The attack on Spain’s embassy in Genoa in 1949

In the Libertarian Movement’s battle against the Franco regime, 1949 stands out as one of the bloodiest of years, with large numbers of its tried and tested fighters being ruthlessly eliminated. The systematic slaughter had begun back in 1947 and 1948, with the killing of, among others, Antonio López and Diego Franco Cazorla (“Amador Franco”) who were shot in San Sebastian, and of Raúl Carballeira Lacunza and Ramón González Sanmarti who were gunned down in Barcelona.

Although our list may not be exhaustive, the fatalities of 1949 had a tremendous impact upon the urban guerrilla groups as well as on the groups operating in the sierras in Aragon and Andalusia, not to mention other regions which would take too long to list.

As we said, the year opened with the January court martial that passed sentence of death upon two Aragonese guerrillas: Justiniano Garcia (“El Macho”) and Pedro Acosta Cánovas (“El Chaval”), both of them natives of Utrillas (Teruel). They were executed in Zaragoza on 22 March.

On 9 March, following a gun-battle with the security forces, the Galician José López Penedo was wounded and arrested in Torrasa: he faced a firing squad in Barcelona on 4 February 1950, alongside 31 year old Carlos Vidal Pasanau, Saturnino Culebras Saiz and Manuel Sabaté Llopart, all of whom had been captured in 1949.

Miguel Barba Moncayo (“Reyes”), had scarcely been released from prison after arrest in 1947 before he was murdered in cold blood by the police on 11 March 1949 in his own home.

In mid-May 1949, a team of ten guerrillas entered Spain via the province of Huesca. Eight of them lost their lives: Fabián Nuez Quiles (36), Rogelio Burillo Esteban (35) and Jorge Camón Biel (35) were gunned down while trying to cross the Ebro river near Alborge (Huesca). Within days of that, the other members of the party were captured and five were shot in Zaragoza on 8 May 1950 – Manuel Llovet Isidro (43), José Capdevila Ferrer (29), Manuel Ródenas Valero (31), Alfredo Carvera Cañizares (37) and Roger Ramos Rodriguez (30). The other two who survived served 20 years in prison.

In July, another 11-man guerrilla team, again from France, lost Aurelio Marti (24) and Antonio Ribera (30) in Huesca province.

In September the Italian libertarian Helios Ziglioli (21) died in an ambush laid by the Civil Guard in Barcelona province.

In October, the long list of libertarian militants who perished in the manhunt unleashed by Francoism included, in Barcelona alone: Luciano Alpuente, José Sabaté Llopart, Julio Rodriguez Fernández, Juan Serrano, Arquimedes Serrano Ovejas, Victor Espallargas, José Luis Barrao and Francisco Martinez Márquez. Many more were arrested and quite a number shot, as in the cases of José Pérez Pedrero, Pedro Adrover Font, Jorge Pons Argiles, Santiago Amir Gruañas, Cinés Urrea Piña, not to mention the aforementioned persons executed alongside José López Penedo.

11 November saw the arrest in Barcelona province of 47 year old Juan Vilella (“Moreno”), José Bartobillo (25), José Puertas (47) and the brothers Miguel and Jaime Guitó: within days every one of them had been murdered in the open countryside.

As if that was not enough, on 22 December another action group crossed the border en route to Barcelona: this was the “Los Maños” group: Wenceslao Jiménez Orive was gunned down in the street on 9 January 1950, and another two members of the group, Simón Gracia Flerigan and Plácido Ortiz Gratal were arrested the same day: both were shot on 24 December 1950.

To cap this slaughter in 1949, the legendary guerrillas Barnabé López Calle and Juan Ruiz Hercano perished in the mountains around Cadiz on 30 December.

Naturally the slaughter persisted into 1950. Here we will cite only the guerrillas Pedro Vargas Valverde (“Castellanot”) aged 32, and Juan Subinya Heras (39) who were gunned down in Gerona in March.

Many of the names given here were never made public in the exile community, perhaps to avoid discouraging other volunteers destined to meet the same fate.

Events in Catalonia, which, being a border region and consistently the stomping ground of comrades committed to the anti-Franco struggle, could scarcely be hushed up completely had enormous repercussions abroad.

One of the signs of protest, the most sensational one perhaps, took place in Genoa (Italy) where a trio of young Italian libertarians attacked the Francoist consular representative.

On Tuesday 8 November 1949, around noon, three Italian anarchists – Eugenio De Lucchi (21), Gaspare Mancuso (26) and Gaetano Busico (25) – showed up at the Spanish Consulate at No 3, Via Brigata Liguria.

Busico was carrying a Beretta pistol and, in a leather attaché case, a Sipel German bomb, complete with wooden throwing handle. Mancuso had a 7.65 calibre pistol and a bottle of petroleum: De Lucchi had a snub-nosed 9mm Beretta.

The trio ascended to the first floor after offering the doorman a plausible excuse for their presence. Busico led the way into the offices, followed by De Lucchi with Mancuso bringing up the rear. In the waiting room they found a total of fifteen people, with the staff and members of the public. Brandishing their guns they told people not to be afraid, that their interest was in the Spanish consul only. Whilst Busico and De Lucchi kept everyone at bay, Mancuso, having cut the telephone lines, made for the consul’s office. There was no one there of course: so he stacked some papers and items of furniture on the ground and doused them with petrol.

The consul, Juan Teixidor Sanchez, was out: apparently he had gone to a reception held by the Italia shipping line aboard the steamer Conte Biancamano.

While Mancuso was busy with his mission, Busico arrived to check that the consul was missing: he was able to vent his feelings only on a portrait of General Franco which he smashed to smithereens. Then he opened the window where the Falangist symbol and the red and yellow flag hung: he ripped them both down and ran up the red and black flag with the motto “Neither God nor Master” – the flag of the old militants of the Genoese Anarchist Federation.

Mancuso and Busico returned to the waiting room and having warned people what they were about to do, lest they take fright, Busico threw his grenade into the consul’s office which lay at the end of a long corridor. The grenade exploded and Busico went to inspect the damage and set fire to the papers previously doused with petrol.

Within minutes everyone was out of the Consulate: De Lucchi was mingling with the others, then out came Mancuso and Busico who had wanted, before leaving, to check that no one had been left behind in the place. As he was coming down the stairs, he met the doorman who attempted to lock the door to the street. Busico had to threaten him at gunpoint to get out.

From that point on things took a turn for the worse. De Lucchi, still overcome with excitement, stepped into the street still brandishing his gun and was quickly arrested. On reaching the street, Mancuso took a sharp left and blended in with the passers-by, whereas Busico had set off in the opposite direction.

Before getting away, Mancuso had looked up to see the black part of the flag bearing the subversive motto fluttering in the breeze and plainly visible. He boarded a tram at the corner of the Via Brigata Liguria and made his way to his sister’s place, where he had a bite to eat, shaved and then headed for the hills to wait until darkness fell. At around 5.00 pm, he bought a copy of Il Mercantile in the street the consulate was in. There he could read the first reports of the attack before going off to talk to some comrades, only to learn from them that De Lucchi had been picked up and was being held for questioning in the Carabinieri barracks near the consulate. There was no word of Busico. To set his mind at rest, Mancuso caught the first train for Carrara, where his friend had his home, and he arrived in the city of marble quarriers late that night. He was told at the Anarchist Federation premises that the Carabinieri had already called there as part of their inquiries into the attack in Genoa.

But Busico had not left Genoa at all and whilst Mancuso was making for Liorna in the car of a friend from Carrara, Busico spontaneously gave himself up to the police to shoulder his part of the blame with De Lucchi.

Mancuso stayed in Liorna a month before crossing the border into France at Ventimiglia with a friend. In Menton, they both took a taxi to Nice and travelled on to Marseilles by train. After a few days, Mancuso moved on to Paris to wait for a date to be set for the trial.

Whilst the police were trying to trace Mancuso, the Genoa press (Il Corriere Ligure, Il Lavoro Nuovo, Il Corriere del Popolo and Il Nuovo Cittadino) carried a statement from the Ligurian Anarchist Federation, signed by Vincenzo Toccafondo:

“In response to the repression mounted against the Spanish anarchists who express in the martyred Spain their burning desire that the whole of the people should enjoy freedom, three young anarchists have mounted a token operation against the Spanish consulate. Anarchist ideology holds that every individual should act on his own initiative. This should be well understood by any who might be straining to uncover some supposed conspiracy.

Statements from the arrested young anarchists bear out what we have just pointed out. However, the Ligurian Anarchist Federation expresses its own utter solidarity with these youngsters who, by sacrificing their liberty, sought to make a stand against the Francoist dictatorship.”

In consequence of this statement, Vincenzo Toccafondo, one of the oldest and most active propagandists of the Federation, was charged, along with the material authors of the attack, and tried alongside them on charges of making an apology for the offence.

The headquarters of the Genoa Anarchist Groups at No 2, Via Saluzzo, was subjected to a search by police and anti-militarist manifestoes, some copies of the Ligurian young anarchists’ magazine Inquietudine, a copier and sundry propaganda materials were seized.

Once a date had been set for the trial, Gaspare Mancuso gave himself up on 5 April 1950 to the Italian authorities at the border post at Ventimiglia in order to share his friends’ fate. He rejoined them in the Marassi prison in Genoa. The popularity the prisoners had won through their anti-Franco demonstration meant that all three were placed in the same cell.

De Lucchi, Mancuso, Busico and Toccafondo appeared before a Genoese magistrate on 1 June 1950, but the court found that it did not have jurisdiction and the case was moved up to the Criminal Court.

In the end, when the case was heard on 13 and 15 November, it turned into a monster demonstration against Franco. The following were called to offer evidence in mitigation: Federica Montseny Mane; Franco Venturi, a PhD and historian of modern art who had been a prisoner in Spain in 1940-1941; Giaele Franchini, the widow of Mario Angeloni, the first commander of the Italian Section of the Francisco Ascaso Column (CNT-FAI) up until his death at Monte Pelado (Huesca) in the unit’s first action on 28 August 1936; Marcello Bianconi, of the Ligurian Anarchist Federation, who had also served in the Ascaso Coloumn; Pier Carlo Masini, publicist and outstanding propagandist of anarchist ideas in Italy, an eminent historian whose articles and lectures assisted the campaign begun on behalf of the anarchists and the Spanish people after 1945; Aldo Garosci, writer and prestigious journalist: his participation in the defence of the accused made a substantial contribution to turning the proceedings into an arraignment against Franco and his regime. A moving letter was also read out from the writer Carlo Levi, who was unable to attend in person. One of the witnesses who caused a huge sensation was the engineer Gino Bibbi, an anarchist from Carrara, for his name had frequently hit the headlines under Mussolini and he was regarded as the brains behind an attempt on the Duce’s life by the young Gino Lucetti in Rome on 11 September 1926.

The defence counsel – Tommaso Pedio, Massimo Punzo, Giuseppe Macchiavelli, Gian Barrista Brubetti, Giuliano Vasalli and Ernesto Monteverde – placed the Franco regime in the dock as a disgrace to humanity with their brilliant reports.

In short, all three perpetrators plus Toccafondo were discharged.

It is worth pointing out that the trial had a lot more impact than the actual attack.

The trial also brought to light a new and unexpected stance on the part of the judiciary: faced with the dilemma of obeying the dictates of the human conscience or acting as apologists for the totalitarian regime bleeding Spain white, they opted to defer to the first categorical imperative and, in their judgement, they acknowledged the high moral and social significance of the act perpetrated as a fully extenuating circumstance. Nothing like that had ever been heard before in Italy!

That the verdict on the perpetrators was a one-off is beyond question, but whereas the actual authors of the attack were set free, there was the absurd circumstance that the Italians Ivan Aiati, Alfonso Failla and Gigi Damiani were tried in Court No 11 of the Palace of Justice in Rome, on charges of making the case for the crime through their spirited defence of the three accused in the columns of Umanita Nova. Damiani and Aiati were sentenced to 8 months in prison and Failla was found not guilty. The previous month, another Italian comrade, Umberto Marzocchi, another veteran of the Ascaso Column in the civil war, had been absolved when he was tried on the same charges.

From: Polémica No 58, July-Sept 1995.. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.