WHO KILLED LORCA? AND WHY? AND WHERE DID THEY DUMP THE BODY?
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: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/guardia-civil