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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

Killing a poet, 4

Lorca disappearing and deathPosted by Simon Mon, June 25, 2018 09:26:26

This is the fourth and final part of my reappraisal of the events relating to the killing of the great twentieth century Spanish poet, written in the light of the reissuing of Ian Gibson’s El asesinato de García Lorca to include the latest and up-to-date evidence. Part One considered the detention at the house of the Rosales family. Part Two dealt with the time that the poet was held in the Civil Government building in la calle Duquesa. Part Three was about Lorca’s arrival in Viznar, and this final part will talk about the actual cold-blooded shooting.

PART FOUR: The Killing

Miguel Caballero (Las 13 últimas horas...) calls into question the evidence of Manuel Castilla, ‘Manolo the Communist’, the gravedigger who led first Penón and later Gibson to the spot close to where the monolith in memory of Lorca and all the victims of the nationalist repression stands today. The seventeen-year-old Manuel Castilla Blanco, who apparently only narrowly escaped the firing squad himself thanks to his appointment as gravedigger, 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 a political activist. But when an attempted exhumation in 2009 revealed that Lorca’s corpse was not and never could have been in that spot, the veracity of his evidence was put in doubt.

Manolo signed a sworn declaration, presumably under duress, that he had not been present at the burial of the poet, not having started his gravedigging duties at Víznar until 21 August (Gibson page 220), but we know that Nestares, embarrassed by questions about the events of that particular moonless August night, events that were classified as top secret, gathered his team together to school them on the ‘facts’, as Emilio Moreno Olmedo reported to Fajardo Molina, to make sure nobody strayed from ‘the truth’. See //, dated 9 November 2017. His official paperwork relating to the events of that night also shows signs of having been doctored, with the observation of three people being brought from Granada (Lorca, Gadalí and Cabezas) amended to ‘five’, to include a couple of petty communist-criminals and possibly a villain nicknamed ‘el Terrible’. So when, in a recorded interview on 24 August 1978 (page 390), Castilla insists that the people buried that night were ‘the teacher from Pulianas’, Galadí, Cabezas, and Lorca, and nobody else apart from these four’ (page 219), he is deliberately contradicting Nestares’s clumsy attempt at falsifying the evidence, clearly less inhibited now that Franco and Nestares are dead, democracy restored, and the new Spanish constitution in the throes of being born.

On the other hand, Gibson quotes Gabriel Pozo as hearing from Manolo himself that he tricked both Penón and Gibson, having arrived after the killing. (Page 299.) Caballero goes as far as to say it was well into September when he started his grave-digging duties. Elsewhere, it is claimed that Castilla was recorded by Gibson himself as giving himself away saying ‘this is where they say he was buried’. However, Gibson, in his latest work, does not mention this.

Did Manolo the Communist lie, to take advantage of the foreign investigators, or did he make a mistake? It was twenty years after the event that he, apparently fearfully and 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. In a similar way to Angelina Cordobilla’s increasingly confident account of her second visit to the Gobierno Civil that we now think did not take place. Anyway, physically present or not on the night of the atrocity, Castill’a evidence has a great deal of truth value for his gravedigging experience and his proximity in place and time to the event.

When did the killing take place, and who took part?

Caballero’s argument that the killing took place not later than 4am on the 17th loses its force once we accept the evidence that Lorca in fact arrived in Víznar on the night of the 17/18th and was shot at dawn. At 4.45 according to Wikipedia.

Gibson doesn’t have much to say about the actual composition of the firing squad and refers us to Caballero’s investigation. (Page 218/389.) In this respect, the Falangist guard Pedro Cuesta Hernández, who had to take part in the killing, is an important witness and seems to be fairly reliable. His list of participants includes Juan Luis Trecastro, the Security Guard Antonio González Villegas, who later extorted money out of the poet’s father (page 233), and his fellow Black Squad member ‘the Baker’ (Eduardo López Peso), as well as Antonio Benavides Benavides, the man who Caballero demonstrates bore a grudge against the victim and who was to boast of his part in the murder. ‘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 mimicked with an even cruder twist by Juan Luis Trecastro’s ‘I fired a bullet into the homo’s fat arse’. See //, dated 9 October 2017

Trecastro played a prominent role in the detention of the poet and was an intimate associate of Ramón Ruiz Alonso, who we know drew up the charges that led to Lorca’s arrest. He had a reputation as a braggart and his involvement with the black squads was common knowledge in certain circles. Although he toned down his boastings later on, he was for a while proud to be seen as an active member of the firing squad that eliminated the privileged red homo poet. Gibson, at least, is convinced he was physically there. (Page 229.)

Testimony of Lorca’s last moments comes from José Navarro Pardo who tells how he learnt from the driver who had brought Lorca to Viznar’ (a man called Arenas) that the victim survived the first salvo of shots. (Page 218.) Elsewhere, this account is confirmed by Manuel López-Banús, who says Cuesta himself related how, after the initial salvo, Lorca got to his knees and said ‘I’m still alive’ and had to be put out of his misery with a fresh barrage of shots. This may well be the occasion on which Antonio Benavides fired two bullets into the victim’s head.
Below: 1. Lorca Memorial Park on the road between Víznar and Alfacar; 2. The pine grove and the acequia running from Aynadamar, opposite the Memorial Park

POSTSCRIPT: So, by way of conclusion, what do I think happened?

The detention proceeded more or less as described by Miguel Rosales with Lorca being taken to the Civil Government in the late afternoon of the 16th. But he was kept in custody until Valdés was able to get the go-ahead for the killing from Queipo de Llano. On the night of the 17/18th he was transferred to Víznar along with the anarchist bullfighters Gadalí and Cabezas, and possibly schoolmaster Diáscoro Galindo. Then all four were held in the the improvised prison known as ‘The Colony’, until the official firing squad and an unknown number of black squad members arrived from Granada. Then the killing went off more or less as Cuesta described it, plus Benavides´s credible addendum.”

There was a whole constellation of interrelated causes which contributed to the killing of Granada’s outstanding poet. 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. Even the localised inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries that Caballero points out had been festering for half a century and which for him are the main factors leading to the killing were in fact grounded in the heightened political conflicts of the day. Those disputes and rivalries contributed to and fed on the political conflicts in equal measure. Ultimately, I go with Gibson and Lorca’s brother Francisco, who 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, which we also find listed in Gibson’s first chapter.

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