From his earliest days, Lorca was keenly aware of social injustice, inequality and the suffering of the poor “from the deepest roots of his generous condition”. (We have this from his brother, Francisco.) Nevertheless, in spite of his sensitivity to social evils, Federico was never a political activist. Even though Fernando de los Ríos, who was one, befriended him early on, the poet never belonged to the dedicated group of student followers that the Professor of Law won at the University of Granada in those years after his appointment in 1911.
When Spain’s political and economic crisis reached its climax in Granada on 11 February 1919, with a demonstration of students throwing stones at the house of the Mayor, Felipe La Chica, and three citizens getting shot dead, Lorca locked himself in his room for the duration of the disturbances and refused even to look out from his balcony, where demonstrations took place daily right in front of his flat, in the Acera del Casino, close to Puerta Real*. (This is from his friend, the painter Manuel Angeles Ortiz.) “I frequently went to Federico’s place to keep him informed of the latest events, for during the two weeks that the incidents lasted, he never left the flat.” Any kind of violence went against his sensitive nature, concludes the painter.
Lorca’s caution was perhaps not so excessive, when one considers that one of the three fatalities on that fateful February day was Josefa González, a young housewife, who was hit by a stray bullet fired from nearby Plaza del Carmen while she was in the interior of her parents’ home in calle (street) Reyes Católicos, on the corner of calle Mariana Pineda*. In fact, only one of the three victims of the Guardia Civil’s repression of that day’s student demo was actually taking part in the protest. He was local medical student Ramón Ruiz de Peralta, shot in the head by a zealous Guardia Civil agent. The third casualty was railway worker, Ramón Gómez, father of a seven-year-old girl, who just happened to be passing by the puente del Carbón* (calle Reyes Católicos) when he was killed.
Tangible outcomes resulting from these deaths were a minor shake-up in the corrupt electoral system and Fernando de los Ríos’s commitment to socialism, joining the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and getting elected to the Spanish Parliament in June that same year.
The protests were directed against corruption in the municipal administration and most specifically at the liberal “cacique” (despot) Felipe La Chica whose turn it was to be in office. “Caciquismo” was still rife in Granada, with conservative and liberal politicians conniving to rig election results, dividing up sinecures and influential public posts between them, raiding the municipal coffers to their own benefit, and aided and abetted by corrupt civil servants who wholeheartedly joined in the graft by falsifying official documents, including voting lists and election returns. All of this occurred against a backcloth of economic crisis and poverty, hardship and want for the mass of the population.
There is little trace of these events and circumstances being reflected directly in the works of the poet. Nonetheless, Lorca was not indifferent to what happened and we find his name in a list of signatories to a telegram of protest from the Centro Artístico addressed to the President of the Council of Ministers which was published in the Gazeta del Sur on 15 February. The telegram, while ostensibly trying to avoid taking sides in the political struggle, condemned and protested energetically against the violence of the suppressive measures while taking a clearly critical position vis-à-vis the practices of local despotism and calling for the resignation of La Chica, who was indeed subsequently suspended from office.
* See the forthcoming blog for an outline of the location of these places: Acera del Casino, Puerta Real, Plaza del Carmen, calle Reyes Católicos, calle Mariana Pineda,and Puente del Carbón.
Acknowlwdgements to: José Luis Delgado, Granada Hoy, 10 Feb 2019 https://www.granadahoy.com/granada/ayer-hoy-Delgado-Granada-muertos-huelga-estudiantes_0_1326767749.html