CABALLERO VERSUS GIBSON: THIRTEEN HOURS, OR TWO AND A HALF DAYS??
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.
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
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 https://elpais.com/diario/2001/04/22/andalucia/987891748_850215.html
#José Luis Vila-San Juan. García Lorca asesinado, toda la verdad