Valero and Carles Anglès to kill Barret, out of funds from the Mechanics’ Union. This also made clear that when the accused were arrested on 29 March 1918, it was on the basis of information provided by Eduard Ferrer, who was now repeating the allegation.
The accused were finally acquitted in June 1919 owing to lack of evidence. The defence lawyers had argued that the arresting inspector – Bravo Portillo – was a proven German spy and the fact that the late businessman Josep Albert Barret was selling war materials to the Allies was the reason why Bravo Portillo, no less, had set up the assassination of Barret as a way of punishing an employer who was trading with the Allies and also of providing the pretext for a crackdown on the Catalan CNT.
Also, most of the witnesses called failed to present themselves. Many argued that they had been threatened by the anarcho-syndicalist action groups, that was par for the course, which helped the final acquittal.
In public the upper echelons of the Catalan CNT stuck to the line that Bravo Portillo , through his “plant” inside the CNT, Eduard Ferrer, had instigated the killing of Barret by way of sabotaging the Allies and triggering a crackdown on the CNT. Certainly, the actual allegation raised by Eduard Ferrer against his fellow CNT members from the Mechanics’ Union – that they had incited and funded the anarcho-syndicalist action group to carry out the murder – was odd, suggesting that either he was indeed a “plant” inside the CNT or else that he had been coerced into betraying Pere Boadas’s gang.
Even so, it ought to be underlined that Josep Albert Barret, prior to his murder, had been denounced in the Catalan CNT’s paper, Solidaridad Obrera, in its 26 and 30 October 1917 editions, for sacking over 300 union members who had taken part in the August 1917 strike, and with threatening those confronting strikebreakers. As we know, the defence group that murdered Barret had previously mounted attacks on employers, for the same reasons, towards the end of 1917, so it was scarcely surprising they were implicated in the attack on Barret, given the features of that action group.
There remains a lingering doubt as to whether it actually was Pere Boadas’s gang that carried out the killing or a different bunch of Inspector Bravo Portillo’s goons.
The more likely scenario is that the German agent, Inspector Bravo Portillo, took advantage of the existence of Pere Boadas’s Els Sense Nom group that had carried out earlier attacks on businessmen, both to incite them, through his “agent”, the Mechanics’ Union chairman, Eduard Ferrer, to carry out the attack to rid the Germans of an industrialist working with the Allies, and, at the same time, to step up the repression of the CNT. To this day, however, the truth of the matter remains unclear.
In April 1919, Medir Martí, Francesc Font, Eduard Lara and Pere Vandellós were also acquitted in the case brought in relation to the attacks mounted in late 1917 and on 4 January 1918. The bourgeois press was stunned at this and alleged that both the jury and the witnesses had been threatened in both cases.
Some have accused Pere Boadas’s Els Sense Nom group of triggering the pistolerismo cycle in Barcelona with its attacks on business owners in late 1917 and 1918. Others point the finger at Inspector Bravo Portillo’s pro-German intelligence activities. The truth is that the cycle had been under way since the August 1917 strike in which dozens of anarcho-syndicalists in and around Barcelona were murdered by employers’ gangs who were determined to smash the unions. The La Canadiense strike of February 1919, when the Catalan CNT’s sindicatos únicos thwarted both the employers and the Spanish state itself, proved to be the last straw; as a result the Barcelona employers began hiring gunmen to target and murder the Catalan anarcho-syndicalists, actually ushering in the pistolerismo era proper in Barcelona.
When Pere Boadas, Pere Vandellós, Medir Martí and Carles Anglès from that pioneering 1917 action group were released, they linked up with the brothers Progreso and Volney Ródenas from Valencia. During the former group’s time in prison the Ródenas brothers had filled the breach and seen to the raising of funds and coordinating the new anarcho-syndicalist action groups that had emerged in Barcelona. Together they established a bona fide armed infrastructure for all the defence groups among the Catalan CNT’s sindicatos únicos.
BRAVO PORTILLO TARGETED BY THE ACTION GROUPS
On 17 July 1919 the employers’ gang of hired killers — under Inspector Bravo Portillo — set out to kill Pau Sabater, the Dyers’ Union delegate (whose union was part of the Waterworkers’ Union). Sabater was the first CNT member to die directly at the hands of Bravo Portillo’s gang. In an earlier attack on another CNT leader, Pere Massoni, Massoni survived. They gunned down the anarcho-syndicalist Josep Castillo the same day.
When one of Pau Sabater’s assassins, Luis Fernández, was arrested on 24 August 1919, he confessed that he had been acting on the orders of Inspector Bravo Portillo and that there had been another thug with him in the killing, namely Joan Serra, also a member of Bravo Portillo’s gang. Joan Serra was shot dead a few months later by Medir Martí, a friend of Sabater’s and himself a member of the Dyers’ Union.
That admission by one of Bravo Portillo’s thugs was formal notice to everyone that the erstwhile inspector was implicated in recruiting the gangs of gunmen on behalf of the employers. Shockingly, however, Bravo Portillo was not arrested, since he was under the protection of the captain-general of Catalonia, Milans del Bosch.
Meanwhile, what with employers’ lockouts, blacklisting and armed strikebreakers, there were regular exchanges of gunfire with more employers, CNT members, scabs and police being killed than we have room to list here.
Two of the chief targets for the anarcho-syndicalist groups were Bravo Portillo and the informer Eduard Ferrer, whose days were now numbered.
On 5 September 1919, three members of an anarcho-syndicalist action group gunned down Bravo Portillo in Barcelona. It’s probable that Progreso Ródenas had a hand in the attack on Bravo Portillo since he was recognised at the outset by a number of eyewitnesses, but there are doubts as to who his two colleagues were. Some accounts have it that may have been Ferran Castañer and Samuel Pérez i Gandia, since they were two of the most active members of Progreso Ródenas’s group who customarily operated as a team. (See ¡Pistoleros! 1919. The Chronicles of Farquhar McHarg.)
Within days, on 16 September 1919, Eduard Ferrer was also gunned down in Barcelona: he was the police informer who identified Boadas’s group as responsible for the Barret assassination. The chief suspect in Ferrer’s death was Pere Boadas, who was arrested, but released for lack of evidence.
THE SITUATION TAKES AN EVEN MORE RADICAL TURN IN BARCELONA
10 October 1919 saw the formation in Barcelona of the so-called Sindicats Lliures (Free Trade Unions), led by the proto-fascist Carlists Ramón Sales i Amenós and Joan Laguia i Lliteras. These Sindicats Lliures, employer-backed yellow unions, presented themselves as competing with the CNT. However, the Sindicats Lliures were not just the trade union wing of Carlism; large numbers of its members were recruited from conservative, Roman Catholic and right-wing quarters who were eager to take on the Catalan CNT.
Early in November 1919 talks opened between Catalan CNT representatives led by Salvador Seguí and the employers through a “mixed commission” (mediation panel) sponsored by the civil governor of Barcelona, Julio Amado. The talks failed and the employers locked out their workers and blacklisted the Catalan anarcho-syndicalists. In December 1919 Maestre Laborde, aka the Conde de Salvatierra, a man more favourably disposed to a crackdown than his predecessor Julio Amado, was appointed the new civil governor in Barcelona. Social warfare escalated, as did the attentats targeting strikebreakers and the employers responsible for the lockouts and blacklists; the pattern laid down by Pere Boadas’s Els Sense Nom group back in 1917 was followed.
At the beginning of December 1919 the CNT held a national plenum in Madrid at which the CNT sindicatos únicos were launched nationally, just as they had been earlier and unilaterally by the Catalan CNT the previous July.
1920 — THE ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST GROUPS EXPAND
Following the death of ex-Inspector Bravo Portillo, a French spy by the name of Rudolf (some say Fritz) Stallmann, who went by the name of the Baron Koenig, and who had been working with Bravo Portillo, stepped into his shoes in respect of recruiting gunmen on behalf of the employers. (See The False Baron von König. A Dossier by Raymond Batkin.)
During the first few months of 1920 the anarcho-syndicalist action groups were to clash in the streets with the bosses’ gunmen from Baron Koenig’s gang and there were numerous shootouts and deaths on both sides. But by June that year, at the request of the head of the Employers’ Federation, Félix Graupera, no less, the Spanish government ordered Baron Koenig out of Spanish territory since the Baron was operating like a mafioso and was sometimes demanding cash from employers, not just for carrying out attacks, but for mere protection. A few employers even suspected that the Baron had mounted the odd attack on employers who had declined to pay.
Barcelona’s civil governor, the Conde de Salvatierra, who was all for a crackdown, handed in his resignation following the expulsion of Baron Koenig and the release of prisoners by the government, by way of making his disagreement plain and off he went to live in Valencia. Shortly after that, on 4 August 1920, an anarcho-syndicalist action group travelled down from Barcelona to gun down the Code de Salvatierra in Valencia in retaliation for his all-out warfare policy in Barcelona. After that the more hardline employers resorted to gunmen they hired directly for themselves from among the ranks of the Sindicats Lliures. Over the following three years, the shootouts and attacks traded between the action groups from the CNT’s sindicato único and thugs from the Sindicats Lliures claimed hundreds of lives in the Barcelona area.
From early 1920 onwards, Pere Boadas, Progreso Ródenas, Volney Rídenas, Medir Martí, Pere Vandellós and Ramón Archs i Serra presided over the Catalan CNT’s armed groups; besides having action groups of their own, they took the chief responsibility for coordinating and ensuring funding for many of the other anarcho-syndicalist action groups, whose numbers had risen considerably.
A few of those action groups were led by Josep Saleta i Pla aka “El Nano de Sants”, Andreu Mora i Escudé aka “El Noi de Terrassa”, Restituto Gómez Adelantado, Alfons Miquel Martorell, Eusebio Brau i Mestres, Manuel Talens i Giner aka “El Valencianet”, Francesc Garcia i Garcia aka “El Patilles”, Francesc Martínez i Valls, Ferran Sánchez i Raja aka “El Negre de Gracia”, Gener Minguet, Juan López Sánchez, Josep Batlle i Salvat, Jacint Vila i Casal aka “L’Escombriaire”, Acracio Vidal and Alfons Vila aka “El Poeta” (aka Bautista Acher) among others, with a fair number of activists in their ranks.
All these activists and the members of their groups were to be behind many of the shootings and attacks on the bosses’ goons, members of the Sindicats Lliures, employers, politicians and police officers, whom it would take too long to list.
By 23 April 1920, the police had arrested Progreso Ródenas following a shootout in Barcelona’s Ronda Sant Pau in which both Ródenas and Police Inspector Luis León were wounded.
MARTINEZ ANIDO, CIVIL GOVERNOR OF BARCELONA, STEPS UP THE REPRESSION
After months of attentats and dozens of killings in shootings in Barcelona, the prime minister, Eduardo Dato, decided on 1 November 1920 , in the light of the enduring violence in Barcelona, to appoint General Severiano Martinez Anido civil governor over Catalonia and gave him carte blanche to crush the Catalan CNT at any cost. Martinez Anido had previously served as military governor in Catalonia and had long been involved in the crackdown.
Martinez Anido was to embark upon a drive to wipe out the Catalan CNT, physically, en masse and as an organisation. First he outlawed the CNT in Catalonia and then ordered a crackdown, arresting hundreds of anarcho-syndicalists prominent in entirely trade union activities, among them their leader and general secretary Salvador Seguí. Seguí, along with many others, would subsequently be deported to the La Mola fortress in Mahón.
Next, Martinez Anido met with Barcelona Police Chief Miguel Arlegui and leaders of the Sindicats Lliures, the Sometent paramilitaries and the more hardline employers to draw up a list of anarcho-syndicalists to be targeted and murdered by thugs or through recourse to the ley de fugas
With Salvador Seguí now in prison, Ramón Archs i Serra became general secretary of the Catalonia Regional Labour Confederation (CRTC) of the outlawed CNT.
Archs, who had always been in favour of armed struggle, organised a new lineup to coordinate the action groups along with Pere Vandellós, Pere Boadas, Medir Martí and Simó Piera.
Archs moved that, alongside the street warfare between gun gangs, they had to lash out at the higher-ups and he suggested that Prime Minister Eduardo Dato be targeted, along with Police Chief Miguel Arlegui, Police Inspector Antonio Espejo and Governor Severiano Martinez Anido.
Four members of anarcho-syndicalist action groups from the Gracia district of Barcelona led by Medir Martí set off separately for Madrid between September 1920 and January 1921 to lay the groundwork for the assassination of Dato. The four were Pere Mateu i Cusidó, Ramón Casanellas i Lluch, Lluis Nicolau i Fort and Nicolau’s wife, Llucia Fors i Felip. In Madrid they had logistical support from Madrid CNT personnel led by Mauro Bajatierra.
1921 (JANUARY) — THE LEY DE FUGAS IN OPERATION
The first two months of 1921 were to be the bloodiest, with a total of 44 dead in the Barcelona area during January and February. 35 of the dead were anarcho-syndicalists, most of them murdered using the ley de fugas ploy. But on 18 January the action groups claimed the life of Police Inspector Antonio Espejo, one of the targets of the top echelons of the armed anarcho-syndicalist groups.
On 26 February 1921 the police tracked down and arrested Pere Boadas. This was Boadas’s second arrest. The police charged him with membership of the leadership of the anarcho-syndicalist armed gangs in Catalonia. Pere Boadas was to spend upwards of a year and a half in prison and was temporarily out of action in his role as an orchestrator of the anarcho-syndicalists’ armed struggle.
Pere Boadas was also lucky that he did not have the ley de fugas applied to him; objections from some politicians from a range of parties in the Madrid parliament to the bloodshed in January 1921 may have been the saving of him.
At the beginning of March 1921, after dozens of anarcho-syndicalists had been murdered in Barcelona, Ramón Archs put into action the plan to assassinate the prime minister and briefed the team that he had had move to Madrid from Barcelona two months before; on 8 March 1921 the anarcho-syndicalists Pere Mateu, Ramón Casanellas and Lluis Nicolau gunned down prime minister Eduardo Dato, firing at his car from an “Indian” motorcycle and sidecar near the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid.
On 13 March 1921, five days after the Dato assassination, Pere Mateu was arrested in Madrid; Ramón Casanellas, Lluis Nicolau and Llucia Fors managed to evade capture for a time.
The police were still unaware that Ramón Archs and Pere Vandellós were the ones who had planned the attack or that they were leaders of the underground armed groups. The most sought after man was Medir Martí, who had belonged to Boadas’s first Els Sense Nom group in late 1917; it was he who led the Gracia barrio action groups and it was known that he was in the very same group as the newly arrested Pere Mateu.
Martinez Anido’s reaction to the Dato assassination was a military one, as he stepped up the repression, the arrests and the administrative support funnelled to the Sindicats Lliures thugs. The new prime minister, Dato’s replacement, was Allendesalazar, who continued to back Martinez Anido’s crackdown. Over the ensuing months, gunmen from the Sindicats Lliures, enjoying impunity and backing from the police and from Martinez Anido, went on to kill dozens of anarcho-syndicalists in Barcelona and district. The anarcho-syndicalist action groups also hit back but the support that the bosses’ hired guns enjoyed from the police and from governor Martinez Anido ensured that many more anarcho-syndicalists than Sindicats Lliures members perished during 1921.
HEAVY POLICE CRACKDOWN ON THE CNT ACTION GROUPS
Between May and December 1921 hundreds of arrests were made among the leaders of the aforementioned action groups as well as members of their action groups, not to mention the many anarcho-syndicalists killed in attacks or under the ley de fugas.
It had all begun on 2 May 1921 when one of the bombs being made by the anarcho-syndicalist action groups on premises they had in the Calle Toledo in the Sants barrio – premises used as a meeting-place for the action groups as well as a dump for weapons and as a bomb factory – was accidentally detonated. The explosion claimed the life of Roser Benavent, the anarcho-syndicalist who ran the premises which posed as a clothing store, together with her partner Vicenç Sales, who was wounded. Another four anarcho-syndicalists – Joan Anrau, Joan Bautista Cucha, Miquel Tonijuan i Amorós and Domingo Meiban – were killed in the explosion.
Two very young women – 17-year-old Josepa Crespo i Ballester and Roser Segarra i Travé, 19 – were also injured and arrested over the Calle Toledo explosion. Both these young anarcho-syndicalists had been directly involved in some attentats and they were two of the few action group women members to have been directly involved in operations, given that most action group women looked after intelligence-gathering or harboured activists in secret safe houses and the like.
The police investigation into the circle of friends of those arrested over the Calle Toledo in Sants accounted for many of the arrests made among members of the anarcho-syndicalist action groups in Barcelona in 1921.
Of the top echelon of the Catalan CNT’s armed action groups, only Medir Martí escaped arrest by going to ground; others, like Ramón Archs and Pere Vandellós, were to perish under the ley de fugas after being arrested on 24 or 25 June 1921.
During 1922 and the early part of 1923, many of the leading members and leaders of the action groups arrested over the preceding years – people such as Pere Boadas i Rivas, Josep Saleta i Pla, Restituto Gomez Adelantado, Alfons Miquel Martorell, Eusebio Brau i Mestres and others – had been set loose. This was due in part to the restoration of guarantees of rights under law; also to the mass release of anarcho-syndicalists that April, it being the case that very often trial witnesses were still under threat from the action groups, or simply failed to turn up or stated to the courts that they had seen nothing; and to the formal exposure of Martinez Anido’s scheming, which had partly created the situation.
Others though, like Ramón Vila (who went by the name of Bautista Acher) or Andreu Mora, were not so lucky in their brushes with the courts and were to serve years more in prison.
This guaranteed the armed overhaul of the Catalan CNT, because, contrary to what the authorities reckoned, those activists who had long records were not cowed and carried on leading armed groups.
1922 was to prove quite a violent year, with attentats and shootings claiming some 60 lives, not to mention the many wounded. In spite of everything the death toll had fallen to nearly half of the previous year, but the following year, 1923, would see the violence escalating again.
1923 — PISTOLERISMO RESURGENT
Even though Martinez Anido and police chief Miguel Arlegui were no longer around and the bosses’ hired guns no longer enjoyed so much legal protection, both the more radical employers and the leaders of the Sindicats Lliures were to battle on of their own volition and were to launch a murder campaign targeting anarcho-syndicalists. Their attentats were directed for the most part at the leaders of the more “syndicalist” and moderate wing of the CNT rather than the ones with ties to the action groups. They were out to stem the CNT’s resurgence as a trade union and to turn the violent warfare on the streets into a further weapon in the overall crackdown on the Catalan CNT.
At this point a lawyer by the name of Pedro Màrtir Homs , who had earlier raised a gang of hired guns in the service of the employers’ federation, had been urging the gunmen from the Sindicats Lliures to target anarcho-syndicalists.
The new murder campaign by the bosses’ hired guns was to open in a sensational style when, on 10 March 1923, the main leader of the Catalan CNT, Salvador Seguí i Rubinat, was gunned down. Also killed in the same attack was the anarcho-syndicalist Francesc Comas i Pagès who was accompanying him. The funeral for Seguí and Comas proved the largest in memory in Barcelona, with some 200,000 people turning out.
The attacks on CNT personnel carried on in Barcelona through March and April 1923, with many lives lost. After that a series of attacks mounted by anarcho-syndicalist gunmen kicked off; it too was to claim a large number of lives among the membership of the Sindicats Lliures and the bosses’ goons. The death of Salvador Segui and many other anarcho-syndicalists prompted more people to turn to the action groups than would previously have entertained the idea.
Some of the most prominent anarcho-syndicalist action groups which in 1923 were to become more active in the targeting of bosses, businessmen, Sindicats Lliures, the Sometent, the police and politicians in the Barcelona area were the ones led by Pere Boadas i Rivas, Jacint Vila i Casal, Josep Soler i Guillamet “El Señorito”, Medir Martí i Augé, Alfons Miquel Martorell, Amadeu Sanmartin i Suñé, Eusebio Brau i Mestres, Restituto Gomez Adelantado. Manuel Talens i Giner and Josep Saleta i Pla, among others, with numerous others in their ranks. As one can see, some of those named here were the very same as in 1920, having been released from prison.
Up to that point, Los Solidarios, led by Joan Garcia Oliver and Buenaventura Durruti, had not operated as an action group within Barcelona, since there was no shortage of groups that were in busy Barcelona in 1923, and had been so for some years. But over the course of 1923 Los Solidarios were to assume the task of trying to coordinate a number of action groups and persuading them that they should look beyond vengeance and focus on the organisation of a future anarchist revolution. For the time being, though, the majority of the groups had been embroiled in revenge operations following Segui’s death.
So Los Solidarios decided to orchestrate their very first attentat as a group. On 6 April 1923, the Solidarios members Joan Garcia Oliver and Francisco Ascaso, in concert with Joan Figueras i Tribó and Francesc Roigé, two members of another already existing action group, set out to take the life of Joan Laguia i Lliteras in Manresa. Laguia had been one of the founders of the Sindicats Lliures. However, the would-be assassination ended in a shootout with Laguia’s bodyguards, resulting in the wounding of three of the bodyguards, while Laguia was unscathed. That was to be, to all intents, Los Solidarios’s one and only attentat carried out as a group in Catalonia.
For all that, Los Solidarios members Eusebio Brau and Alfons Miquel Martorell, who had been mounting actions and attentats in Barcelona along with their previous groups for over four years and they were to stick to the same line with action groups of their own in 1923.
By contrast, Rafael Torres Escartín, one of the Solidarios newly arrived from Aragon, operated for a time along with the action group of Jacint Vila i Casal , a group that was to claim lives from the ranks of the Sindicats Lliures and Sometent during 1923.
CATALAN CNT LEADERS FREED FROM PRISON
Following the severe knocks the CNT had taken in Catalonia in 1921 in terms of arrests made and fatalities suffered by its armed groups and trade union members alike, 1922 opened relatively uneventfully, with “only” four fatalities over its first three months.
In April 1922 the new prime minister José Sánchez Guerra released most of the union leaders who had been jailed for upwards of a year and a half; they included Salvador Seguí who was then appointed national general secretary of the CNT.
The government also lifted the ban on the CNT in Catalonia in a fresh effort to pacify things and the CNT resumed its trade union activities in Catalonia.
However, many of those who had defected to the Sindicats Lliures in 1921 while the CNT was outlawed returned to the CNT fold once it resumed its trade union operations in Catalonia in April 1922. This was to trigger some attacks by Sindicat Lliures goons on the would-be defectors from their unions and that drew a response from the anarcho-syndicalist action groups and pistolerismo returned to Barcelona.
Pere Boadas who had been arrested in February 1921 without charge – aside from his being suspected of belonging to the top rank of the anarcho-syndicalist action groups – had been released during the first weeks of 1922, but as the shootings escalated in Barcelona once more, a fresh warrant was issued for his arrest and he was captured again, this time in Zaragoza, where he had fled to on 20 July 1922.
The more hard-line employers also reacted to the legalisation of the CNT by drawing up blacklists and as a rule they refused to hire members of the Catalonian CNT’s sindicatos únicos; it was same old story. This led to a number of CNT unions orchestrating some holdups by way of support for their unemployed members as well as the action groups.
The biggest raid was on 1 September 1922 when the MZA (Madrid–Zaragoza–Alicante) train coming from Madrid and carrying the payroll for the railway company was robbed by an action group as it passed through Barcelona’s Poble Nou station.
Carles Anglès i Corbella, one of the original lineup of Boadas’s Els Sense Nom group back in 1917, was one of the organisers and participants in this raid. The other members implicated in the robbery were Ramón Recasens i Miret, Victor Quero Lahoz, Josep Francès i Jorqués, Francesc Cuñat i Marco, Antonio Jiménez Martínez, Marcelino Da Silva Vilasuso, Manuel Ramos Alonso and Antoni Mas i Gómez aka “El Tartamut”.
The train robbery netted 149,000 pesetas, a fortune at the time, but in the shootout with the guards and soldiers protecting the train, 3 lives were lost – the anarcho-syndicalist Victor Quero, one of the guards and a railway employee. Ramón Recasens took a bullet but managed to escape with the rest in a car.
Within days three of the anarcho-syndicalist raiders had been arrested: Josep Francès, Marcelina Da Silva and Antoni Mas.
The other five raiders – Francesc Cuñat, Antonio Jiménez, Manuel Ramos, Carles Anglès and the wounded Ramón Recasens – managed to cross the border into France. Cuñat, Jiménez and Ramos were arrested in Cerbère by French police, but were not extradited. Ramón Recasens and Carles Anglès made it to France and evaded capture.
Given that at the CNT congress in Zaragoza in June 1922 the majority had sided with the moderate anarcho-syndicalist camp led by Salvador Seguí (who was in favour of working alongside other left-wing groups) and turned against the hard-line anarchist faction which was dropped from the leadership, in October 1922 a group of anarchists from the CNT in Catalonia joined forces with a group of anarchists recently arrived in Barcelona from the Aragon CNT and launched a group called “Los Solidarios” who were out to conjure up a radical anarchist alternative to the Barcelona-based CNT leadership.
The original members of “Los Solidarios” drawn from the Catalan CNT were the Catalans Joan Garcia i Oliver, Alfons Miquel Martorell and Eusebio Brau i Mestres, the Valencian Ricardo Sanz, the Murcian Miguel Garcia Vivancos and the Aragonese Gregorio Jover (who joined the group a few months later); they joined forces with an action group from the Aragon CNT that had only recently arrived in Barcelona and which was made up chiefly of León natives Buenaventura Durruti, Gregorio Martínez aka “El Toto”, and Marcelino del Campo, plus the Aragonese Francisco Ascaso, Domingo Ascaso, Alejandro Ascaso and Rafael Torres Escartín, and the Asturian Aurelio Fernández and the Navarrese Gregorio Suberviola Bargutia. For the time being, the function of the new group would be boosting the hard-line anarchist faction within the Barcelona CNT.
Meanwhile and despite the parliamentary criticism of his mailed-fist approach, Martinez Anido was still working hand in glove as civil governor with the employers’ hired gunmen. In October 1922 however, Martinez Anido managed to plant two of his men – Inocencio Feced and the police officer Florentino Pellejero – inside an anarcho-syndicalist action group that had set its sights on his assassination. Inocencio Feced was to show them the spot on the Ramblas where Martinez Anido would supposedly emerge from a theatre and where the attack would take place. The attack-cum-trap ended in a shootout in which Rafael Climent, Adolfo Bermejo and Josep Claramonte (anarcho-syndicalists from the action group involved) were killed. Another member of the group, Manuel Talens aka “Valencianet”, managed to shoot back at the police plant Florentino Pellejero and escaped despite a bullet wound in the leg. Josep Gardeñas and Amalio Cerdeño also got away initially.
But through the “plant” Inocencio Feced, Amalio Cerdeño was tracked to his home, hauled away and gunned down in yet another application of the ley de fugas. However, despite being seriously wounded, before he died Cerdeño had time to explain to prosecutor Medina at the hospital all about the ambush and the infiltrators. When the Spanish prime minister Sánchez Guerra got to hear about this, he dismissed Martinez Anido once and for all and likewise the Barcelona police chief Miguel Arlegui.
With Martinez Anido gone, there was a temporary change in circumstances and the Sindicats Lliures gunmen lost their protection if caught red-handed in any incident.
Pere Boadas, who had raised another action group upon his release from prison, went on to work in concert with Los Solidarios in a drive to persuade the action groups that, in addition to retaliatory action they should be laying the groundwork for an anarchist revolution, since Boadas belonged to the hard-line anarchist faction and was one of the people most familiar with the action group personnel, having been a pioneer since 1917.
Since there were enough action groups operating in Barcelona, it occurred to Los Solidarios that they should pull a grand stroke beyond the borders of Catalonia. At the time even Joan Peiró, who had taken over from Salvador Seguí as CNT general secretary and who belonged to the moderate faction, was also taking part in the campaign to orchestrate retaliation for the March 1923 murder of Seguí, together with many another who had previously espoused a more moderate line.
In his memoirs, Joan Garcia i Oliver says that it was agreed with Joan Peiró that Los Solidarios would track Martinez Anido down and kill him in Donostia in the Basque country, where they reckoned he was. It was also agreed that non-Catalan members of Los Solidarios would be dispatched there since, given the social violence raging in Catalonia at the time, a Catalan accent raised suspicions in other parts of Spain.
In May 1923 Buenaventura Durruti set off for Madrid and a meeting with anarchist groups there to orchestrate a concerted action strategy and to raise support for a range of attentats. But the police arrested him just as he was boarding the train from Madrid back to Barcelona and he was dispatched to Donostia (San Sebastián) to stand trial, since he was wanted there in connection with a holdup that had taken place some time earlier. The eye-witnesses failed to identify him, though, and he was let go after a month. During the month that Durruti was in custody, however, some members of Los Solidarios who came from Aragon were to carry out their first two deadly attacks.
In May 1923 a Los Solidarios gang, unable to locate Martinez Anido in Donostia, decided off its own bat to mount other attacks outside Catalonia.
On the 17th, Gregorio Suberviola and Gregoro Martinez gunned down Lieutenant-Colonel Faustino González Regueral in León; the victim was renowned for his oppression of workers during his time as civil governor of Vizcaya. In so doing the Aragonese faction of Los Solidarios burst onto the scene as a group with a successful deadly attack – and one mounted outside Barcelona.
On 4 June 1923 the Los Solidarios members Francisco Ascaso and Rafael Torres Escartín gunned down Cardinal Soldevila, notorious funder of the Sindicats Lliures.
Those two outrages caused a sensation since they had occurred outside Catalonia, targeting a high-ranking army officer and an important church leader. These outrages boosted the reputation of Los Solidarios and helped them recruit more supporters to the hard-line anarchist cause.
Despite all this, the CNT general secretary Joan Peiró and some factions within the Catalan CNT did not look kindly upon those two attacks mounted unilaterally by Los Solidarios, outside Catalonia and targeting an army officer and a Church leader, since they were of the view that they would cause general alarm throughout the country and bring even more repression down on Catalan anarcho-syndicalism, it being plain that the perpetrators of the attacks had struck from Catalonia.
In late June 1923 Francisco Ascaso was arrested in Zaragoza and charged with the assassination of Cardinal Soldevila. But a month later he was to break out of Zaragoza prison with the aid of an anarchist team on the outside.
Pere Boadas carried on helping out with his group’s many attacks; one of the ones we know about and for which he was later to be arrested was the one mounted against the leader of the employers’ hired guns.
On 4 June 1923, on the very same day as Francisco Ascaso and Rafael Torres Escartín killed Cardinal Soldevila in Zaragoza, Pere Boadas and members of his action group mounted an attack on Pere Màrtir Homs, the head of the main gang of thugs hired by the bosses and an occasional participant in their attacks himself.
The members of the group – Pere Boadas i Rivas, Josep Espuñes i Bach, Joaquim Pons Dilmer and Joaquin Blanco Martinez (nicknamed “El Valladolid”because he had been born in that city, or “El Picón” on the basis that he had previously used the alias José Picón) – headed for the Calle del Carmen in Barcelona, knowing that Pere Màrtir Homs would be emerging from a meeting there; they intended to kill him.
The task of killing Pere Màrtir Homs fell to Joaquín Blanco, whereas Josep Espuñes, Pere Boadas and Joaquim Pons were to provide Blanco with cover and “deal with” Homs’s bodyguards. One of Pere Màrtir’s bodyguards, José Fernàndez Alegría, who was a police officer, spotted Blanco coming and, knowing already that he was a member of an action group, he recognised him and shouted to the others “Watch out! Here comes ‘El Picón’!” and made to head him off. Immediately, Boadas, Espuñes and Pons opened up on the policeman-cum-bodyguard from the corner and he fell to the ground, wounded. Joaquín Blanco turned around and finished him off where he lay.
A stray bullet from the exchange of gunfire with the other bodyguards (also police officers) claimed the life of a waiter from a bar; his name was Pere Garriga. The three anarcho-syndicalists then took to their heels. They had killed one of his police escort but Pere Màrtir Homs was unscathed. And a waiter had accidentally been killed in the shootout, albeit that it is still not certain who had fired the stray shot.
In mid August 1923 the police arrested Josep Espuñes in Barcelona and on 29 August it was the turn of Joaquin Blanco in Madrid; the latter was arrested just as he was arriving by train from Andalusia, having fled there. Both were charged in connection with the attack on Homs in which a policeman had been killed. Pere Boadas had yet to be tracked down, as had Joaquim Pons.
Tit-for-tat attacks and shootings had escalated over those months, rising to the same sort of levels as in 1921 and claiming many lives on both sides. As usual, it would require a lot of space even to list and describe those attacks and shootings in the Barcelona of 1923.
THE LOS SOLIDARIOS HOLDUPS
In the wake of the lethal attacks mounted that May by Los Solidarios against Lieutenant-Colonel González Regueral in León and Cardinal Soldevila in Zaragoza – attacks that made the group’s reputation – Los Solidarios regrouped in Barcelona in July 1923.
With Durruti and Garcia Oliver taking the lead, Los Solidarios considered throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the spiral of attacks and retaliation that were happening in Barcelona in concert with the other action groups, with particular concentration on carrying out big holdups to fund the purchase of arms for the coming revolution that that would go well beyond mere retaliation.
On 18 July 1923 they raided the Padró Bank in Manresa. The following day, 19 July, they held up a Barcelona city council employee just as he was about to deposit 95,000 pesetas. On 7 August 1923 they attacked traders in the Borne market in a shop opposite a railway station, the Estación de Francia. On 8 August the raided a rent collection agency in the Calle Avinyó, netting 85,000 pesetas. All of these holdups were very well organized and very profitable. Los Solidarios were amassing a huge amount of money and a number of them spent some of it on setting up a bomb-making factory in Barcelona under the supervision of Eusebio Brau.
This flurry of sensational holdups threw the authorities into a real panic and Catalonia’s captain-general Miguel Primo de Rivera drafted in troops and Sometent personnel to patrol Barcelona around the clock.
Los Solidarios members like Alfons Miquel Martorell, Joan Garcia i Oliver, Buenaventura Durruti and Alejandro Ascaso also took part in these holdups and were identified by witnesses from snapshots. There is every likelihood that other members also were implicated, as were activists recruited by Los Solidarios, like Joan Torralba, Joan Cusí and Joan Tarragó, among others.
It was plain that Los Solidarios was the leading group when it came to carrying out spectacular holdups with great proficiency, usually netting huge sums and, unlike in raids carried out by the majority of the Barcelona action groups, usually avoiding gunfire.
One example was the holdup carried out by a different action group a few days later on 29 August 1923 at the Salicachs flour mill in Barcelona’s Calle Girona; it led to a shootout with the Sometent and the police in the city centre streets and ended in the death of the company cashier Pere Vilalta and left 8 uninvolved passersby with gunshot wounds (4 men, a woman, a 16-year-old boy, an 8-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl). In the wake of the shootout the anarcho-syndicalists Amadeu Sanmartín i Suñé, Pere Oro i Ricart, Enric Albareda i Miró, Manuel González Serrano and Joan Pons i Dilmer found themselves under arrest.
Joan Pons i Dilmer had been a member of the Boadas group that had been involved in the attempt on the life of Pere Màrtir Homs and which had led to the death of a police officer from the latter’s bodyguard; Pere Boadas was now the only person involved who was not in custody. He was at that point the “most wanted” man as far as the authorities were concerned, and he had to step up his precautions to avoid arrest.
On 1 September 1923, a sizable team from Los Solidarios – made up of Durruti, Aurelio Fernández, Gregorio Suberviola, Gregorio Martinez, Eusebio Brau, Rafael Torres Escartín, Miguel Garcia Vivancos and Adolfo Ballano – travelled up to Asturias from Barcelona and held up the Gijón branch of the Bank of Spain, netting the fabulous sum of 600,000 pesetas, a record at that time. However, the raid triggered a gunbattle in which the bank manager lost his life. Within days Eusebio Brau i Mestres had been tracked down to Oviedo and killed after a shootout with the Civil Guard, while Rafael Torres Escartín was arrested. The others escaped with the proceeds.
Given its spectacular style and enormous proceeds, that bank robbery produced something of a sensation among the public and the more radical anarchist militants alike; along with the raids over recent months, they were starting to become synonymous with Los Solidarios.
Los Solidarios had been founded in Barcelona just a year earlier and, as a group, had played no part during the years prior to the outbreak of pistolerismo in Barcelona, nor in trade union activities which had been the concern of the members of the Catalan chapter with its longer established groups; nor had they – as a group – been involved in the social warfare in Barcelona over the past 5 months, having carried out a few holdups and two deadly attacks outside of Catalonia. Already however they were spearheading the radical anarchist movement in Catalonia and across Spain.
This was so because Los Solidarios were clear that their purpose was not simply to fight for trade union demands, nor mount operations merely to confront gunmen but to promote anarchist revolution by means of fundraising raids to finance arms-purchasing and logistics on a grand scale, as in the case of the two deadly attacks mounted against Lieutenant Colonel González Regueral and Cardinal Soldevila. These actions and meetings with lots of action groups around the country — with an eye to organising them for revolution rather than just for ad hoc retaliatory operations — had a substantial impact. In this way they were about to become an important and inspirational anarchist group offering an alternative to the official CNT leadership in Catalonia.
By contrast, for some months past, the official CNT leadership in Catalonia had, under the leadership of Peiró, been arranging working relationships with left-wing parties and Catalanist socialists such as the PRC, Estat Català and the Socialist Union of Catalonia (USC), a Catalanist breakaway from the PSOE. A joint so-called “Civic Committee Against Worker Repression” had been launched, not by way of amalgamating with the parliamentarians, in that the leadership stuck by anarcho-syndicalism, but espousing a less anti-political labour strategy than the radical anarchists.
This was the situation in which the various trends within Catalan society in the 1930s came to light. The CNT already embraced three schools of thought: the non-anti-political anarcho-syndicalist line of Joan Peiró, which had contacts with leftist Catalanist movements, the radical anarchist line headed by Joan Garcia Oliver and Durruti, and the Marxist trend led by Joaquim Maurín.
But the growth of all these political trends in Catalonia was to be interrupted and stalled until the 1930s when, with the social war and attacks at their height in the Barcelona region, on 13 September 1923 General Primo de Rivera mounted a coup d’état from Barcelona claiming his intention was to eradicate both pugnacious anarchism and separatism. Many labour and leftist militants felt that they were under threat now and went into exile.
The Los Solidarios members Buenaventura Durruti, Gregorio Jover, Francisco Ascaso, Alejandro Ascaso, Alfons Miquel Martorell and Miguel Garcia Vivancos, targeted by the police in connection with the Gijón holdup and other raids, moved away to France and settled in Paris.
In the wake of the coup d’état, constitutional guarantees were suspended and there was a drastic curtailment of trade union activity. Indiscriminate arrests were made and the bulk of the action groups disappeared, albeit not entirely.
On 18 September 1923, just five days after the coup d’état, a group led by the anarcho-syndicalist action groups veteran Josep Saleta i Pla held up the Terrassa Savings Bank in Terrassa in concert with other activist anarchists, to raise funds to carry on with the struggle in accordance with the same strategy as Los Solidarios. The whole thing ended in a gunfight at the door of the bank, in which the Sometent member Joan Casella was killed. The police then arrested Josep Saleta and the Basque anarchist Jesús Pascual Aguirre, a recent arrival in Barcelona and newly expelled from France. Both were to be executed by garrote vil just five days later, following a rushed trial, on 23 September 1923.
This was evidence that jury members were no longer inclined to hesitate and now everything moved along brisk military lines. It was a warning to all.
In spite of the execution of Saleta and Pascual and the massive exodus of activists, there was still a small corps of armed activists operational in Barcelona. Pere Boadas was one of them: he was storing bombs and weapons in premises in Barcelona by way of stocking up for a revolutionary clash, in accordance with the strategy of the CNT’s radical anarchist wing and Los Solidarios, he being by then, to all intents and purposes, a member of Los Solidarios.
The police finally arrested Pere Boadas on 25 February 1924 in Barcelona, linking him with an explosives dump in which they found upwards of 200 bombs. He was to be charged with sedition and hauled before a court martial.
In March 1924 some Los Solidarios members were surprised by police at a meeting in Barcelona and gunfire erupted, resulting in the deaths of Gregorio Suberviola and Marcelino del Campo. Fellow Solidarios members Ceferino Fernández, Aurelio Fernández, Domingo Ascaso and Adolfo Ballano shot their way free, wounding some of the policemen. Gregorio Jover was later arrested, only to escape after a short while by jumping from the window at the police station.
In early 1924 also, Medir Martí i Augé had been arrested. Ever since he had been released in April 1919 following trial for the attacks mounted by that very first action group, Els Sense Nom, back in late 1917 (Pere Boadas was also a member of that group), he had been one of the few leaders of armed anarcho-syndicalist gangs not arrested, and had taken part in and orchestrated a huge number of attacks. Not until 1931 and the advent of the Republic would he see freedom again. September 24 1924 saw the opening of the trial for the killing of police officer José Fernández Alegría in the attack mounted the previous year by Boadas’s group targeting Pere Mártir Homs. Murder charges were brought against Josep Espuñes and Joaquin Blanco and they were produced in court. The finger was also pointing at Pere Boadas and Joaquim Pons for their part in the attack, according to witness evidence, but they were not produced in court as they had yet to be arrested. Both Josep Espuñes and Joaquin Blanco were sentenced to life terms.
But there was an odd mistake made by the courts here, one hard to account for. Pere Boadas had been picked up in February 1924, charged with storing 200-plus bombs and had been brought before to a military judge on a sedition charge. The fact that there were two charge sheets against Boades meant that the judge in this case must not have known that Pere Boadas had been arrested, for there is no record of his being indicted for this offence, although he was for the other offence. Joaquim Pons had also been arrested but this had not become known owing to the curious fact that he had changed his name for that of another prisoner who had been released.
So, ultimately, on 1 October 1924 it came to light that both Pere Boadas and Joquim Pons were prisoners and theywere then tried in connection with the attack on Homs and the death of Homs”s bodyguard. It remains hard to account for the fact that their being in custody had not come to light when Josep Espuñes and Joaquim Blanco were brought for trial, a matter taken up by the press.
The trial of Pere Boadas and Joaquim Pons was to be a long one with several hearings held between 1925 and 1927. This was because whereas the police serving in Homs’s escort at the time of the attack claimed to have recognised them, the fact was that neither Espunes nor Blanco had betrayed them; also, their lawyers raised evidence from the friends and relations of the two accused, claiming that the pair were elsewhere, in different cities, at the time of the attack. The judge was therefore loath to bring in a verdict.
Finally, on 8 June 1927, just as a lot of so-called “preventive detention prisoners” (presos gubernativos) were about to be set loose, having been held on suspicion for two years, with no evidence against them, Pere Boadas too was to be freed, since the judge had found no conclusive evidence of his guilt. Joaquim Pons was to stay in prison, as he was given a stiff term for the raid on the Salisachs pharmacy in August 1921 in which a life had been taken. So too would Espuñes and Blanco, who had received life sentences.
But though Pere Boadas had been released, he was not allowed to leave the country, so that the judge might carry on with his enquiries into the attempt to kill Homs and the 200 bombs found in Boadas’s possession. Furthermore, the dictatorship authorities indicated that they meant to reopen the case of the attack on the employer Josep Albert Barret in January 1918, citing the fact that only thanks to threats to witnesses and jury members had the accused been acquitted. Expecting to be rearrested, Boadas made up his mind to get out of the country, and head for Paris, leaving his wife and daughters (aged 8 and 10) behind in Barcelona.
While Pere Boadas had been in prison, Los Solidarios members Buenaventura Durruti, Francisco Ascaso, Gregorio Jover, Alejandro Ascaso and Gregorio Martínez had spent two years in Latin America carrying out holdups to raise money for the anarchist cause. First they raided a bank in Mexico and then another one in Cuba, with Gregorio Martínez being arrested and serving years in a prison there. After that, the remaining activists headed for Chile where they were to carry out another holdup before moving on to Argentina in 1925.
In Argentina these four Solidarios, led by Durruti, made contact with the local anarchist Miguel Arcángel Roscigno, a leading Buenos-Aires-born anarchist, the son of Italian immigrants, and with the Argentinean anarchist Andrés Vázquez Paredes. Those six anarchists then held up an Argentinean bank, raking in huge haul. On the assumption that by now they had enough and were wanted men, Durruti, the two Ascasos and Jover headed back to Paris in 1926.
As mentioned above, Pere Boadas, fleeing from the Spanish courts, made for Paris in 1927. There he ran into the Solidarios Durruti, Ascaso and Jover, back from holdups in Latin America. They had spent a few months in prison in Paris after they were suspected of laying the groundwork for an attack on King Alfonso XIII of Spain during his visit to Paris in 1926.
On the other hand, the Solidarios Joan Garcia Oliver and Aurelio Fernández had been arrested in 1926 after crossing the border into Navarra with the intention of assassinating the dictator Primo de Rivera, and they were behind bars at this point.
Meanwhile, in France there was another anarchist group that was linked with Los Solidarios and carried out holdups; it was led by Ramón Recasens i Miret, who had fled Barcelona after being wounded in the celebrated raid in there on the MZA payroll train in September 1922, a raid that ended with three dead. In the wake of the holdup Ramón Recasens had, as we saw, slipped out to France in 1922 along with Carles Anglès, one of the original 1917 Els Sense Nom lineup, also as mentioned previously. After that, though, Carles Anglès’s trail runs cold and we know no more of him.
On 14 January 1926, however, Ramón Recasens and the anarcho-syndicalist Benito De Castro were executed in Bordeaux after they were sentenced to death for a holdup carried out in that French city in July the previous year, one in which two lives were lost in a shootout. Another anarcho-syndicalist who was along with them, Isidre Casals, was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fellow by the name of Joaquín Aznar managed to get away after the robbery. So that particular action group carrying out expropriations to fund the anarchist groups in exile had been dismantled.
1927 saw the clandestine launch in Valencia of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), driven, from exile, by a number of leaders of the most radical anarchist factions within the CNT. The FAI would draw its inspiration primarily from Los Solidarios, the group led initially by Durruti and Joan Garcia Oliver, since they meant to have a pure anarchist hand on the tiller of the CNT, given the different tendencies within the anarcho-syndicalist union since thousands of former CNT personnel were being won over to Marxism, Catalanist republicanism, left-wing pro-independence factions, or following the more moderate line espoused by Salvador Seguí and now spearheaded by Joan Peiró.
In 1928 Durruti arranged with Pere Boadas that Boadas would go to Uruguay, where there were another two Catalan anarchists, Los Solidarios collaborators, already working in concert with the Argentinean anarchist Miguel Arcángel Roscigno, to keep the holdups going and raise further funds for the revolution. There was no way for Durruti’s group to return to Latin America since they were on the wanted list there already. They also agreed that Boadas would try to persuade Roscigno to come to Europe and, when the time was right, to Spain, since they regarded him as key to the anarchist revolution they had in mind, a revolution of which the newly launched FAI was the seedbed.
Over in Argentina, Miguel Arcángel Roscigno, the Argentinean anarchist, the man who had been in on the Buenos Aires holdup alongside Los Solidarios back in 1926, had been carrying on mounting holdups in Argentina alongside Andrés Vázquez and the Argentinean brothers Vicente and Antonio Moretti. Following a big raid on the Rawson Hospital in Buenos Aires that netted 141,000 pesos and in the course of which they killed a police officer who tried to resist the robbery, they withdrew to Uruguay and were now “most wanted” in both countries.
So Pere Boadas set sail for Montevideo to make contact with Miguel Arcángel Roscigno and the other two Catalan anarchists already there; Pere Boadas knew them by sight from the earlier years in Barcelona – as he himself was to say – albeit that he and they had never been in the same group together.
Boadas arrived in the port of Montevideo but there was no one there to meet him. He therefore headed for the Uruguayan Regional Workers’ Federation (FORU) which he had been told could put him in touch with the two Catalans.
But while he was trying to find them, Pere Boadas took a stroll through Montevideo’s Plaza de la Independencia and spotted the premises of the Cambio Messina, a prestigious establishment with a display of various currency denominations and huge wads of peso and other currency notes such as dollars and pounds sterling, held together with rubber bands. Boadas was to state that from then on his mind was made up that this business was to be targeted.
In the end Pere Boadas did make contact with members of the FORU and they put him in touch with the two Catalan anarchists who were waiting for him. They went by the names Agustín Garcia Capdevila and Jaime Tadeo Peña, the phoney names respectively of Agustí Casanova i Garcia and Jaume Navarro i Pérez. Boadas arranged to meet the pair in the apartment they were sharing.
During the roughly two weeks it took to make contact with Roscigno, Boadas dropped in at the editorial offices of the newspaper El Día, the mouthpiece of the Colorado Party, just to visit and to seek assistance from Rodrigo Soriano Barroeta in obtaining a residence permit; Soriano was an exiled Basque republican politician working at the newspaper who Boadas already knew.
But Soriano was absent that day and Boadas found instead César Batlle Pacheco, the newspaper’s managing editor. Batlle was the son of José Batlle Ordoñez who had been president of Uruguay some time before, during 1903–07 and again in 1911–15. He was still alive and casting his shadow over an entire era of politics known as batllismo, the period dominated by the outlook and policies of the Colorado Party’s most forward-looking and most left-wing faction.
César Batlle came from one of the most important political families Uruguay had ever had. Apart from his father having, as mentioned, been president until 1915, his grandfather Lorenzo Batlle i Grau, the son of Catalan immigrants from Sitges, had also been president from 1868 to 1872, having established the hegemony of the Colorado Party in the wake of a number of civil wars.
As Boadas was to tell it in an interview given many years later, in 1971, to the Uruguayan magazine Marcha, César Batlle, aware that Boadas was an important Catalan anarchist (albeit that he was not completely conversant with his past), on learning that he had been a bricklayer in Barcelona offered him work with the Public Works Ministry, a rent-free apartment and his keep if he would carry out tasks for the ministry, the intention being to turn him into a civil servant and recruit him to the progressive wing of the Colorado Party. But Boadas, as he explained in the interview, told César Batlle that he could not accept his offer since he had not come to Uruguay to set up a Colorado Party club but for quite other purposes and that he had come to the El Día offices looking for Rodrigo Soriano.
Cesar Batlle then told Boadas that he had an appointment with Rodrigo Soriano for supper on the Saturday and invited him along so that they might continue with their conversation. Boadas told him that he would go if he could have an assurance that he would have a Uruguayan residence permit for at least 5 years. César Batlle told him that he would grant him the permit and Pere Boadas agreed to go to supper with César Batlle and Rodrigo Soriano.
One or two days before that supper date with Batlle and Rodrigo Soriano, Pere Boadas finally made contact with Miguel Arcángel Roscigno and the brothers Antonio and Vincente Moretti, the Argentinean anarchists who as mentioned above had operated alongside Durruti and his gang in Argentina in 1925–26; they had secretly relocated to Uruguay. At that point Boadas – again according to the interview with Marcha cited above – explained that, having now made contact with Roscigno, he decided not to keep the supper date with César Batlle and Rodrigo Soriano.
Boadas said that it occurred to him that going for supper with Rodrigo Soriano and the offer of ministry work that César Batlle had put to him now made no sense, as he and his comrades intended to promote expropriator anarchism and this flew in the face of the institutional career paths offered him by a moderate left-wing politician.
Boadas next tried to persuade Roscigno that he should leave South America and head for Europe, as he had agreed with Durruti, since his cover was blown in South America and in Europe he would enjoy greater freedom of movement; in addition, Durruti was waiting for him as someone with whom they could get on with their preparations for the revolution. Boadas also told him that, in contrast, he himself had to stay in Montevideo by way of a sort of stand-in for Roscigno, since his own cover was blown in France and Europe and there was no way for him to return to Spain, whereas in Montevideo he would enjoy greater freedom of movement. Roscigno replied that he was committed to the anarchist movement in Uruguay and Argentina and had no intention of moving anywhere else.
Then Roscigno told Boadas that he could help them with an underground counterfeiting workshop that had been set up to fund the anarchist movement. Boadas was not enamoured with that “line of work” — what was needed was to pull off a big job. At which Boadas put it to him that they should raid the Cambio Messina premises he had sighted on the day of his arrival in Montevideo, the one that had made such an impression on him with its display of such masses of paper pesos and other currency.
The Cambio Messina bureau de change and its premises on the Plaza de la Independencia were regarded as a temple to Uruguay’s wealth. The owner was Carmelo Gorga, who was of Italian extraction, one of the richest men in Uruguay and one who liked to show off his wealth. The police had warned him some time back that putting money on display in the window like that might prompt someone to try to rob him, as indeed was the case with Pere Boadas when he happened by on his very first day in Montevideo.
Boadas had already sold the idea to the other two Catalan anarchists – Casanova alias Garcia Capdevila and Navarro alias Tadeo.
Roscigno told Boadas that, unlike him, he knew the layout of Montevideo well and that the owner as well as the employees of the Cambio Messina would not stand for a robbery and would resist. He said the Plaza de la Independencia was a very busy place and that if a shootout erupted the outcome could be a bloodbath.
Instead, Roscigno suggested to Boadas that rather than targeting the Cambio Messina they should grab the police payroll since, he claimed, most police officers had little idea of how to shoot and, if the shooting did start, they would at least be somewhere where the dead would either be themselves or the police but not passers-by.
The Catalan anarchists Boadas, Capdevila and Navarro paid no attention to what Roscigno said and reckoned that with a gun trained on him anybody would play ball. They decided to rob the Cambio Messina where there were rich pickings. Roscigno declined to have any part in it, but Pere Boadas talked Antonio and Vincente Moretti (from Roscigno’s gang) into stringing along.
THE CAMBIO MESSINA ROBBERY
25 October 1928 brought a raid on the Cambio Messina (Messina bureau d’échange); it went as follows, as described years later by Pere Boadas his interview with the magazine Marcha and by a number of eyewitnesses.
At 2.30 pm Pere Boadas, Vicente Moretti and the latter’s younger brother Antonio Moretti arrived in Montevideo’s Plaza de la Independencia by taxi. The taxi driver was entirely ignorant of the holdup but was told to wait for them in the square and that they would be back shortly. They intended to use the same taxi in their getaway. Pere Boadas and Antonio Moretti got out of the taxi while Vicente Moretti stayed inside to wait for their return. Agustí Casanova and Jaume Navarro were posted in the square, waiting for them.
They were just approaching the bureau d’échange when one of the employees there, Alonso Magnani, stepped outside to lower the shade to ward off the sun’s rays, as ordered by the owner of the business, Carmelo Gorga. Boadas then paused and told his comrades to wait until the employee had gone back inside, but Antonio Moretti said, “If they don’t play ball, drill them!” He refused to wait and headed straight for Magnani, pointed his gun at him and told him to freeze and held him at gunpoint.
Whereupon Boadas, Casanova and Navarro stepped up to the door, there being no alternative other than abort the mission, and Boadas cursed Antonio Moretti, telling him that the whole square was watching “the show” and that they should all get inside, as they should have done right from the outset without arousing suspicion. But by that point many of the people on the street had spotted the incident and an armed assailant.
So Jaume Navarro and Agustí Casanova stepped briskly forward and entered the premises of Cambio Messina, shouting “Hands up!” The owner, Carmelo Gorga, initially played along but when Jaume Navarro jumped the counter to grab the money, Carmelo Gorga reacted and jumped on him. At that point Pere Boadas was still arguing with Antonio Moretti who was still outside with his gun trained on Magnani, in full view of a lot of by-standers. By the time Boadas got inside it was to be greeted by the spectacle of the owner Carmelo Gorga wrestling with Jaume Navarro.
Then Jaume Navarro brought the butt of his pistol down on the head of businessman Carmelo Gorga, at which the pistol went off, a bullet hitting the ceiling. Outside on the square, following the report of the gunshot, more and more rubber-neckers were gathering.
Just then, out from behind a door came Victor Dadeo, a shoeshine boy from the square, whom Carmelo Gorga had been allowing to sleep on the Cambio Messina premises. Victor Dadeo took Navarro to task for his behaviour and asked him why he was manhandling a poor old man. Even as the raiders were distracted into arguing with Dadeo, Carmelo Gorga broke loose and tried to grab a pistol that he kept hidden. At which point Jaume Navarro and Agustí Casanova fired at him and Carmelo Gorga died as a result of two gunshot wounds, one to the head and the other in the back.
Before making his getaway Jaume Navarro grabbed a bundle of peso notes held together by an elastic band, while the shoeshine boy Dadeo started shrieking about the filthy deed, calling them murderers and leaping the counter, getting into a tussle with Navarro. The elastic band from the bundle of bills snapped and the notes were scattered all over the shop. After this Jaume Navarro put two bullets into the shoeshine boy Dadeo, killing him as well.
Before they left they scooped up whatever notes and coins they could and rushed out of the Cambio Messina, brandishing their guns. Meanwhile, Antonio Moretti was still outside with his gun on the employee Magnani, who made a run for it. As all four of the raiders made a dash for their taxi, the square was filled with a huddle of people; a few of them got out of the way and called out that the police were on their way to arrest them. It just so happened that at that point the son of the just murdered Carmelo Gorga arrived at the Cambio Messina and heard the cries calling for the raiders to be stopped.
The four stressed raiders, seeing that just as Roscigno had warned them was typical of Montevideo they were facing a lot of resistance, fired shots to clear a path through the crowd in the square who were cursing them and wounded another three people. There was one armed policeman in the square but he did not dare lift a finger.
They made it to the taxi where Vicente Moretti and the driver had been waiting for them, telling the driver to get them out of there and step on it. Taxi driver Benito Hernández, terror-stricken at the sound of gunfire and by the sight of the four raiders brandishing guns, climbed out of his cab, meaning to make a run for it. At which point Pere Boadas who was, as he was later to say himself “all het up”, found the taxi driver in his path and, thinking that he intended to obstruct or attack him, fired a number of shots, killing him. They all climbed into the taxi and took off as fast as they could, with Vicente Moretti at the wheel. The taxi driver’s death was the completely random product of the heat of the moment and Pere Boadas regretted it and felt remorseful for it for the remainder of his days, according to what he said.
The operation had been a disaster, leaving 3 people dead and 3 wounded; the proceeds were meagre, at about 4,000 pesos. They had not had time to scoop up the large number of rolls of paper pesos and other currencies and had missed out on the £300 sterling in the safe.
As Boadas himself was to relate in that interview in Marcha many years later in 1971, when he made contact with Roscigno in the wake of the disastrous and bloody raid, Roscigno reminded him that he had warned them that the operation would prove a very tricky one. Involved in that conversation was a Romanian anarchist who had fled to Uruguay after planting a number of bombs in Romania and he asked: “But what happened?” To which Roscigno answered: “Nothing, just some Catalans cocking things up.”
This irritated Boadas no end: “No, the cock-up was yours, I told him,” he said in Marcha. “Why didn’t you tell me the whole truth? You forgot to tell me that the Moretti brothers had never handled a gun before, whereas we believed they had. You had used them as drivers and nothing more.”
The fact is that although it may well have been that the Moretti brothers had only ever been drivers on previous raids and had no experience in handling guns in a robbery – which is somewhat confirmed by the fact that Antonio Moretti had stayed outside the Cambio Messina with his gun trained on a staff member, in plain view of everybody – it was equally true that Roscigno had cautioned against mounting such an operation in that location, since there was every indication that things would turn out badly. As they did.
Afterwards, Boadas repeatedly acknowledged his mistake and that Roscigno had been right; he always held the Moretti brothers partly to blame however, and had a bit of a grudge against Roscigno for not telling him that the Morettis had only been along on earlier holdups as drivers, which indeed created some friction with Roscigno and other Uruguayan anarchists. But nothing worse came of it and they remained good comrades.
The bloodbath generated by the Plaza de la Independencia raid in Montevideo was to have a powerful impact on Uruguayan society, for the city could not recall any such violence. Ever since the war in 1904, the country had been booming economically and that generation had enjoyed comparative peace. The call went up from certain newspapers and other associations for the death penalty to be revived; the government’s number-one priority was to catch the raiders and it posted a huge reward for information that might lead to their arrest.
A lot of historians and commentators on Uruguay have described the gory raid on the Cambio Messina as signalling the start of a crackdown on anarchism in Uruguay, which in turn drew a response from the anarchists and which was to mark the beginning of a period of pistolerismo in Montevideo and across Uruguay as a whole between 1928 and 1937. Furthermore, many attribute the blame for this largely to the cavalier approach of the Catalan anarchists who mounted the raid, positing that the explanation might be that they came from a backdrop of pistolerismo in Barcelona and had grown used to gunplay at the drop of a hat.
At any rate, Pere Boadas and his group were to be held to blame for introducing pistolerismo to Barcelona in late 1917 and now here Boadas was again, being blamed for ushering in the era of pistolerismo in Montevideo in 1928.
But whereas the bloody gunplay by Boadas’s gang in the Cambio Messina raid in Montevideo in 1928 was to be the most sensational incident and has gone down as the one that signalled the beginning of the pistolero era in Montevideo, aside from anarchists’ operations against the repression, it was in part a by-product of the tensions inside the Colorado Party between left-wingers and more conservative elements; also, frictions with supporters of the Nationalist Party also triggered, from 1928 to 1937, an era of mutual attacks and the odd coup d’état, which likewise helped fuel violence and outrages in Uruguay. The gunplay by Boadas’s gang in the Cambio Messina raid in 1928, however, actually did usher in Uruguay’s era of the pistolero.
At the time, though, nobody knew the identities of the raiders and everybody suspected Miguel Arcángel Roscigno’s gang since he was the most renowned and sought-after “expropriator” in both Argentina and Uruguay alike, while it was as yet unknown whether the three Catalan anarchists were members of his group. The reckoning that Roscigno’s gang had been involved was not completely wide of the mark, but Roscigno was known as a “player” and it was known that he was initially to have been the leader of the gang, but in the end to have refused to take part in the raid as stated earlier.
The Uruguayan government placed Sub-Inspector Luis Pardeiro in charge of the investigation to track down the raiders. Pardeiro centred his enquiries on tracking down Roscigno and was particularly obsessed with catching him. Besides, Pardeiro took it personally that Carmelo Gorga, the owner of the Cambio Messina, killed in the course of the raid, had been a great friend of his.
In the end, a few days after the raid somebody who know one of the raiders – possibly a pseudo-anarchist keen to get his hands on the reward or possibly as the result of Pardeiro’s informers – came forward to tell the police that the Cambio Messina raiders were hiding out in a house at 41 Calle Rousseau in the Villa Unión district near Montevideo.
The informant was spot-on: the three Catalan anarchists and the two Moretti brothers were at that address, and indeed the Morettis had their families with them there.
On 9 November 1929 some 300 police – policemen and members of the Republican Guard – surrounded the house and called upon them to give themselves up. The three Catalan anarchists and Vicente Moretti did just that, but Antonio Moretti died by putting a bullet into his own head, though not before torching the money stolen lest it fall into police hands.
The arrest of the raiders was widely celebrated to the great delight of Sub-Inspector Pardeiro and the police generally, as well as by the government and the establishment press. But Roscigno, the most wanted man and regarded as the leader of the gang, was not among the arrested men and we can assume that this was frustrating for the police.
It was only at this point that the involvement of the three Catalan anarchists – Pere Boadas i Rivas, Jaume Navarro i Pérez (still going by the name of Jaime Tadeo Peña) and Agustí Casanova i Garcia (still known as Agustín Garcia Capdevila) came to light. The involvement of the Moretti brothers came as no surprise to the authorities as they were still viewed as members of Roscigno’s gang.
In the wake of the arrests Roscigno slipped back home to Argentina and in Buenos Aires was to link up with Severino Di Giovanni, orchestrating a number of expropriations, like that on the payroll of a sanitation site. Roscigno was “most wanted” in Argentina as well as in Uruguay but remained at large. Roscigno had some family in Buenos Aires and some in Montevideo whose help ensured that he survived underground.
Pere Boadas and his group had been caught following the very first holdup they mounted in Uruguay to help the social struggle, in the wake of the bloody and disastrous raid on the Cambio Messina. They were not going to be able to follow in the Latin America footsteps of Los Solidarios — Durruti, the Ascaso brothers and Gregorio Jover — before them; the latter had carried out armed robberies in several Latin American countries, with great success and netted huge sums; their only misfortune was Gregorio Martinez being caught in Cuba in 1925. Maybe the failure of the Boadas group was down to bad luck or poor choice of companions and activists, but plainly Durruti’s team had been a gang of social holdup men that boasted greater experience, proficiency and effectiveness than Boadas’s gang, as Boadas admitted in self-criticism some time afterwards. Maybe Boadas was that much more impetuous and less deliberate in those days, and this was why he was captured.
Roscigno and the anarchists of Argentina and Uruguay demonstrated solidarity with their comrades by organising the breakout from Montevideo’s Punta Carretas prison of the three Catalan anarchists and Vicente Moretti arrested for the Cambio Messina holdup.
In May 1930 Gino Gatti (whose real name was Giuseppe Baldi), an Italian anarchist immigrant to Argentina, moved to Montevideo with his family where he opened the “Buen Trato” (Good Deal) coalyard, directly opposite Punta Carretas prison, selling coal, timber and gravel, and earning the trust of the locals. It was all part of a plan devised by him and Roscigno to break their imprisoned comrades out of prison. Miguel Arcángel Roscigno, who had returned to Montevideo, made a number of surreptitious visits to Gatti to check out the lie of the land and perfect the plan.
Within months they had dug a tunnel over 50 metres in length, stretching from the coalyard, across the street and under the walls of Punta Carretas prison. Andrés Vázquez Paredes, an old confederate of Roscigno’s with whom he had carried out holdups in Buenos Aires between 1926 and 1927, helped excavate the tunnel and monitor the movements of the guards. The Argentinean anarchist Enrique Malvicini, an expert tunnel-digger, and the Spanish anarchist José Manuel Paz, who organised the wiring for the lighting in the tunnel, were also in on the operation.
The tunnel was constructed with some precision in terms of its being utterly straight and surfacing in the prison toilets: it was an impressive feat of engineering. Relatives of Moretti acted as go-betweens, keeping them briefed and arranging the date and place of the breakout.
On 18 March 1931 the escape took place and was a resounding success: Pere Boadas, Agustí Casanova, Jaume Navarro and Vicente Moretti, the four men from the Cambio Messina raid, broke out, as did another three anarchist inmates; although not “in the know”, the latter seized their chance and used the tunnel to break out that day.
The three additional prisoners who broke out were Rafael Egües, Medardo Rivero Camoirano and Carlos Cuneo Funes, three anarchists from the anarchist-inclined Uruguayan bakers’ union: in January 1927 they had attacked a bakery with which they had had trade union differences. The whole thing ended up with them trading knifings and punches, resulting in the death of two of their rivals. They became known as “the anarchist bakers”.
Outside the prison, they fled in three waiting vehicles. A scribbled note was left behind in the coal-yard: it read “Solidarity between anarchists is not just a word scribbled on paper.” Great play was made of this in the press.
Gino Gatti (aka Giuseppe Baldi) and his family had moved on a few days earlier, returning to Buenos Aires, leaving their home and coalyard after farewells to the neighbours who were greatly surprised that they were giving up the business when it was going so well.
Vicente Moretti went to ground in a Montevideo apartment where Roscigno was living together with the three comrades who had helped dig the tunnel – Enrique Malvicini, Andrés Vázquez and José Manuel Paz.
The three Catalan anarchists –Boadas, Casanova and Navarro – plus the three Uruguayan anarchist “bakers” – Egüez, Rivero and Cuneo – went to ground in a different apartment in Montevideo.
In 1971, some 40 years on, 100 members of the then famous “Tupamaros” Uruguayan guerrilla group also broke out of Punta Carretas prison, using the same tunnel as the one devised by Roscigno, through which Boadas and his comrades had escaped – a tunnel upon which they had stumbled while digging another. The 1971 breakout was to be the biggest and most famous prison break-out in history.
On 27 March 1931, nine days after the break-out, sheer serendipity and bad luck led to the arrests of Roscigno and his flatmates. A city dog-catcher by the name of José Sosa, who happened to be walking past the house where Roscigno had his apartment, lost hold of a stray dog he was trying to restrain and the dog made straight for the yard of Roscigno’s house. The dog-catcher tried to recover the stray and spotted Vicente Moretti, whom he recognised, sitting reading the newspaper. It turned out that Sosa had been in jail for pickpocketing and recognised Moretti. Knowing that a reward had been posted, he quickly gave up on the stray and made off to alert the police.
Shortly after, 53 police officers arrived at the house and arrested Vicente Moretti, Enrique Malvicini, Andrés Vázquez and José Manuel Paz along with other anarchists and were astonished to discover and arrest Miguel Arcángel Roscigno, the most wanted anarchist expropriator in Uruguay and Argentina.
Miguel Arcángel Roscigno was beaten up by police Inspector Luis Pardeiro, the same man who had arrested Boadas and the others in the wake of the Cambio Messina robbery two years earlier. That beating echoed through the ranks of the anarchists in Uruguay as a tremendous slight to Roscigno. A year later Inspector Pardeiro would be gunned down by anarchists in retaliation for that beating.
Miguel Arcangel Roscigno spent six years in prison in Uruguay before being extradited to Argentina where he was posted “missing” after passing through a police station. He was assuredly murdered; his body was spirited away.
After the arrests of Moretti and Roscigno, the Catalan anarchists Boadas, Casanova and Navarro, plus three Uruguayan anarchists — Egües, Rivero and Cuneo – escaped from Montevideo in a small boat and made their way to Argentina, arriving in Buenos Aires on 9 April 1931.
Shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires, the Catalans Agustí Casanova and Jaume Navarro found passage on a ship and returned to Europe via Italy along with two Uruguayan anarchists, Rafael Egües and Medardo Rivero. They were never recaptured. They made their way back to Barcelona and we know that with the advent of the Republic in 1931 Casanova, Navarro and Egües joined the CNT-FAI and fought in the 1936–39 civil war in Catalonia and on the Aragon front with the anarchist militias. Casanova and Navarro went into exile when the war ended, whereas the Uruguayan Rafael Egües remained in a Francoist prison until 1953.
Pere Boadas, on the other hand, decided to stay on in Argentina together with the “anarchist baker” Carlos Cuneo Funes; they shared an apartment in Villa Ballester on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
At that point Argentina was under the dictatorship of General José Félix Uriburu, who had mounted his coup in 1930. After that, anarchists were being tracked down and shot, although they themselves mounted a few attacks on Argentinean military personnel and other senior members of the dictator’s government.
There was a constant climate of conspiracy against the Uriburu dictatorship in Argentina, spearheaded by leftist movements, anarchists and members of the moderate, progressive party, the Radical Civic Union (UCR) led by Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, a former Argentinean prime minister.
Virtually everybody was plotting together against the dictatorship.
Years afterwards, in his interview with the magazine Marcha, Pere Boadas claimed that between April and June 1931 he had taken part in a number of meetings with a range of Argentinean opposition figures of every persuasion, all plotting against the dictatorship: those meetings were orchestrated by followers of the UCR leader, Alvear. Boadas stated that he was an anarchist and had had little in common with Alvear, although he was willing at the time to help overthrow the dictatorship.
As we have seen, Boadas could have sailed off quietly to Europe with Casanovas and Navarro, but he was held in Argentina out of a sense of solidarity with the anarchists and others fighting against the dictatorship in the River Plate area. It is also known he was involved in a plan to help 500 inmates escape from Buenos Aires prison. The fact that Roscigno was being held in prison in Uruguay after years as Argentina’s and Uruguay’s “most wanted”, held for helping Boadas and his comrades escape from Punta Carretas prison in Uruguay, also reinforced his refusal to forget about them and remain in the area to render what assistance he could.
Then, on 16 June 1931, Caros Cuneo Funes, the “anarchist baker”, was arrested in Villa Luzuriaga in Argentina and extradited to Uruguay.
A few weeks later, on 11 July 1931, Pere Boadas was arrested in Villa Ballester on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. In his possession was a pistol, something that was played up in the Argentinean and Uruguayan press. After Carlos Cuneo’s arrest, Boadas had finally made up his mind to quit Argentina and was due to leave just one day later, on a ship bound for Italy. The ship was scheduled to make a stopover in Montevideo, so whether his plan was to head for Europe or return to Montevideo is unclear.
Years afterwards, Boadas was self-critical, saying that in those days he took few precautions and put too much trust in everyone.
In February 1932, Pere Boadas made another attempt to escape from prison, but this time the plan was discovered and thwarted just before the breakout. The Argentinean authorities then decided that he was a problem and he was immediately extradited to Uruguay.
In Uruguay, Pere Boadas was convicted and sent to prison where he remained until 1953. This time he was sent, not to Punta Carretas, from which he had previously escaped, but to Miguelete prison where he served a total of 25 years, plus the months he had enjoyed on the loose after his first escape.
When Pere Boadas was eventually freed in 1953, his wife and two daughters, who he had left behind in Barcelona when he set off in 1927, travelled down to Montevideo to be reunited with him after 26 years. His wife, who suffered from a chronic illness that confined her to a wheelchair, stayed behind to live with him in Uruguay. This reunification with his family was, for Pere Boadas, one of the most emotional experiences he’d had, and from then on he devoted much of his time to looking after his wife.
In the 1950s, Pere Boadas settled with his wife in the El Cerro district of Montevideo, initially selling newspapers in the streets. He also became a member of the El Cerro Ateneo Libertario and took part in union meetings and was in touch with lots of Spanish Civil War exiles.
During his 25 years behind bars in Uruguay, Pere Boadas had missed out on the entire Republic in Spain and the 1936–39 civil war in the early months of which his former Los Solidarios comrades, not least Durruti and Joan Garcia Oliver, had spearheaded an anarchist revolution.
In his Uruguayan prison, Pere Boadas was a world away. His focus there was on becoming just another Uruguayan anarchist. He worked in the prison library where he spent years reading nearly all its books. It was there that he matured into a Uruguayan anarchist thinker and a mentor for many of the prisoners, whether fellow anarchists or ordinary inmates.
One of the things for which Pere Boadas was best known in Uruguay, aside from his activist past, was the fact that many ordinary inmates who previously had been just thieves and criminals, became politicised and switched to anarchism or workerism thanks to the guidance Pere Boadas offered them inside prison.
Fernando O’Neill, a thief and robber who was sent to prison in 1945 at the age of 22 as a common criminal, was the most outstanding example of the politicisation of such ordinary inmates under Boadas’s influence. O’Neill had been charged with a murder in the course of a squabble between criminal gangs in Montevideo. In 1946 he was moved to Miguelete prison, spending a year there at the same time as Pere Boadas, before being transferred to the Punta Carretas prison in 1947.
In the articles and books which he went on to write, O’Neill explained that when he went into prison he was unaware that he was living in a world of victims of exploitation and how stealing and brawling with other gangs was the only way of life he knew. When he met Boadas he started devouring anarchist and workerist books and that opened his eyes to the roots of his predicament. O’Neill says that he then woke up to the fact that it was the bourgeois social order that had planted the seeds of deep-seated anti-social and aggressive behaviour.
O’Neill also stated in an interview he gave for the Uruguayan documentary Los Anarquistas en el Rio de la Plata (The River Plate Anarchists) that Pere Boadas told him, in prison, that his only regret was the killing of the taxi driver in the Cambio Messina holdup in Montevideo, something he regarded as a serious failing on his own part; that, but not the other attacks he had carried out and deaths he had caused, for which he accepted responsibility. O’Neill described Boadas as a cold, hard nut.
Fernando O’Neill was released in 1952 and his writings about prison, Pere Boadas and the history of the activist anarchist workers’ movement in Uruguay met with great success, selling in huge quantities in Uruguay. Later, between 1967 and 1968, he took over the running of the Library of the International Anarchist Archive in Montevideo and became the chief historian of activist anarchism in Uruguay.
In the 1960s, with the recent (1959) Cuban Marxist revolution sliding towards Cold War with the USA, and US attempts to overthrow it, the anarchists of Uruguay split into those who fully supported Cuba and those who held back from this on the grounds that the statist Marxism of the Cuban regime was far from the anarchists’ ideal. Fernando O’Neill was on the side of Cuba in the face of the aggression from the USA.
Pere Boadas also espoused the stance that Cuba had to be supported against the aggressions of the USA. The well-known Uruguayan writer José Jorge Martinez, who was an anarchist himself back in the 1950s before later turning Marxist, states in his book Crónicas de una derrota (Chronicle of a Defeat) that he had seen Boadas and his long white beard on the odd demonstration in Montevideo in the 1960s, protesting against the USA’s attempts at aggression towards Cuba. For all that, and although Uruguay’s anarchists were divided over what stance to adopt with regard to solidarity with Cuba, Boadas remained a life-long anarchist until he died in Montevideo in 1972.
Fernando O’Neill later went over to Marxism when he joined the Tupamaro guerrillas, a Uruguayan group that emerged in the late 1960s, and in 1973 he left for exile in Chile and then Argentina before finally returning to Uruguay in 1986.
In the 1980s Fernando O’Neill wrote the [Spanish-language] book Activist Anarchists in Montevideo (1927–1937), in which he has a chapter headed “Catalan Activists in Uruguay”; it was to be the most comprehensive examination of the years when activist anarchism became prominent in Uruguay, coinciding precisely with the arrival there of Boadas and Roscigno. The book proved a great success and is a standard reference in the history of anarchism in Uruguay.
In 1984 there was a resurgence in the Uruguayan anarchist movement and that year saw the launch of an influential group calling itself the “Agrupación Anarquista Pedro Boadas Rivas”, plainly invoking the Catalan anarchist as its model.
A contemporary who also knew Pere Boadas is José Mujica, who recently was president of Uruguay from 2012 to 2014.
In Mario Mazzeo’s book, entitled Charlando con Mujica (Chatting with Mujica) (2002), José Mujica says that when he was 20 years old he met Pere Boadas in Montevideo during the 1950s, shortly after Boadas’s release from prison after serving 25 years. In the book, Mujica states that Boadas still stressed values and personal conduct and that the movement of which he was a representative was a model in terms of its ethos and values.
Later, during the turbulent and repressive 1960s in Uruguay, Mujica became one of the leaders of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, a leftwing and mostly Marxist faction. In the mid 1960s, Uruguay was ruled by the rightwing Colorado Party which at that time was pursuing a very repressive policy with regard to revolutionary movements. The prime minister of the day was Jorge Pacheco, a relation of the Batlle family, a family that had been politically influential in Uruguay since the 19th century. The Tupamaros emerged as a backlash against that policy of repression and they started mounting operations akin to those mounted by Roscigno’s and Boadas’s group back in 1928, something that had been practically unheard of in Uruguay since then.
Back in 1971, José Mujica was one of the 100 Tupamaros who broke out of Punta Carretas prison (the biggest escape in history), using the same tunnel devised by Roscigno, the tunnel through which Boadas and his comrades had escaped back in 1931, a tunnel the Tupamaros had come upon while digging one of their own.
José Mujica says that he defines himself as a “conservative anarchist” ensconced within a Marxist movement. The Tupamaros earned great renown in the mid1960s and early 1970s and enjoyed even greater prominence when Uruguay became a military dictatorship in 1973. After some imaginative military operations, the Tupamaros group eventually was dismantled, the majority of its members having been killed or jailed. José Mujica was one of those arrested and he served 13 years in prison until 1985.
For an ex-guerrilla like Mujica, who went on to serve as Uruguay’s president from 2012 to 2014, to have stated, albeit some years ago, that Pere Boadas was one of his mentors – the same Pere Boadas who back in 1917 had been a pioneer of the earliest anarcho-syndicalist action groups in the days of the pistoleros in early 1920s Barcelona, a time that seems so far away – remains an intriguing oddity.
This has been a brief look at the life of Pere Boadas i Rivas and of the political and social context of his times. No matter what was thought of him in the days when he was an activist pioneer of the anarcho-syndicalist armed groups back in the days of pistolerismo in 1920s Barcelona, he ended up as an inspiration and a mentor for revolutionaries in Uruguay from the 1950s onwards. On the other hand, being very notorious in Uruguay he has been, like so many others, a virtual unknown in Catalonia and Spain, even within libertarian circles.
Josep A Carreras (Translated by Paul Sharkey)