4th Historical Memory Cycle Ride: Pistolerismo in Zaragoza, 1920-1923

On behalf of the CGT and with support from Pedalea and Las Bieles, Kike Garcia narrated an ‘historical memory’ cycle ride through Zaragoza this November, focusing on the dark years of the gunmen in the city.

Following the CNT victory in the La Canadiense strike both the authorities and the employers were frightened as they observed the upsurge in the libertarian movement and its winning of its demands. It called for an organised response and that response was about to be organised on three foundations: the Employers’ Federation would take care on the first step by orchestrating a lock-out, shutting down the factories in response to demands relating to pay and conditions. Step two was to take the form of direct violence against union leaders. Police superintendent Bravo Portillo’s ‘Banda Negra’ and later on the Sindicato Libre would act as the employers’ armed wing in attacking and murdering anarchist leaders, with funding coming from the employers who were to pay a bounty of 3,000 pesetas for every syndicalist killed. Step three would be the operations of the state – Barcelona’s Civil Governor General Martínez Anido “the butcher” and Chief Superintendent of Police Arlegui provided legal cover for the gunmen from the Sindicato Libre, issuing them with cards that enabled them to move freely throughout the city; those two sinister individuals even ventured to inflict savage torture on several detainees. Finally, the ley de fugas passed by prime minister Eduardo Dato afforded lawful cover for extra-judicial killings. In the face of this orchestrated violence, the anarchists organised themselves into small affinity groups to retaliate against the violence. The upshot of that 4 year tussle, 1919-1923, was that upwards of 400 workers were murdered by 70 employers, pistoleros from the Libre or police officers …

Zaragoza was directly impacted over that time. When Martínez Anido was on his way to Barcelona to take up his appointment he had stopped off in Zaragoza railway station on 11 November 1929 for a meeting with the governor of Zaragoza, the Conde Coelho; in fact Martínez Anido was awarded extraordinary authority to operate also in Zaragoza.

Zaragoza witnessed almost 30 fatalities, 129 social offences and countless strikes and demonstrations during 1920-1923. 1920 was exceptionally violent and even though there are no official figures recorded it looks like there were at least 3 anarchist affinity groups resorting to spectacular violence; those groups were ‘Los Indomables’, ‘La Voluntad’ and ‘Via Libre’. They faced an employer lock-out, the banning of trade union activity and the murder of libertarian activists.

1920 opened with an attempted revolt in the El Carmen barracks by a group of soldiers led by the anarchist Ángel Chueca; their efforts ended with over 12 dead, including Ángel Chueca and 9 of the mutinous troops.

The first stop on the cycle tour was the Santa Lucía monastery where, on 20 May 1922, the Civil Guard opened fire at 3 young men whom they felt were suspicious; one of these 3, Félix Guerrero Monje, was killed on the spot. The newspapers reports are very contradictory and the incident is still surrounded by a lot of doubts.

The second stop was in the Calle Democracia (as it was back then; these days it is the Calle Predicadores) where a gang of anarchists fired at the editor in chief of El Heraldo de Aragón, Antonio Gutiérrez, for having sounded the alert during the El Carmen barracks revolt. Francisco Bezoño and Francisco Ascaso were arrested in connection with this shooting and spent 2 years in custody before being acquitted. Gutiérrez was to die a few months after it, from his wounds.

Stop No 3 was at the Oasis Hall, formerly the Royal Concert hall. During the waiters’ strike in 1920 which brought all work to a standstill between February and June there were outrages and bomb attacks … claiming three lives. The first fatality was Carlos Rodrigavarez, killed by a bomb that he was transporting. On 16 April, as he was leaving work, the strike-breaker Agustín Flaños came under fire with a friend, Ángel Romero, from three persons who left three berets behind at the scene, one with blood stains and the other two unmarked.

The next stop was in the Plaza Sinues where the general secretary of the CNT Woodworkers’ Union, the young Francisco Navarro, was murdered in 1923 by members of the Sindicato Libre. Among those arrested as a result was the Sindico Libre’s José Pons; even though found in possession of a pistol with an empty clip, he was released by the authorities.

Arrival in the Plaza San Bruno brought us back to 1922; there, 3 individuals put three bullets into the head of Pablo López y López aka el Madriles, an anarchist from Cuenca, killing him. No one was convicted of his murder.

The next stop was in the Parque Bruil where the story was told of two outstanding events: the October 1920 murder of the entrepreneur Hilario Pérez on the steps of his home at Calle Miguel Servet, No 64, to which the employers replied with a lock-out; and the hold-up carried out under the Primo de Rivera dictatorship in 1927, in which a child was killed in crossfire and three young men were arrested (2 of them anarchists). They were to end up garrotted despite pleas for clemency made by the child’s own mother, the mayor of Zaragoza, etc. Three perished. One got away and nothing more was ever heard of him. The three executed were Emeterio Molina, Ansaldo Bernard and Ignacio Páez.

The final stop was in the Plaza de la Madalena where the entrepreneur Hilario Bernal, notorious for having sacked all his CNT employees and for cracking down on all labour demands, was shot and seriously wounded by a gang of anarchists connected with ‘Los Justicieros’. Ramón Sancho Gil from Gijón, Benito González Fernández from Logroño and Cristóbal Aldabaldetrecu from San Sebastián were arrested. Years later Cristóbal was to confirm in his memoirs that they had not been the perpetrators, the perpetrators having been arrested whilst preparing an attack on governor Coelho.

Just another year in the effort to recover Zaragoza’s historical memory.

From: Rojo y Negro, 20 November 2016. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.