Octavio Alberola, interviewed by Agustín Guillamón in November 2016

Octavio Alberola Suriñach (Alaior, Menorca, 1928), anarcho-syndicalist and Franco’s public enemy No. 1 from 1962 to 1975. Exiled with his parents to Mexico in 1939, Alberola studied civil engineering and theoretical physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where he became involved with the Libertarian Youth and the CNT in exile. He also worked, from 1956, with the exiled Cubans of the July 26 Movement and the Student Revolutionary Directory until the fall of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In 1962 the Defense Committee of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) formed the clandestine Interior Defence (Defensa Interior) Committee, to which Alberola was delegated as a representative of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL). Consequently, Alberola moved to France to coordinate the DI’s harrying, propagandist and solidarity actions across Europe, including inside Spain. These actions included an assassination attempt against Francisco Franco in San Sebastián in the summer of 1962, the first of a number of attentats. The San Sebastian attempt failed due to technical problems with the triggering device — and because Franco arrived later than expected.

José Alberola

  Were you born into an anarchist family? Can you say something about your father, José Alberola?

Yes, my father was a rationalist school-teacher working in mixed schools set up by CNT members and my mother worked alongside him on his school activities. My father was a CNT member himself and actively involved in that organization’s propaganda efforts as a speaker at rallies and as a debater.

You arrived in Mexico at the age of 11, on board the Ipanema in mid-1939. What other exile families were you in touch with? The Ocañas? The Carbós? The Marcets?

We were in touch with lots of other exiled libertarian families, but especially with the Ocaña and Viadiu families.

And your education?

I studied civil engineering and science and philosophy at university.

How did you get into anarchist activism in Mexico?

I started off taking part in the student movements, back in Preparatory School in Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz state, where my father had set up the Colegio Cervantes. Later, after I enrolled at the National Autonomous University in Mexico, I carried on with my involvement in these movements and at the same time I started mixing with exiled and Mexican anarchist circles. Especially the ones that were publishing the newspaper Regeneración.

In October 1948 you were arrested after putting up Libertarian Youth posters in the streets of Mexico DF. Was there a risk of your being deported and sent off to Spain, the three of you who were Spanish exiles? And was the Libertarian Youth a solidly established, numerically significant organization?

Four of us youngsters were arrested (three the children of exiles and one Mexican) and we made up one of the five groups in the Mexican Libertarian Youth that we had just launched. No, it was not a well-established organization; it was in its beginnings and of no great size. There must have been around fifty of us, both sexes. It had started out as a theatre group.

In the 1950s you were in touch with the 26 July Movement, right? Were you then in touch with the Cuban anarchists fleeing the Batista dictatorship?

Yes, at first with Latin Americans and Cubans in exile and later in a more active way with the 26 July Movement people led by Fide Castro. Basically, I used to help them in their propaganda and active solidarity work with those in the guerrilla war back in Cuba. It was after the success of the uprising against the dictator Batista that I came into contact with the Cuban anarchists who were beginning to be persecuted by the communists planted inside the 26 July Movement.

Why and why did you begin to criticise Castroism?

Even before the victory of the barbudos I had argued against Castroism’s representatives in Mexico over their undue emphasis on Fidel and his movement over and above the other groups fighting Batista and, after his victory, things quickly came to grief after Fidel made his deal with the communists and forgot all about the commitment he had given to us to help us in the fight against Francoism.

London, 1958: Octavio (R) with Salvador Gurucharri (FIJL)

  Can you say something about your trip from Mexico to Europe , November 1857 to February 1958?

I was able to make that trip because I had won a prize on Mexican TV and in mid-1957 I had made the acquaintance of Irene who was secretary to the managing editor of a Mexican newspaper, Zócalo, that helped us spend four months in Europe, reporting to that paper; well, I was keen to see how the opposition to Franco stood around Europe and in Spain. I travelled on phony papers and thus I was able to interview members of different opposition factions, outside and inside Spain, even “visiting” the Valle de los Caídos, which at that point had not been formally opened, and taking photos that were carried in Zócalo.

Mexico, 1959

What was ME59 (Movimiento Espanol 59)?

That Movement was formed in Mexico in early 1959 following the victory of the barbudos in the Sierra Maestra and it was made up of young Spanish exiles from every faction within the exile community, including, for the first time, communists. The aim was to support the Cuban revolution and whoever was fighting Francoism in Spain. Cracks soon appeared over the stance of the communists who were manoeuvring to oppose armed struggle and out to use ME59 to boost their policy of “reconciliation” in Spain. After Quico Sabaté’s death, we parted company and the young republicans pulled out of it along with us libertarians who had begun to adopt guerrilla tactics …

San Celoni, 9.00 am, Tuesday, January 5 1960.: Francisco Sabaté Llopart (‘El Quico’)

What impact did Quico Sabaté’s death in January 1960 have on you?

A big one. Partly on account of what it implied and partly also because Joaquín Delgado, whom I had met on my trip to Europe in 1957-1958, was in touch with me and he had informed me of Quico’s plans to head back to Spain with a group, and I had told him that he should try to talk him out of it, as the CNT was on the brink of reunification, which would mean a re-launch of the struggle against Franco…

In Caracas, in late 1960, as defence coordinator for the Mexican CNT, you, together with García Oliver and Juan Pintado, laid the groundwork for an attempt on Franco’s life, scheduled for the summer of 1961. Why was that plan shelved? Did you know Julián Merino who was in exile in Mexico?

During the reunification process, the CNT’s SI (Inter-Continental Secretariat) had established contact with García Oliver, and a group of CNT members in Venezuela (Campá, for one) had invited García Oliver and Juan Pintado, coordinating secretary of the SI, to come to Caracas for a meeting with the secretary of the Venezuelan trade union federation, the STV, which had promised help for the fight against Franco (the Venezuelan had been in prison with two CNT refugees in Venezuela in connection with the attempt to kill the dictator Rojas Pinilla). Pintado told García that, once in Caracas, he would brief him on the SI’s planned attempt on Franco’s life in San Sebastián. After Pintado met with García in Caracas, Juan told me that I should join them urgently with regard to this matter. I then travelled down to Caracas and it was agreed that both I and Florico Ocaña would take part in the operation … Time passed and a few months into 1961 Pintado reported that the plan had been shelved due to the imminence of the reunification congress due to meet in Limoges. In Caracas, I made the acquaintances of several comrades and there is a chance (virtually the certainty) that I met Julián Merino, but I don’t recall …

How did the Limoges congress go in August 1961? What was your contribution?

It was the shelving of that operation that made us decide that I should go to France and find out whether the will to mount it was or was not there and to that end the comrades for the operation decided to put it to the gathering of the Mexican CNT, ahead of the Congress, that it use my trip (which I was paying for myself) for me to attend the Congress as the delegate from the CNT of Mexico. At the Congress I stood up for the Mexican CNT’s accords; by a majority the latter was pro0unity and all for a relaunching of active anti-Francoist struggle. My impression was confirmed: the libertarian movement was still divided in two: the supporters of inmovilismo (do-nothing-ism) and the supporters of action.

How did Defensa Interior come to be formed on the basis of the 1961 CNT reunification? What were its main aims, how did it perform and how was it wound up in 1965?

In spite of the de facto split, most people supported unity and action, which is why the accords finished up mirroring that stance. Furthermore, a decisive factor was the position of the Committee of the Spanish CNT, freshly reunified, which was (clandestinely) represented at the Congress. Against this backdrop, the do-nothing faction made haste to pack the ‘action’ working party and delivered a resolution (on the DI) that was very ambiguous (setting up a group to do the groundwork …) but affirming the need for active struggle. As a result, that resolution was carried unanimously … After the Congress, I attended the FIJL Plenum in Toulouse at which the go-ahead was given for the FIJL to re-join the Defence Commission and insist upon the establishment of the DI. I had given my word that I would serve on the DI as the FIJL’s representative, if ever that body was set up. Off I went, back to Mexico, after passing through Madrid, where I was supposed to meet with the Committee of the CNT of the Interior so that they could hand me a letter appointing Juan García Oliver to represent them on the DI. That meeting was not able to take place because I was tipped off that the comrades from the committee had been arrested. On returning to Mexico and after a few months’ wait, we were informed that the DI had been launched and that García and I were among the seven members appointed to the DI. In March 1962, I left Mexico to take up my place on the DI. At its first meeting I read out a letter signed by García Oliver and myself, setting out our view of what the DI’s policy line and modus operandi ought to be, and this was carried. The DI was made up of two sections: one handling propaganda and other operations, which were supposed to have been symbolic (in order to mobilize public opinion) and would only target the dictator himself, come what may … I ended up in charge (as the person most available) of coordinating the DI. And so began, for me, a period of clandestine existence that lasted up until I was arrested in Belgium at the start of 1968. As we know, Esgleas never lifted a finger and resigned a few months after that first meeting and Llansola likewise did nothing and he too resigned … As DI coordinator I tried several times to meet with them, but to no avail; because they began to say that they would report and give an account only to the coordinating secretary of the CNT’s SI (Ángel Carballeira). Which is why both operations and propaganda fell to us remaining members along with whatever groups had been set up and that includes the attack on Franco in San Sebastián in the summer of 1962, which Cipriano Mera and Juan García Oliver , who had come down from France, were in on. After the arrest and execution of Granado and Delgado and the rounding-up of young libertarians in France, and of Mera and Pascual, the French authorities gave the go-ahead for the CNT to hold its congress in Toulouse (?) so that Esgleas could be elected as CNT secretary and the DI stymied; even though the Congress (which was never briefed on Esgleas and Llansola having stepped down from the DI) had given its approval to the DI’s efforts. All of this is set out in our book, published by Ruedo Ibérico in 1975 and republished by Virus in 2004.

The DI was forever under attack from the “purist” faction led by Germinal Esgleas and Federica Montseny. Can it be argued that this bureaucratized faction (which lived on its tenure of paid posts within the CNT) sabotaged the DI’s operations?

Blatantly, although they pleaded that their aim was to ensure the continuity of the organization in exile, which the French authorities were threatening to outlaw if it carried on with its support for action against Franco.

Besides the veterans Cipriano Mera and García Oliver, which other militants served on the DI? Is it correct that your role was that of coordinator of the DI?

In addition to Esgleas, Llansola, García Oliver, Mera and myself, there were Juan Jimeno from Morocco and Acracio Ruiz from England. I dealt with the coordination matter earlier.

Palacio de Ayete. Franco’s summer residence in San Sebastian

Was the failure of the August 1962 Ayete Palace attack down to Llansola’s ineptitude or to a tip-off to the Spanish police? Was there an informer?

The Ayete operation was set in motion after Llansola refused to brief us on how his preparations were going … We were convinced that he had not lifted a finger and so a second targeting option was activated. It failed for technical reasons (battery life) which meant that it could not hold out until Franco’s (uncertain) arrival in San Sebastián, and so we were forced – Mera, García Oliver and me – to make the decision to detonate the explosives before the battery ran done. But it was not a failure since that was carried off and all involved in the operation made it back to base …

Because of the failure of the attack on Franco, García Oliver decided – with agreement from Cipriano Mera and yourself – to go back to Mexico (following three months of involvement in the preparation of the operation). Was that essentially for financial reasons (reducing subsistence costs in France and fund-raising in Mexico) or was it because he was acknowledging failure?

No. García Oliver carried on and later he went with Santamaría, the secretary of the CNT, to the CIOLS Congress in Berlin; Santamaría had given him a commitment that he would be asking for funding from that organization for an attempt on Franco’s life (we had that other project to be mounted in Madrid). What happened was that Santamaría was unable to persuade the CNT’s other partners in the Alianza Sindical (i.e. the UGT and the STV), who had been all in favour of his asking the CIOLS for help and he did not dare (?) go it alone … and break up the Alianza Sindical. As a result, García Oliver left Berlin in a huff … It was at that point, once García Oliver was back in Paris, that Santamaría called me on the phone at about 8.00 p.m. to tell me that he had secured a meeting with the CIOLS’s general secretary for the following morning in a Geneva hotel … But that García Oliver would have to be there by 10.oo the next morning as the CIOLS guy was due to fly out to the USA. Apart from the impossibility of his getting there in time, García Oliver found this all a bit airy-fairy as there was no guarantee of anything coming of it … There was a lot of tantrums and shortly after that, following a meeting with Mera and me where, after analysing the situation, all three of us agreed that the best thing for him to do was to go back to Mexico: to cut our costs as much as to try to raise funds there …

What can you tell us about the brutal execution by garrote vil of Joaquín Delgado and Francisco Granados in August 1963?

You can imagine how we felt in the circumstances, to which must be added – in addition to the crack-down in France – the do-nothing faction’s sabotage approach and the fears of Santamaría, who was under pressure from the French authorities. It was at this point that Boticario gave me a sum of money (francs) so that I could head back to Mexico. I accepted the money and consulted with Mera and the rest of the comrades and I decided to stay put and stay under the radar … As the Youth had raised with the Defence Commission the issue of the challenge that Mera and I had raised regarding the resignations of Esgleas and Llansola.

Can it be said that the DI had, to all intents and purposes, evaporated by October 1963, albeit that it was not formally wound up until the Montpellier Congress in 1965?

We know that Esgleas contrived to waste time and that his resignation and Llansola’s were not clarified to the Defence Commission and he had to wait until 1965 before the DI could be laid to rest, in organizational terms. But the DI had been stymied ever since October 1963 … Anything that was attempted at that time was down to hep from the FIJL.

What connection did you have with the ‘First of May’ Group?

In actual fact, the ‘First of May’ Group never existed as a specific group. It was the DI’s youth structure carrying on the fight with help from the FIJ alone and from a few CNT personnel. It was the name used to claim responsibility for the Rome operation (the kidnapping of Monsignor Ussia); that was claimed by Luis Edo in Madrid at a clandestine press conference. I was still coordinating and participating in operations.

Liège, 1968

In February 1968 you were arrested in Brussels along with your partner, Ariane. That arrest thwarted the abduction of Ullastres. What were you accused of?

Since the arrest came prior to the mounting of the operation, the Belgian authorities had nothing on us except possession of forged papers and possession of two pistols …

Did you attend the international anarchist congress in Carrara in September 1968 as the Libertarian Youth representative? Was there a head-on clash between the old guard (Esgleas and Montseny) and the Libertarian Youth?

My presence there was clandestine … If memory serves, the FIJL was represented by Tomás Ibáñez. Yes, there was a confrontation because many of the ‘old guard’ maintained the same do-nothing stance vis a vis the youth as Esgleas and Montseny did.

Paris, November 1975

In May 1974, after the director of the Paris branch of the Bank of Bilbao (who had been abducted to highlight the execution of Salvador Puig Antich) was set free, they arrested you and a further nine comrades. In 1981, by which time Franco was dead, a court case was heard at which you were acquitted for lack of evidence. Can you now, some 35 years later, explain your role in that operation? Was Inocencio Martínez, who had earlier had a hand in the Brussels arrest, a police plant?

After Puig Antich was arrested in Barcelona and given the prospect of his being condemned to death and executed, a group of French anarchists in Toulouse asked my help in mounting an active solidarity action in an attempt to save that young Catalan anarchist. I was under house arrest in Belgium at the time. Even so and even though my presence might pose a risk, the comrades pestered me and I gave in. I entered France surreptitiously and helped them lay the groundwork for the operation and after that I agreed to handle the ‘ransom’, on the grounds that this would be an effective way of protecting the group that would and did carry out the abduction. In the end, it worked since I and some other male and female comrades were arrested; but they were never able to uncover the group that actually carried out the operation. Which, in the end, was crucial to our acquittal in 1981. Yes, it turned out that Martínez was an informer (but not himself a policeman) and it was at that point that we realized how the Belgian authorities had come to arrest us.

What is revolutionary violence?

Revolutionary violence is any action designed to take on the violence of the system of oppression, bear active testimony to solidarity with the victims of oppression and put paid to man’s violence against his fellow-man, the essential precondition for emancipation.

Do you think the dividing line between Marxists and anarchists still holds?

It will persist as long as both sides carry on thinking in terms of dogma; but if they think and act in a non-sectarian fashion, they will finish up coming together in concrete battles against exploitation and domination.

And your present family, is it anarchist?

If you look at my record, you will see that as far as I am concerned, my family is made up of everyone with whom I have dealings in whatever circumstances and with whom I establish bonds of friendship and swap feelings of fellowship. Whether I have managed that, I do not know, but I have tried and am trying still.

Anything else to add?

Salud!

Barcelona, 11 November 2016/Perpignan 16 November 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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