Francisco MartInez López once fought against Franco. Now he is fighting for Spain’s communists to finally rehabilitate their own victims.
Activists remember the disappeared from the Spanish Civil War Photo: imago/Pacifik Press Agency
Francisco MartInez Lopez could not ask more clearly, but louder he could. "I ask my party – the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) – to admit the disgusting methods it used during the years of the anti-Franquist guerrillas and to rehabilitate those who suffered, especially those who were executed on the orders of the leadership," declared the 91-year-old man from the mining region of El Bierzo, in Spain’s northwest.
MartInez López – or Quico, as he was known in the armed underground from 1947 to 1952 – repeatedly presented this request to the Central Committee of the PCE, ever since he left Spain for French exile in 1952. But the party leadership remained silent. Now "Quico" has written an "Open Letter from a Communist to the Leadership of his Party," reaching a wider audience for the first time.
"I feel morally and politically in the right to ask," his letter, titled "That Past Which Must Not Be Forgotten," states. He is concerned with the comrades in the underground who were shot as "provocateurs" and "deviants" by hit squads, sentenced to death by the PCE leadership in exile under Santiago Carrillo and the legendary Dolores Ibarruri Gómez, "La Pasionaria." Carrillo and his party had then come to Paris from exile in Moscow and had ousted the leadership that had been established after the lost civil war by the party members, thousands of whom had sought refuge in France.
In the process, too, so-called traitors were forcibly removed.
Youth in the guerrillas
Quico grew up in a region that fell into the hands of the fascist military under General and later dictator Francisco Franco immediately after the coup against the Spanish Republic in 1936. Politically persecuted people went underground, arming themselves. Quico worked for the guerrillas in his early teens, making propaganda, spying on targets, his parents hiding fighters at home. When he was exposed in 1947, he joined the fighting groups.
Around a hundred gunmen moved in the region of El Bierzo – the Federación de Guerrillas León Galicia was formed. It was the first well-structured anti-Franco guerrilla in Spain. Soon, other groups would emerge throughout the country. Historian Secundino Serrano estimates the total number of fighters at 5,000 to 6,000 men, who relied on a network of 20,000 to 40,000 "enlaces" – contacts. 3,000 fighters were killed and 2,500 were arrested. 500 managed to escape abroad, mostly to France, in the early 1950s, when the struggle became increasingly hopeless.
"It was popular resistance," Quico recalls. "In our groups there were communists, anarchists, socialists." The fighters could count on broad support, sleeping in houses with families who hid and fed them. The guerrillas had contacts with mayors, members of the fascist union, and even soldiers and policemen. They attacked police stations, shot leading fascists in the region, sabotaged the tungsten mines that supplied the precious metal to the arms industry in Germany for steel refining during World War II.
"Above all, we showed presence, giving courage to the population. The message was: the war is not over," Quico says. Toward the end of World War II, the PCE, with fighters who had served in the Resistance in France, attempted an invasion of the Pyrenees to refocus world attention on Spain, where the fascists had won the civil war in 1939. The hope was that after the liberation of France, the Allies would not stop and liberate Spain as well.
4,000 fighters crossed the border from France into Spain in October 1944 and failed. The PCE then relied on new tactics. It established guerrilla structures in several regions and sent its leaders to places where there were already functioning armed underground groups. This was also the case in the El Bierzo region.
A different idea of Spain
"They had a very different idea of Spain than what they found. They were influenced by the years of the Resistance in France. But this was not an occupation," MartInez López reports. Disagreements quickly arose. "Our structures were built on those of unity of different political ideas. But the PCE wanted to impose its model on us." Where those who had come out of exile could, they introduced military ranks, they uniformed the fighters. The groups lost their autonomy. The actions were coordinated with the party leadership in Paris and sometimes even with Moscow.
Refusal to submit to the new leaders was considered treason by the party. "You were a provocateur, and provocateurs were sentenced to death. The point was to achieve absolute discipline against the party’s apparatus." Three of Quico’s comrades were shot. Quico can substantiate this. He found the evidence in the Party archives. "We put that dog down!" one of the murderers reported to the Central Committee in 1948.
You were a provocateur, and they were shot. It was about achieving absolute discipline
"People weren’t concerned with communism or socialism," Quico says, explaining the reason they opposed the leaders from exile and their strategy. The Republic, which Franco’s dictatorship put a bloody end to, had mobilized broad sectors of the population. Women had achieved the right to vote, workers the eight-hour day, education had been expanded, lands redistributed. "It was a republic of reforms that people defended in resistance. The military appearance of the communists, the ideology of unity, had nothing to do with it. The people rejected that," Quico explains. "We of the guerrillas were not a vanguard. We were friends and comrades on the same level to whom people opened their homes. The military appearance was perceived as disrespect."
The conflict was inevitable. "Added to the executions are the victims of a different approach that is difficult to prove," Quico continues. "Entire groups were betrayed to the police. We suspect that six comrades from our leadership died in this way." News of similar incidents reached the groups in the Bierzo from neighboring regions. In the province of A Coruna, at least 14 guerrillas were executed; in Asturias, one of the leaders was denounced anonymously. He fell into the hands of the police and did not survive.
Self-criticism must be
The clashes, the repression, the Cold War that allowed Franco to join the West – all this ended the hope of the guerrillas. Those who survived tried to leave the country.
For years, MartInez López had shied away from going public. "You can’t make this public at any moment, it could have negative repercussions for the party," he says, demonstrating discipline despite all that has happened. Now, at an advanced age, he doesn’t want to and can’t wait any longer. "Are Carrillo or the current party leadership any more communist than I am?" he asks. "A party that is incapable of self-criticism after something like this paralyzes itself."
64 years have passed since Quico arrived in Paris and demanded explanation for the first time. Today he calls himself a "guerrillero of memory." The Spanish Communist Party remains silent.