WHO KILLED LORCA? AND WHY? AND WHERE DID THEY DUMP THE BODY?
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.
NOTESPage 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