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News and comments and events relating to Granada, 'the city where anything is possible, Granada, 'la bella y la bestia, and Federico Garcia Lorca's complicated love-hate relationship with the city, etc


Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Mon, October 23, 2017 17:49:53


Part 2: Angelina Cordobilla.

The testimony of Angelina Cordobilla, Concha’s (Lorca’s sister’s) maid, on which Gibson relies heavily, is a stumbling block for the 'thirteen hour' theory. I made this point six years ago [//] and it still seems to be problematic when it comes to unravelling the course of events leading up to Lorca's death. If Caballero is right, then Angelina’s testimony has to be disproved, or discarded.

At first, in her interview with Agustín Penón in 1955*, Angelina insisted that she had seen Lorca only once at the Civil Government building but then, in relating the events, she seemed to remember seeing him twice on consecutive days. That would have been on the mornings of the 17th and 18th. Angelina reports seeing Lorca in a sparsely furnished room, with no bed, but, curiously, one with a table and writing materials. ‘Master Federico was hoarse and very tense. His good humour had left him completely. (...) The next day I took him his food and a packet of Camel. He hadn’t touched the food I had taken the day before, but he had smoked the cigarettes.’ Her vivid testimony, then, points to Lorca being held for two nights before being moved to Viznar. Or could it be that on this second morning, when she noticed the food had not been touched, Lorca himself was not present, that she last saw him on the 17th?

On discovering Lorca’s absence, she went to the prison where she left the basket of food and other supplies, hoping it would get to him somehow. Two witnesses, Antonio Pérez Funes and Cesar Torres Martínez, said they saw the basket which stayed there unclaimed all day. The question is: Which day? Antonio Pérez said somebody asked him ‘the day after the arrest’ if Lorca was there (in prison). He said ‘no’ and they passed the message on to his family. Could he be talking about Angelina? The day after the arrest was of course the 17th, whereas Angelina’s testimony indicates she went there on the 19th. The testimony of Pérez Funes and Torres Martínez about seeing the basket lends some credibility to Angelina’s evidence, but there is no way we can be sure about the exact date of these events. Did Angelina see Lorca only once, as she first recalled in her interview with Penón, and go to the prison on the 18th, the day after the news of Lorca’s arrest became common knowledge?

If Angelina really did get in to see Lorca at the Civil Government, how did she get past the guards on the door? In an attempt to ridicule her testimony, Francisco Valdés Escóbar asserts that ‘there was a continuous guard on the door and they didn’t let anyone through’. On the other hand, Julián Fernández Amigo describes the situation rather differently: ‘There was very little control. There were guards on the door, there were the old Assault Guards, who acted very decently in Granada; then there were the new ones... as well as those militia men...’. By ‘old Assault Guards’, he means those who had been recruited to serve the Republic, whereas the new ones, and the militia men, supported the rebels and the uprising. It is supposed that Angelina encountered a couple of guards who acted decently.Photo: ayuntamiento de durcal

There is also the story of Enrique García Palacios, a cousin of Federico’s, telling Manuel Angeles Ortiz, an old friend of the poet, in Buenos Aires that Lorca was kept prisoner ‘for a week’ and that a cousin of his, the priest Enrique Palacios from Asquerosa (Valderrubio), went to see him every day, as did the Montesinos’s maid (Angelina) who took him his meals. How many steps there were between the actual events and their being reported to Ortiz thus resulting in an increase in the chances of the message getting distorted along the way is hard to say. Unfortunately, Enrique Palacios does not seem to have left any direct testimony about his supposed visits to Lorca in the Civil Government. Let’s take ‘for a week’ with a piece of salt. This evidence may have been based on hearsay, but at least it was contemporary hearsay, and not reminiscences thirty years after the event.

If Lorca was held for two days, or even one, in a small room, on the first floor of the Civil government building (possibly overlooking the Botanical Gardens), there is remarkably little evidence for it. There are two possibilities: one, he had been disappeared, so his captivity was kept secret; or two, he was never there.

Was Angelina’s memory playing tricks? Those who reject her evidence say she was unwell, senile, implying she was unsound in body and mind. When Gibson interviewed her in 1966, she was getting on, yet he found her lucid and had absolute confidence in her evidence. This same woman, who Penón interviewed in 1955 and who he judged to be around sixty-five, was physically active, neither senile nor unwell.

There are, besides, in Angelina’s favour, witnesses who claim to have seen Lorca in the Civil Government building after nightfall. Joaquín López-Mateos Matres, on guard duty at the Civil Government that night, says he saw the poet sitting in a small room on the first floor ‘hour after hour’, ‘all evening and part of the night’. Another witness, Emilio Muñoz Medina, saw Lorca ‘in the room they kept for prisoners’ while on duty on the first floor of the Civil Government building. ‘He offered me a cigarette saying “What a life! What a life!” We smoked without speaking. All the time I was on duty, Lorca remained alone in that room.’

We know that up to 10.30, Lorca received a number of visits, including the one by José Rosales, probably the last. Mrs Rosales sent a boy with supplies, maybe blankets, which suggests she had reason to believe that he was going to be detained for some time. The previously quoted police officer, Julián Fernández Amigo, persuaded the decent guards to let him in and spend fifteen minutes with the poet, this according to Molina Fajardo himself.

But the evidence of both López-Mateos and Muñoz Medina suggests that the poet was being held there on his own, incommunicado, ‘hour after hour’, ‘all the time I was on duty’ as Muñoz says, well into the night. Can ‘all evening and part of the night’ be made to fit in with Caballero’s time scale? Certainly if their testimony is to be credited and if they are talking about the time after José Rosales’s visit, it seems hardly possible that Lorca could have been taken away as early as 22.00 - 22.30 on 16 August, as Caballero would have it, arguing that the nationalist authorities moved so quickly because there were elements among them very keen to be rid of the prisoner and they were in a position to act.

Another in itself quite minor discrepancy lies in the fact that Lorca left the Rosales’ house wearing a white shirt (as Miguel López Escribano testifies). Yet all later testimonies speak of him wearing a pyjama top; for example, Agustín Soler Bonor claims to have seen him leaving the Civil Goverment wearing ‘a pyjama jacket, not a shirt‘, and later, at Víznar. Manuel Martínez Bueso, who accompanied Lorca’s car from the Falangists’ Viznar Headquarters to Villa Concha, the improvised prison for the disappeared, reported to his superior, José María Nestares, that he was wearing a pyjama top. If Lorca left the Rosales wearing a shirt and arrived at Viznar wearing a pyjama top, it is reasonable to suppose that Angelina brought him a change of clothes, and Indeed, Angelina told Penón specifically that pyjamas were among the supplies she carried the last time she went on her distressing errand.

Last but not least, there is the testimony of Antonio Galindo Monge, son of Dióscoro Galindo González, another victim who we know was shot alongside Lorca. Antonio says his father was taken away at 2am on the 18th and he went to the military command a few hours later in the hope of getting him released but was told his father had already been put to death. The son’s evidence is backed up in this case by an official death certificate. Galindo’s and Angelina’s evidence combined make for a strong argument against Lorca having faced the firing squad on the morning of the 17th.

Notes. Agustín Penón. “Angelina.” Miedo, olvido y fantasía. Edición de Marta Osorio.

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Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Thu, October 19, 2017 10:19:03


LEFT. Miguel Caballero Pérez. Source:Cronistas Oficiales de Andalucía RIGHT. Ian Gibson. Source: Paco Sánchez. Fotografía Corporativa.

Part 1: The Arrest.

Miguel Caballero chose the title of his book (Las últimas trece horas en la vida de García Lorca) setting out the findings of his investigation into the killing of Spain’s greatest twentieth century poet as a direct challenge to Lorca-biographer Ian Gibson, around whose own more tentative conclusions there had developed a sort of consensus. ‘It seems certain that Lorca was shot around 4.45 on the morning of 18 August,’ says Wikipedia (last assessed 18/10/2017) quoting not Gibson but Manuel Titos Martínez*. Caballero’s ‘The Last Thirteen Hours in the Life of García Lorca’ states boldly what he considers to be the definite time scale of events from the moment when Ramón Ruiz Alonso turned up with his arrest warrant at the Rosales’ house on the afternoon of Sunday, 16 August until Lorca’s death in front of a semi-official firing squad, which cannot have taken place later than around 4am the following morning. According to Caballero’s investigation.

It was mostly Ian Gibson’s research that led to the widely held belief that Lorca was shot and buried close to the spot that is now marked by a monolith and a commemorative park in his (Lorca’s) name on the road between Víznar and Alfacar, a few miles north of Granada. This belief was based mostly on the testimony of Manuel Castilla, ‘Manolo the Communist’, (see #post 9) who, as a grave-digger, claimed to have been one of those who buried the poet. There is much in his evidence that is very credible, such as the fact that as a young political activist, he said he recognised the two anarchist bullfighters he buried, but not Lorca, who had been absent from Granada for long periods in the years prior to his death, and was not, anyway, politically active. But when an attempted exhumation in 2009 revealed that Lorca’s corpse was not and never could have been in that spot, Gibson’s whole hypothesis about Lorca’s last days was put in doubt, - and the way was cleared for alternative theories to be put forward, again.

Did Manolo the Communist lie, or did he make a mistake? It was twenty years after the event that he, apparently with some reluctance, led Agustín Penón to the supposed site of the crime in 1956. If he was mistaken then, it would have been easy for him to repeat the mistake with Gibson, and with growing conviction, ten years later.

Caballero makes a point of emphasising that his evidence is based on contemporary police reports and civil and military documentation rather than on unreliable oral testimonies, as Gibson’s was. This is to some extent point-scoring for of course the sort of oral evidence that Gibson collected could never have been recorded by official reports and documentation and anyway these in turn could have been falsified by a regime whose legitimacy was questionable and which did not necessarily want the truth, the whole truth, to be revealed. In any case, Caballero’s faith in the written word must strike us as a bit naïve, considering the nature of the regime that had taken control of Granada, and the chaos that existed in those early days of the Civil War. Such records themselves are often written reports of spoken declarations, the veracity of which may be legitimately questioned.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that if Caballero is right, not only Manolo the Communist’s testimony but that of many other key witnesses for Gibson’s case is put in doubt, and needs to be reconsidered.

While major contradictions between the two investigations open up once the poet has been disappeared, the facts about the detention of the poet at the Rosales’ house are not seriously problematic. Let’s start with Gibson’s witness, José Rodríguez Contreras, who says he was released from prison at about 12am on 16 August and was on his way home. He relates how he was turned back by an Assault Guard1 (who he names as José María Vialard Márquez) when he tried to get through to his own house because the area around the Rosales’ house and the Civil Government^ building had been cordoned off on account of Lorca’s imminent arrest. It must have been about one o’clock, he says. Rodríguez Contrereas was sure of his facts because, as he said, it wasn’t every day that you got released from prison!

Caballero places the arrest with some certainty between 13.00 and 13.30 although he is a bit vague about how events subsequently played out over the afternoon. Much of Gibson’s reconstruction of events is based on the evidence of Miguel Rosales, whose version may have been agreed on after consulting the rest of the family. However, there is general agreement that the detention was held up for a while because Esperanza Camacho, Miguel’s mother, refused to let Lorca be taken from the house without one of her sons being present and it was Miguel who was located at the nearby Falange Headquarters, in the Monastery of San Jerónimo. It was about 4.30, according to Miguel, when Ramón Ruiz Alonso, the man with the arrest warrant, brought him back to the house. Then Lorca needed time to get dressed, bid his farewells, and prepare himself for the ordeal ahead, so it wasn’t until 6 or 7pm, again according to Miguel’s statement, that they arrived at the Civil Government building.

One witness, quoted by both Gibson and Molina Fajardo (Caballero’s main source), neighbour Miguel López Escribano says he saw Lorca leave the house earlier; ‘at 3.30pm’, he reports. This would have got Lorca to the Civil Government by 4pm. Against that we have Miguel’s claim that he had had lunch at home before going back to work, with Ruiz Alonso coming for him at about 4pm. Then there is the question of the whereabouts of Gerardo, the youngest of the Rosales brothers and the only one who was not in the Falange. Miguel says he went to the cinema around 4pm and didn’t return till after 8; though in another version, given by Gerardo’s son, he was at the painter José Guerrero’s studio ‘on the day of the arrest’.

So Lorca may have arrived at the Civil Government as early as 4pm or as late as 7pm. What is beyond a doubt, however, is that Civil Governor José Valdés Guzmán was away all day on the 16th and didn’t return to Granada until 9.45, as was reported in the Ideal newspaper. Then José Rosales, Miguel’s brother and an influential member of the Spanish Falange, got to speak to him but was told that, ‘regrettably’, there was nothing to be done as there were official charges against the poet that had to be looked into. Vila San-Juan# puts the time of José Rosales’s audience with Valdés at 10.30 and confirms that he was even allowed to see Lorca who was being held in a room nearby, in the same corridor, on the first floor. Indeed, José was not the only person who got to see Lorca at the Civil Government, but the timing and circumstances of these visits is unclear. They will be dealt with in Part 2 of this discussion. For now, let us just say that Lorca was held there until well after 10pm.

It is here, when it comes to the moment of the actual disappearing of the poet itself that the trail gets hard to follow and Gibson’s and Caballero’s accounts of what might have happened seriously diverge. Miguel Caballero argues that Lorca was taken away to Víznar to face the firing squad as early as 22.00 – 22.30 that night, which raises the question: what time did José Rosales get to see the poet? Whatever the exact time the transfer to Víznar was, they must have acted with lightning speed for Caballero’s time scale to be maintained, once Valdés had reassured Rosales that he would do what he could for Lorca in the light of the charges against him. Caballero’s main argument in support of the credibility of this rapid action was his conviction that those who wanted Lorca dead were afraid that the great influence of his father would thwart their plans again, as so often had happened in the past, and as is well documented in Caballero’s investigation.

Caballero’s version of events follows closely that of the Falangist journalist, Eduardo Molina Fajardo, just as its title deliberately echoes Molina Fajardo’s Los últimos días … (The Last Days ...) published in 1983. Perhaps it is time here to consider whether the left-leaning Ian Gibson let his opinion be swayed by his political sympathies. The seventeen-year-old Manuel Castilla Blanco apparently only narrowly escaped the firing squad himself, being reprieved so that he could work as gravedigger for other victims of the nationalist repression. These circumstances, if true, seem to make him a more credible witness than, say, Molina Fajardo, whose work in all likelihood was written to exonerate his Party the Falange from any guilt in this political crime.

Gibson, meanwhile, relies heavily on oral interviews with Angelina Cordobilla that took place three decades after the events by which time she was rather an old lady. According to her testimony, Lorca must have spent two nights in the Civil Government building. Was Gibson wise to have given so much credibility to her recollection of what was such a traumatic episode in her life? It is Angelina’s evidence that we will take another look at in the next part of our examination of the two hypotheses, Ian Gibson’s and Miguel Caballero’s.


1 Special police force created to deal with urban violence

^Highest political authority at a provincial level

* Verano del 36 en Granada. Un testimonio inédito sobre el comienzo de la guerra civil y la muerte de García Lorca. Granada: Atrio.2005.

+ El silencio de los Rosales

#José Luis Vila-San Juan. García Lorca asesinado, toda la verdad

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Review of Las 13 últimas horas ...

Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Thu, October 12, 2017 09:30:01

Who killed Lorca? Why? And where did they dump the body? is a review in three parts of Miguel Caballero’s investigation, Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca, into the poet’s assassination at the hands of right-wing nationalist extremists.

Part One takes issue with Caballero’s assertion that the killing was not politically motivated, but an act of personal revenge. Yet the political and personal were so intertwined at the time it is practically impossible to unravel them. The truth of the matter is that, although he would have liked to be seen as ‘unpolitical’, for the hard right in Granada Lorca was a ´red’ (a communist, or at least a Friend of Russia, - a communist sympathiser). As was virtually anyone who did not agree with them.

Part Two examines Caballero’s point that on the day of Lorca’s disappearance, 16 August 1936, the Civil Governor José Valdés Guzmán was being substituted by retired lieutenant general of the Guardia Civil Nicolás Velasco Simarro and it was this man who was ultimately responsible for what happened that day. My point is that Velasco and Valdés were the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the Civil Government: both pursued enemies of the Glorious Movement with equal vehemence and fanaticism. Lorca would have fared no better if Valdés had been in charge that day.

LEFT: Illustration of Tweedledum and Tweedledee for chapter 4 of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass published 1871, by John Tenniel. RIGHT: Matt Lucas’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Tim Burton’s 2010 film Alice in Wonderland.

Part Three deals largely with the part played by and the relationship between Juan Luis Trecastro and Ramón Ruiz Alonso, who played Pinky and Perky to Velasco and Valdés’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee. My conclusion is, and I feel it is backed up by Caballero`s meticulously assembled evidence, that some of those involved had personal reasons to pursue Lorca to his death, while others did not, but they all went about it with a similar and shared zeal and commitment to the reactionary nationalist cause, aiming to stamp out the freedoms and opportunities opened up by liberal republican democracy.

Trecastro and Ruiz Alonso. (Pinky and Perky were BBC TV puppet stars of the 1950s.)

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Who...? Why...? And where...?

Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Mon, October 09, 2017 19:54:10



In re-assessing the circumstances that led to the poet Federico García Lorca meeting his untimely end in front of a firing squad outside the village of Víznar, Granada, Miguel Caballero in his study Las trece últimas horas ...* argues that personal revenge rather than political antagonisms was the decisive factor behind the killing, and he identifies the poet’s cousin, Horacio Roldán, as the man who set the process in motion and to some extent at least steered the events to their end, remotely through his social and political networks. In particular, Roldán used his influence with Nicolás Velasco Simarro, acting Civil Governor on the day in question, to metaphorically slip the noose around the neck of his quarry.

If we accept the contention that Velasco was the prime mover in the disappearance of the poet, what of those who carried out the detention at the house of the Rosales? Here, Caballero’s thesis is that the man who has hitherto been seen as Lorca’s nemesis, Ramón Ruiz Alonso, was actually manipulated by Juan Luis Trescastro Medina, who was also present at the Rosales’s house from where Lorca was seized and who in fact provided the car in which they took their victim to the Civil Government building.

Trecastro had long been a member of the old Conservative Party and in 1931 he joined the newly founded and more militant Acción Popular, where he coincided with both Ruiz Alonso and Horacio Roldán (p109*). His relationship with Ruiz Alonso is particularly relevant. There seems to have been some sort of mutual admiration between the two, who had collaborated closely in the run-up to the November 1933 elections. The following year Ruiz Alonso chose Trecastro to be godfather to his second daughter.

26 years his senior and member of the Granada landowning bourgeoisie, with connections to some prominent families in Santa Fe on the Vega, Trecastro may have been held in awe by Ruiz Alonso, who, being a bit of an outsider, may have felt flattered by being taken under the wing of such a major pillar of local society. There is no doubt that Ruiz Alonso identified with the violent political language of the older man, while Trecastro appreciated the youthful activism of his protégé, who, while less tuned in to the strife and rivalry between landowning families on the Vega, was always keen to make an impression on his social superiors. Caballero, at least, is convinced of the dominant role played by Trecastro (left photo) in the events of 16 August 1936, even though Ruiz Alonso (right) was the more visible actor.

Many of the other key actors in the concatenation of events had no obvious family or personal connections to either side of the Roldán-García Rodríguez rivalry, either, but acted rather out of loyalty to like-minded political colleagues or superiors. This observation applies to Inspector Julio Romero Funes, the man at the Civil Government who gave Lieuenant Martínez Fajardo the order to transfer Lorca to Víznar; to Martínez Fajardo himself; and to José María Nestares Cuéllar, in command at Víznar; and even to the head of the firing squad, Mariano Anjenjo Moreno. One of Caballero’s major contributions to clarifying the events leading up to Lorca’s death is to spell out the shared political motivations of and frequent inter-connectedness between these men: many of them were old-shirts in the Falange, had experience of dealing out repression dating back to the time of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and would continue their practices throughout the Civil War and beyond; some had experience of the war in Morocco, where they practiced and perfected, Caballero suggests, their brutal merciless methods. None of these men show any qualms about the fate they are engineering for the poet. Nowhere is there any hint that Lorca might be being unjustly treated.

Barely a handful of actors in these events showed any remorse at all; one of those who did being prison guard Eduardo González Aurioles, who wept at his own impotence when he realised he was not in a position to intervene to save the poet’s life. Another was Juan Jiménez Cascales, chosen for the firing squad apparently because of his reputation as a marksman and not there for any ideological reasons: Although he stayed on the Víznar front for much of the Civil War, he managed to get out of firing squad duties, showing symptoms of being on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to the nature of what he was asked to do. The rest of the men involved went along with the inexorable process quite happily, regardless of their relationship – or lack of one - to the warring families.

Of the men making up the firing squad, however, there is one name that stands out as someone who had some reason to bear a personal grudge: that is Antonio Benavides Benavides, son of Emilio Benavides García and Adelaida Benavides Palacios and grandson of Francisco Benavides Peña and Emilia Palacios Ríos. This Emilia was the sister of Matilde Palacio, the first wife of Federico García Rodríguez, Lorca’s father. She died childless in 1894 after fourteen years of marriage. It was a classic marriage of convenience that Lorca’s father did rather well out of, during which time his farmlands on the Vega around Asquerosa were concentrated and extended significantly. Emilia had had to resort taking Lorca’s father to court to claim her full rights to her sister’s assets.

Antonio, then, was Matilde Palacios’s sister’s grandson; he was also cousin of José Benavides (Pepe el Romano), whose nephew was Horacio Roldán. It is not hard to picture how a feeling of resentment was built up between the three men directed at Lorca and his father’s social status and success, which seemed to come at their own families’ expense. This resentment was lived out by Antonio Benavides at Víznar in the early hours of August 17: ‘I fired two bullets into the poet’s fat head,’ he was reported to have boasted to his like-minded circle of friends, an expression echoed by Juan Luis Trecastro’s ‘I fired a bullet into the homo’s fat arse’ (p186), though Trecastro was I guess too much visibly part of Granada’s high bourgeoisie to have actually taken part in the killing itself.

All of this must have delighted Horacio when the news got back to him.

So there is no doubt that Caballero is right when he says there was a concatenation of causes that led to the poet’s death and that a significant number of these had their origin in inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries between a group of inter-related provincial dynasties on the Vega of Granada going back over half a century. This is a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Lorca’s death. But where he fails to convince is in his assertion that these localised disputes and rivalries were not grounded in the heightened political conflicts of the day, which in fact they almost certainly contributed to and fed on.

As a final footnote, the final question that Caballero was confident of being able to answer: ‘where is the body?’ The latest physical systematic search, based on Miguel Caballero’s investigation, drew another blank and was abandoned on 20 October last year, 2016. I refer you to my post: ‘No. They didn't find me’, dated 20 February 2017 [/].

The conclusion is that the body was dug up shortly after the killing and reburied elsewhere. This hypothesis corresponds with what Antonio Gallego Burín told Emilia Llanos Medina and she told investigator Agustín Penón in the mid-1950s: the shock waves caused by Lorca’s murder were such that his remains were secretly moved to a mass grave nearby to make it harder for them to be found and identified.


* Miguel Caballero Pérez. Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca. La Esfera de los libros. 2011. Page numbers refer to this publication.

The photographs are of:

Juan Luis Trescastro Medina, published in Granada Gráfica (March 1922, p28), so fourteen years before these events; reproduced by Gabriel Pozo Felguera in El Independiente de Granada, 19 March 2017

Ramón Ruiz Alonso, published in the IDEAL newspaper, 15 February 1936 [Hemeroteca Ideal] taken from a CEDA election poster

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Who...? Why ...? And where...?

Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Mon, October 02, 2017 16:38:00



Shortly after the nationalist uprising against the democratic republic of Spain, the poet Federico García Lorca was seized by the local authorities and disappeared. The circumstances around the disappearance are still unclear, though Miguel Caballero Pérez presents what he considers to be the definitive answers to these questions in Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca (The Last Thirteen Hours in the Life of Garcia Lorca), published in 2011.

His thesis is that there was ‘una concatenación de causas’ (p25*), a whole constellation of interrelated causes, which had their origin not in political differences but in inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries that had festered over half a century. At the heart of these disputes and rivalries Caballero identifies Lorca’s cousin, Horacio Roldán, who, he suggests, had reason enough to believe his own prospects in life had been obstructed by advantages and favours his cousin had enjoyed at his expense.

Horacio, Caballero’s argument goes, used his social and political networks to set off and direct the chain of events that ended with Lorca facing a firing squad on the roadside outside the village of Víznar on the morning of 17 August 1936.

Here we are going to examine some of Caballero’s arguments and evidence, starting with the man who he identifies as the linchpin in the concerted effort to destroy the poet: Civil Guard Lieutenant Colonel in retirement, Nicolás Velasco Simarro, who on the day of the poet’s arrest was substituting head of the Civil Government, José Valdés Guzmán (p38). Caballero assembles the evidence to convince us that it was Velasco Simarro who had the power, the opportunity and the motivation to engineer the physical elimination of the troublesome poet, Horacio Roldán’s socially favoured cousin.

Before discussing what it was he had against Lorca, Caballero goes almost out of his way to emphasise this man’s right-wing political convictions and the zeal with which he pursued anyone he considered to be an opponent, starting with the earliest days of his career in the Guardia Civil when he was active in the suppression of strike movements in Catalonia and later, in Zamora, receiving praise from King Alfonso XIII for his part in putting down several disturbances that were a threat to public order and endangered the higher common good of the nation (p41). Caballero also draws our attention to his presence in Malaga in 1918 when a demonstration of working women was violently suppressed by the Civil Guard (p42), resulting in four deaths, two of them women demonstrators.

Stationed in Granada from April 1930 [p44], Velasco Simarro continued his crusade against ´left ideology’ which he observed flourishing under the Republic, and his position in the Guardia Civil made it his business to get to know personally a number of its leaders and supporters (p40). Before his retirement from active service in December 1934, he had an opportunity to put this knowledge to use when workers in Granada took action in support of the Asturian miners’ October revolutionary strike. Although the situation in Granada was anything but revolutionary, Velasco arrested and imprisoned practically all the socialist and trade union leaders around as subversives and traitors to the fatherland. Caballero points out that the evidence provided against them was so weak that virtually all the arrested were released within a few days. But for Velasco the experience would serve as a rehearsal for what was to happen when the nationalists rose up against the Republic two years later (p61).

So much for manifestations of Velasco’s general right-wing political attitudes and commitment: What of his more personal vendetta against Lorca?

In this context, Caballero makes much of the offence that the Lieutenant Colonel might well have taken at the poet’s writings on the Civil Guard, an institution to which he had dedicated his life, in particular the poems Escena del teniente coronel de la Guardia Civil from the Poema del cante jondo, and his Romance de la Guardia Civil española.

The Romance draws on real events that occurred in the countryside around Jeréz de la Frontera in the summer of 1923 and presents a powerful depiction of the sinister menace of agents of the Civil Guard as they approach ‘the city of the gypsies’, and of the havoc they wreak there and leave behind. The more satirical Escena, which includes Canción del gitano paleado, surely alludes to an event from the beginning of 1919 when the poet and his artist friend Manuel Angles Ortiz witnessed the arrival in custody in Granada of two gypsies accused of killing a Civil Guard in Sierra Nevada .To say they had been beaten black and blue would be understatement. Ortiz fainted. Lorca wrote his Escena with the absurd lieutenant colonel and the beaten-up gypsy in 1925, being published in Poema del Cante Jondo in 1931.**

There is no doubt that these poetic attacks on the Guardia Civil ruffled some feathers in high places and there is little reason to believe that they left Lieutenant Colonel Velasco indifferent. It is worth remembering here that Lorca himself expressed his alarm to Antonio Otero Seco*** that he had been summoned to court to defend himself against legal proceedings being initiated by ‘a gentleman from Tarragona’ who took exception to the anti-Civil Guard sentiment of the said Romance. To think that the man had been carrying this resentment around with him locked away within his heart for all these years, conjectures the poet. This was early 1936 and Romancero Gitano had been published in 1928. The gentleman from Tarragona was hardly an isolated case.

Be that as it may, what for me more than anything else reveals the retired lieutenant colonel’s unconditional support for the Roldán clan and fellow despots on the Vega, and consequentially his opposition to the more liberal García Rodríguez (Lorca’s) family, was his response to the young Republic’s Agrarian Reform Law, which on paper at least provided some protection to land labourers from the arbitrary practices of local petty despots, especially in vulnerable Andalusia and Extremadura. This law had the effect of strengthening the bargaining position of workers’ organisations and was felt by the conservative landowning classes as intolerable government interference and a restriction on their natural right to exploit their lands and their workforce in any way they thought fit, and they resisted it wherever they could.

Landowners resisted the application of the law often with the connivance of the Guardia Civil, as in the case cited by Caballero in Pinos Puente (p47), on the Vega of Granada, where the Roldán clan and like-minded landowners used their influence with the local Civil Guard and the Mayor of Pinos Puente, in fact nothing more than a puppet politician put in place by the Roldáns (says Caballero). If not directly involved, Velasco Simarro certainly approved of these goings on, otherwise he would have felt obliged to act against such blatant and deliberate obstruction of the legal process on the part of one of his men.

In such cases it is truly difficult to separate the personal from the political; they merge almost seamlessly into each other. However, it seems clear that Velasco’s positioning himself on the side of the Roldán clan and against Lorca’s family, - this assertion based on Caballero’s own evidence and argument -, was as much politically motivated as due to personal or family ties and affections. That is to say, personal or family ties and affections tend to consolidate political attitudes and vice versa.

Besides, Caballero goes to some lengths to demonstrate that Velasco was substituting the regular Civil Governor, José Valdés Guzmán, on the day of Lorca’s disappearance and implies that he used Valdés’s absence to clear the way for the disappearance of the poet. Yet it seems very unlikely that Lorca’s fate would have been any different if Velasco’s superior had been in charge. Just two days before the incident at the Huerta de San Vicente referred to in Part 1, Valdés had actually visited the Roldán clan’s dominions at Asquerosa and if he had not encouraged it, he had certainly emboldened the local posse of men to take the action they did at the Huerta on 9 August.

Furthermore, Valdés and Horacio Roldán were neighbours at San Antón Street number 81, and had been close collaborators in organising the uprising of 18 July; and thirdly, Valdés, suspected by the central government of active participation in the planned uprising, had been recalled to Madrid a few weeks before, where he would have been, if his doctor, Eduardo López Font, another man related to the Roldáns, had not ordered a two-month period of convalescence, keeping him in Granada to lead the coup. Last but not least, another tie between Valdés and the Roldán family: Captain Antonio Fernández Sánchez, Valdés’s right-hand man at the Civil Government, was Horacio’s brother-in-law (p118/201). So we see that in fact Valdés had probably closer personal and family links to the Roldán clan and to Horacio in particular than Velasco did.

But again, let’s face it, Valdés hardly needed any such personal motivation in eliminating any person that might have been considered in any way hostile to his plans to bring down the Republic. His unrelenting cruelty was legendary, intensified it was reported by a chronic stomach ulcer he suffered from, and in April 1937 he was actually removed from his post because of his overzealous fulfilment of what he saw as his duty and for which he felt compelled to apologise to the citizens of Granada!. The threat issued on 13 August to impose heavy fines on anyone regardless of status seeking to intervene in favour of detainees of the Civil Government, such as Lorca just a few days later, was indicative of the sour-grapes attitude of the man in charge.

In Part 3, we will have a look at more of the actors in this ‘concatenation of events’ and see to what extent their personal dislike of the poet and his father played a motivating part in their actions, and whether the personal really did outweigh the political in these cases.


*Page numbers refer to Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca. La Esfera de los Libros, 2011

** Ian Gibson. Federico García Lorca: A Life. Faber & Faber, London, 1989. pp135-6

*** Federico García Lorca. Obras Completas 3. Prosa.Una conversación inédita ... (From a previously unpublished interview with Antonio Otero Seco). p 625

The photograph is by Eugene Smith (1918-1978), dated 1950, from:

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Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Fri, September 29, 2017 10:40:28


Shortly after the nationalist uprising against the democratic republic of Spain on 18 July 1936, the poet Federico García Lorca was seized by the local authorities and disappeared. He was taken to the nearby village of Víznar and shot. This killing was one among many and, as in many of the other cases, the circumstances around it are still unclear after eighty years, largely because the people involved refused to talk, lied, or forgot. Yet, Miguel Caballero Pérez seems confident to know the definitive answers to these unanswered questions as the bold title of his investigation findings Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca (The Last Thirteen Hours in the Life of Garcia Lorca), published in 2011, would suggest.

His thesis is that there was ‘una concatenación de causas’ (p25; note 1), a whole constellation of interrelated causes, which, he insists, had their origin not in political differences but in inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries that had festered over half a century. Lorca, himself, was unpolitical, he reminds us, with a circle of friends from a wide social and political spectrum. Having demonstrated the poet’s political neutrality, Caballero concludes that the real causes of his death (p27) need to be looked for on the Vega of Granada, where the economic and local political conflicts between his and rival families were played out.

Indeed, Granada-based composer and family friend Manuel de Falla is on record as saying Lorca's death was an act of personal revenge; he knew who was responsible, but his conscience forbade him me from revealing names. (2) Local flamenco artist, Rafael Amargo, was less discrete and happy to put it this bluntly: ‘Everyone knows it was his cousin who did it’.(3)

This is broadly speaking Caballero`s view, too. The main villain of the piece turns out to be cousin Horacio, son of Alejandro Roldán Benavides (p30), contemporary and rival of Lorca’s father, Federico García Rodriguez. Horacio had reason enough to believe his own prospects in life had been obstructed by advantages that their father had secured for his sons, Federico and Francisco, at his expense. Roldán Benavides had suffered socially and economically at the hands of Lorca’s father, being outmanoeuvred and outwitted in economic and business affairs time and again going back to the 1880s. Caballero points to how three important families rooted in Valderrubio (then Asquerosa) competed for economic supremacy and the expansion of the land they exploited, often involving complicated patterns of inter-marriage. The third of these families was the Alba family, famous for being a sort of model for Lorca’s late work La casa de Bernarda Alba, first published and performed years after the poet’s death but known among relevant sections of the local bourgeoisie though a public reading just a few days prior to the nationalist coup (p32). Not only was Bernarda supposedly recognisably based on Frasquita Alba, who had in fact died many years before the play was written, the character Pepe el Romano, secret suitor to two of the Alba daughters, was said to be modelled on José Benavides Peña, Horacio Roldán’s uncle, who was still very much alive.

José Benavides, along with nephew, Horacio, were two of the gang of men from Asquerosa on the Vega of Granada who turned up at the Huerta de San Vicente, the summer home where the poet’s family were intending to spend a couple of peaceful months together, accusing their housekeeper Gabriel Perea Ruiz of being involved in the killing of two local men on 20 July, possibly in skirmishes related to the uprising. This unwelcome visit occurred on 9 August and led to Lorca seeking refuge in the house of the Falange-supporting Rosales family, from where he was seized and disappeared a week later. Caballero makes the point that housekeeper Perea, having been carted off or questioning, was then promptly set free, having had nothing to do with crime; this episode at the Huerta was in all likelihood a show of strength put on for Lorca and his father.

Anyway, this episode at the Huerta gave a hint of what was to come; it was the first step in a chain of events that ended with Lorca facing a firing squad on the roadside outside the village of Víznar a week later.

So was then the poet’s death the consequence of family feuding, with little direct connection to the political landscape? Caballero’s detailed, minutious investigation contradicts his own thesis at almost every step. The political motivation of the identified actors comes across clearly on every page. For the truth of the matter is that, although Lorca constantly claimed to be unpolitical and would have liked to be everybody’s friend, his fame and his artistic success were inextricably tied up with the progressive forces of the Republic. As his brother Francisco said: ‘The atmosphere immediately preceding the Civil War had politicised all of Spain in one direction or the other. You had to take a stand and my brother Federico's, standpoint was very clear’, and he lists the evidence of Lorca’s commitment to the aims and ideas of the liberal Republic. (4)

So even if he didn’t want to be, Lorca was seen by the conservative nationalists as a ‘red’ (= communist), as was virtually anyone who did not subscribe to their reactionary views. And, while denying the poet’s political engagement, Caballero does concede that he did enjoy many of the freedoms offered by republican democracy, - and only by republican democracy, one might add.


Page numbers refer to Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca, published in 2011 by La Esfera de los Libros

José Mora Guarnido, Federico García Lorca y su mundo (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1958), p. 200.

For example in the documentary Lorca. El mar déjà de moverse.2006. Directed by Emilio R. Barrachina

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Lorca's breakthrough

Federico Garcia LorcaPosted by Simon Fri, June 09, 2017 19:10:27

Lorca fought with some determination to establish himself as a poet and found himself frustrated in his mid-twenties when his play Mariana Pineda ran into trouble with Primo de Rivero’s censorship. The end of the summer 1926 finds Lorca at an impasse. His father is angry with him for what he sees as the lack of direction in his son’s life, with little apparent promise of any artistic success. He threatens to put an end to his idle versifying. “Summer is coming to an end and I’m left stranded without the least sign of any start to my work as a dramatic poet in which I have so much faith and which would bring me such happiness,” he writes to the theatre empresario Eduardo Marquina in the hope that this man might yet rescue Mariana Pineda for him.

Such is his desperation that he begins to toy with the idea of getting a proper job. At the beginning of September, he writes to his friend Jorge Guillén that he has decided to do the exams for the Chair of Literature. He tries hard to convince himself that he has a vocation for the academic life. "Tell me what I have to do,” he asks Guillén, who has just been appointed to the Chair of Literature in Murcia. “Remember I'm neither intelligent nor hard-working. A lazy-bones!"

Guillén’s good humoured and humorous reply seems to be designed to put the aspiring poet off from embarking on any academic career. “First, you must read a lot”, he says. “Not only poetry and prose, but also all the books that have been written about those poetry and prose works. And you must make notes of what you have read.” “But that’s not half so bad,” he continues, “for then you need to keep a file so that you can find all the notes that you have written. As a first step, buy a box to file your notes. That will impress your father no end and show him you are serious about your new academic bent.”

Salvador Dalí, for his part, is equally scathing about his friend’s new-found academic ambition. “Dear Federico, you’re not going to do exams for anything,” (he wrote laconically). “Persuade your father to leave you in peace to publish your books, that is what will make you famous ... “

“If Mariana were to be performed, I would win over my father once and for all,” Lorca predicted. And indeed he was right. The success of Mariana Pineda, when it was performed in Barcelona in June 1927, combined with the publication of Canciones also in 1927, and then followed by the extraordinary success of the First Gypsy Ballad Book, published in 1928, marked the literary break-through Lorca was seeking and after that parental pressure let up. Lorca’s father came to accept his son's literary vocation, and the poet was spared further traumas of having to look for a proper job.

Final note: As with other books published in his lifetime, Lorca gave all his friends and family copies of The Gypsy Ballad Book with a dedication inside the front cover. In the copy he gave to his parents, and only in theirs, he added in brackets after his signature the word “poet”, a telling gesture, asserting his finally achieved independence as a creative writer.

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Ida Vitale - 2016 Winner

The Lorca PrizePosted by Simon Fri, June 09, 2017 18:58:43

The other night I was at the Lorca Centre to attend the prize-giving ceremony for the City of Granada-Federico García Lorca International Prize for Poetry, to give it its full title. The winner was a Uruguayan poet called Ida Vitale, at 93 the oldest award winner yet, a close contemporary of Mario Benedetti (1920-2009).

Choosing such an old woman might have seemed like a bit of a risk if it were not for the obvious vitality of the prize-winner. For the Prize organisers consider it absolutely crucial that the poet selected for the award be present at the official ceremony. This is because the whole occasion is set up to promote the city culturally, so when Blanca Varela (winner in 2006) was too unwell to attend, they decided henceforth to withhold the quite considerable prize money in the case of the winner not coming to collect it. Indeed, in 2011, the Cuban poet Fina García Marruz, aged 88 at the time, was also not well enough to attend, so I wonder if she had to forgo the cash prize? Sounds a bit hard, doesn’t it?

The average age of the prize-winning poets is now well over 80. This is because the Lorca Prize is expressly awarded in recognition of a poet’s entire life’s work. The idea is that the occasion will be of mutual benefit to both city and poet, in that on the one hand the poet’s established reputation is further enhanced by being associated with the city that was home to Andalusia’s greatest twentieth century poet (?), while the city is allowed to bask for a while in the fame and glory of that particular year’s prize-winner.

The City of Granada-Federico García Lorca International Prize for Poetry is a subject I have blogged on on a number of occasions previously, though not since September 2015. I have commented primarily on the advanced age of the award winners and secondly on the delicately maintained balance between Spanish and Latin American poets. Indeed, if we count Tomas Segovia as half Mexican and half Spanish (he was born in Valencia), six-and-a-half of the winners have been from the Iberian peninsula and six-and-a-half from America.

Another common denominator is winning the Reina Sofia before or after the Lorca. I think nine of the thirteen Lorcas have won both. While not wanting to talk of a ‘copycat’ syndrome, there is no doubt that the two prizes are fishing in the same waters.

And lastly, before Ida Vitale, only three of the winners had been lady poets. Member of council for culture Rosa Aguilar made use of her place on the podium to criticise this fact. The award going to Vitale is recognition of the value of poetry made by women, something said counsellor is keen to promote.

While not denying the great contribution made by these prestigious winners of a prestigious prize, I have to express some regret that the Lorca Prize is not granted in a rather more adventurous spirit. Thinking of the struggle it took Lorca to establish himself as a poet and win economic independence to pursue his chosen vocation, the idea of a Poetry Prize named after him seems like a good one. Lorca came close at one time to giving up and knuckling under, tempted to apply for a proper job to please his exasperated father, who saw no future in his son’s poetic bent and lack of conventional professional ambition. (See my following post.) A little formal recognition at the beginning of his literary career in the form of a cash award would have helped him on his way and relieved him of some years’ anxiety and freed him from an at times humiliating dependence on his father.

The City of Granada International Poetry Prize, however, is not that kind of award. Worth 30,000 Euros (reduced from 50,000 when times got hard and money short during the Crisis), the city is not interested in taking risks and seeks its winners exclusively among well established poets who in return for the dosh can lend the city something of their achieved acclaim and glory.

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