Spain: A Past that Must not Fade into Oblivion An open letter to the Spanish Communist Party by Francisco Martínez López aka ‘El Quico’ (Translated by Paul Sharkey)

Francisco Martínez, 'Quico'.
Francisco Martínez, ‘Quico’.

In an open letter to his party, the Spanish communist militant Francisco Martínez López aka ‘El Quico’ challenges the leaders of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) over the violent purges carried out during the years of anti-Franco guerrilla warfare.

In particular he insists upon the rehabilitation of those who were the victims of the summary executions ordered by the party leadership.

The Open Letter published below was first published in Spanish on the diario.es website. It deserves a brief review of history by way of a preamble.

The Francoist coup on 18 July 1936 plunged Spain into a horrific civil war. But following the defeat inflicted upon the republican side in April 1939, the war did not end; across the peninsula and up into the 1950s, outbreaks of anti-Francoist guerrilla warfare fought on against the dictatorship. From as early as 1936, the very first centres of armed resistance popped up spontaneously in areas that had fallen to the Francoists (León, Galicia, Andalusia). Made up initially of bands of fugitives trying to escape the fascists’ orchestrated slaughter, these centres were reinforced by battle-hardened veterans of every persuasion (republicans, socialists, communists and anarchists) following the collapse of the republic’s Northern front (Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias) and the latter threw themselves into offensive guerrilla operations. Whilst some of these groups remained isolated, others managed to federate with one another and to set up regional organisations: this was especially the case with the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation launched in 1942. It was in one of the guerrilla bands from northwest Spain that Francisco Martínez López fought alongside his comrades up until 1951.

The Federation’s groups were pluralistic and owed their birth to their being embedded among the local population. As a result, they were different from the structures that were to be imported from abroad after 1944 by the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), after its gambit of mounting an invasion of Spain by military units coming from France was nipped in the bud. The PCE then chose to raise an army of guerrillas inside Spain and from exile it sent in political-military cadres to raise the Ejército Guerrillero (Guerrilla Army) and assume control of the already established resistance groups.

Open Letter from a Spanish Communist to His Party Leadership. A Past that Must not Fade into Oblivion

An active member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) since 1944, I was initially actively involved (from the age of eleven) with the republican intelligence agencies, as a go-between for the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation. From 1947 to 1952 (on the latter date I made it out to exile in France) I fought as a guerrilla with the 2nd Agrupación of the León-Galicia Guerrilla Army. As general secretary of the PCE in France from 1977 to 1990, as a member of the central committee from 1983 to 1991, I have been unfailingly active within my cell, in France and later back in Spain, as a communist faithful to his principles.

It is on that basis that I am waiting for my party – the PCE – to publicly acknowledge the repulsive methods to which it resorted during the guerrilla years and to rehabilitate all those who suffered by them, especially the victims of summary executions ordered by the leadership of that party.

How Long Must We Wait for This to be Done?

In 2009, Víctor García Fernández, then aged sixty three, discovered that his father – Víctor García García aka ‘El Brasileño’ – whom he had believed to have been a victim of Francoist repression, had actually been murdered near Lalin in January 1948 on orders from the PCE Central Committee, then led by Dolores Ibarruri and Santiago Carrillo. El Brasileño’s body had been dumped on the edge of the town cemetery of the Moalde parish in Silleda, not far from Pontevedra. Where it had been found by his son.

A few months later, he penned a letter to the members of the Central Committee, through PCE chairman Felipe Alcaraz. He asked them to formally outline for him – given that they have direct access to the party’s archives – the precise charges brought at the time against his father by the PCE leadership and which had induced the latter to take such a horrifying decision. [1]

That Letter Unanswered to this Day

El Brasileño had devoted his life to the fight for the emancipation and freedom of the workers, initially in Brazil and then in Spain at the time of the revolution in Asturias in 1934 and during the civil war and finally in the guerrilla war in northwest Spain between 1942 and 1948. During this latter period he, together with resisters from the Orense region and in concert with the British secret services, had set up an escape line guiding the allies through Spain and out to Portugal. And he had reorganised the PCE and anti-Francoist activities along the Galician-Portuguese border.

Then, from France, the PCE leadership sent its henchmen in to discredit him politically, trying to sully his reputation in the minds of his comrades. Right up until the point where he was murdered. In January 1948, a political commissar exclaimed, in a report sent from Spain to the PCE Central Committee: “We have finally managed to capture him, the dog!” Documents held in the PCE historical archives record the out-and-out “man-hunt” stretched out over several months.

This Open Letter of mine is primarily testimony to my fondness for his son, Víctor García Fernández and a gesture of solidarity with his battle to ensure that his father – Víctor García García, El Brasileño – receives justice. The latter’s execution is emblematic of the execution of all the resisters – communists or otherwise – who perished during the years of the dictatorship, not under fascist gunfire, but under the gunfire of those they looked upon as their comrades and, in the case of the communist guerrillas, under the gunfire of members of the party in which they had placed all their trust and their every hope.

Those murders took place against the backdrop of a political purge. Come the end of the Second World War, the members of the official PCE leadership – Santiago Carrillo, Dolores Ibarruri, Enrique Líster, Victor Uribe – who had sought refuge in the USSR or in Latin America in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 – made up their minds to return to Europe to take back power within the PCE. The then party leader Jesús Monzón was stood down. Between 1944 and 1948, purges spurred by false accusations targeted the men and women who had stayed behind in Spain to fight the dictatorship. Some of them, Víctor García García, El Brasileño being one, were accused of “Monzón-ism”. Slander campaigns were then launched through the clandestine publications of the incoming PCE leadership: the aim being to discredit the old party cadres and separate them from the rest of the membership. In 1948 the persecution was escalated in several resistance areas and it culminated in the physical elimination of those who – according to the say-so of the new PCE leadership – “had become irksome”. Leading to the murder not only of Víctor García García, El Brasileño but also of Gabriel Trilla and Teófilo Fernández (to name but two from the long list).

quico21
‘Quico’ aged 21

In the guerrilla war I fought with Manuel Girón’s group and with my comrades from the 2nd Agrupación of the Galicia-León Guerrilla Army, we stood up to the apparatchiks that the PCE leadership in France had dispatched to Spain to “straighten us out”, to borrow the phrase used in the reports sent out to the PCE Central Committee.[2] Or, to put it another way, to use the utmost violence to force upon us a culture entirely at odds with the culture of resistance that had , ever since 1936, united us with the peasants, miners, neighbours, relatives and friends who made up our guerrilla movement’s support network.

WE had sampled for ourselves these purge-obsessed mercenaries and their efforts to control our resistance networks. And above all we had seen how they had murdered a number of our fellow guerrillas who had spent their lives defending free Spain. People like Miguel Cardeñas and Ceferino Alvarez, Bailarín, communists murdered in September 1949 in Sotadeiro in Orense province (in Cardeñas’s case) and, (in Bailarín’s) a fortnight later during a trek through the mountains in the company of Saúl Mayo and Emilio Villarino. This latter pair were acting on the authority of Manuel Soto El Coronel Benito, himself dispatched from Paris to northwest Spain to usurp the leadership of the Galicia-León Guerrilla Army.

On seeing the deaths of our comrades stack up in circumstances that we found unfathomable, we had had our suspicions: there was the loss of six comrades in Chavaga in Lugo province, including the leaders of the 2nd Agrupacion of the Galicia-León Guerrilla Army – Evaristo Fernández Roces, Guillermo Morán, Gregorio Colmenero Porreto, Julián Albarca Guardiña, plus María Casanova and Ramón Casanova, the house-holders in whose home the deeds were done.

At which point we realised that our group – Manuel Girón’s group – was also “on the list” of those who had become irksome and whose culture of home-grown resistance reliant upon its being embedded in society was in need of elimination. Hence our decision to cut all ties with the new Guerrilla Army leadership and to relocate to support bases unknown to them.

Following Manuel Girón’s death, some of us managed to get out to France. At a meeting with the PCE officials in Paris, in January 1952 we demanded the requisite explanations about the men within the Galicia-León Guerrilla Army who were claiming to act at the behest of the party: What links did the perpetrators of the murders have with the PCE leadership? What was behind all the puzzling “losses” sustained by the guerrillas between their appearance and the end of 1950? Our questions went unanswered. And as of now I am still waiting for answers.

64 Years have Passed Since that Paris Meeting. 64 Years is a Long Time. Years of Struggle, Exile and Hope

64 years have not banished from me the painful memory of those who perished under gunfire other than that of the Francoist foe. 64 years of searching, groping through a labyrinth of lies and silence – from within my own party – for the reasons for their tragic fates. 64 years waiting for my party to condemn inexcusable executions and acts that, entirely at odds with the values it professes, have besmirched the dignity of comrades whose lives were lost in the fight against dictatorship, and which have also wounded the dignity of those – like myself – who have survived and striven to defend democratic values.

For a long time I said nothing in public because suspicions are not evidence. Now the evidence exists. I also kept quiet because we had to give absolute priority to the fight against the dictatorship and, in that context, I was afraid lest my testimony be used to harm that struggle. It was only in December 2000 in the book published under the title Guerrilla Against Franco[3], that I first exposed the purges of comrades that I had seen for myself during the guerrilla war.

I am waiting for the PCE to follow suit. And let nobody tell me from now on that keeping mum about murders of anti-Francoists carried out by members of my party is vital in denouncing the mass slaughters of which the dictatorship was guilty. And spare me the redundant argument that I would be “playing into the hands of the enemy”! Leaving it up to Francoism’s heirs and to all those who would depict the two camps as much of a muchness to expose the darker pages from our history is tantamount to abetting their efforts to discredit our struggle.

Over recent years I myself have written three letters to the current general secretary of the PCE, José Luis Centella, asking not just to set out the accusations once mooted against Víctor García García El Brasileño by the PCE leadership, but also to insist that the PCE organise a tribute in order to rehabilitate him. I have made phone call after phone call; and am still waiting for an answer. Am I to run into silence and contempt again, the way I did at that meeting in Paris back in 1952, a few months after I arrived in France as an exile?

64 years have passed and 64 years is no mean time. Has nothing changed during those 64 years? What justification can there be for this silence, today, in 2016? Do they still persist in concealing the PCE leadership’s responsibility and motivation in the matter of the liquidation of resisters? How could our championing of the historical memory of the fight against the dictatorship be credible unless we undertake – within our own ranks and wherever it may lead – this authentic endeavour to remember?

Manolo, Jalisco, Quico and Atravesado, the last Federación guerrillas en 1951.
Manolo, Jalisco, Quico and Atravesado, the last Federación guerrillas en 1951.

I took up arms to fight Franco as a guerrilla. For the past thirty years I have been a guerrilla fighting for historical memory, with no weapons other than my words. Together with female and male comrades from the guerrilla wars in every part of Spain and with the War and Exile Archive (AGE) we have held countless meetings, discussions, published books and waged political campaigns in order to pass on the experience of the armed resistance to Franco.

But what would all of this “work of remembrance” of ours (and which the PCE purports to back) amount to if were to skip over the memory of Víctor García García El Brasileño, Miguel Cardeñas, Bailarín, the Díaz brothers, guerrillas from the 4th Agrupación of the Galicia-León Guerrilla Army murdered in La Coruña, Francisco Corredor Serrano El Gafas, Francisco Blas Aguado Pedro, Juan Ramón Delicado González, murdered in Levante and the memories of so many more resisters murdered for holding out against the dictatorial imposition of a totalitarian organisational model? [4]

Quico, third from right next to Joan Tardá at a War and Exile (AGE) demonstration.
Quico, third from right next to Joan Tardá at a War and Exile (AGE) demonstration.

I am now ninety one years of age and my conscience as a communist prompts me to embark upon one more battle: to get those who purport to manage the legacy of communist memory to answer – for the first time ever – the questions put by Víctor (the son of Víctor García García El Brasileño) and to the questions raised by Iván (the son of Juan Ramón Delicado González) and the questions put by so many others who never knew a father’s tenderness. Plus the queries raised by the young guerrilla whom I once was, having just dodged death and arrived in Paris back in 1952, to ask them why his comrade Miguel Cardeña and other comrades of his were cut down by the gunfire of the “political commissars” of his own party, the PCE.

Francisco Martínez López, El Quico

[1] For Victor Garcia Ferandez’s investigation into his father’s death, see the letter in Faro (Vigo) 22 March 2009 and Victor Garcia G. Estalino El Brasileno blogspot http://blocs.tinet/cat/lt/blog/victor-garcia-g.-estallino-el-brasileno

[2] See The PCE Historical Archives: Section Nacionalidades y regiones, subsection Galicia León, report from Galicia early March 1948, jacq 520-525

[3] Francisco Martínez López ‘El Quico’ Guérillero contre Franco. La guérilla antifranquiste du Léon (1936-1951), Paris, Editions Syllepse, December 2000, 175pp; published in Gallego as Guerrilleiro contra Franco (Vigo, A Nossa Terra 2006), in Spanish as Guerrillero contra Franco. Guerrillero contra el olvido. La guerrilla antifranquista de León Galicia (1937-1952). La Memoria cautiva de la guerrilla (1952-2011) Madrid, Latorre Literaria 2011.

[4] See Josep Sanchez Cervelló Maquis. El puño que golpeó al franquismo (Barcelona, Flor del Viento ediciones, 2003)