A Short Outline of Francoist Repression of the CNT in Tenerife (1936-1937)

Few know the story of what happened in the Canary Islands. The civil war history books make scarcely any reference to what happened in the islands beyond mentioning that Franco was general commanding in the Canaries and that it was from there that he was flown by Dragon Rapide to Spanish Morocco. Thus, the instances of resistance in most of the islands are ignored or underplayed: in the case of La Palma, control was seized and held for a week by those still loyal to the Republic (this is known as “Red Week”) without a single instance of violence being used against rightwingers and the like. The very opposite of what was to follow in a ferocious bloody repression which it is estimated cost the Canaries upwards of 3,000 dead and disappeared.

In Tenerife where the CNT was stronger, clashes on 18 July 1936 carried over into harrying actions carried out against military and fascist patrols over the ensuing days, more significant operations being ruled out by the lack of arms available to the workers (here again the civil governor refused to arm them). In spite of this, the determination to fight fascism lingered in the form of incitement to rebellion in pamphlets distributed in some of the barracks and as plans were drawn up for operations designed to wrest back control of the cities, etc. And of course there was the upkeep of a network of contacts so essential for those fleeing the repression and in need of succour until they could get off the island, something in which – in most cases – they failed.

The jails were filling with men and women so the machinery of repression had to “commandeer” new ones such as the Fyffes plant, vessels belonging to a fruit company in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or prison ships such as four ramshackle vessels [ the Santa Rosa de Lima, the Santa Elena, the Gomera and the Adeje] that were soon crammed with republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists and anybody who was, or was thought to be, hostile towards the “Nationalist Uprising”.

Prisoners were removed in batches to destinations unknown, often to a tragic end. In the dead of night they were taken to such beauty spots as Las Cañales del Teide where they were shot. Or the killers would dump their human cargo overboard from small boats into the sea, tied into sacks and weighed down by stones; these the Francoist bureaucracy registered as “missing”, not giving a damn about the families who were thereby denied knowledge of the fate of their loved ones or the location of their bodies. Maybe they were the lucky ones, for we now know what sort of justice was dispensed by the courts martial that tried male and female prisoners denied the opportunity to defend themselves and ignorant of the charges against them. Following some “softening-up sessions” of torture and harasssment, more than one of them was driven to suicide.

One such hearing, of Case No 246 (1936) resulted, first, in the shooting on 23 January 1937, of 19 militants from the CNT; a total of 63 people were indicted and faced a range of sentences, which included 21 death sentences, resulting in the loss of 19 lives [José Alonso Pérez, Marcos Baez Afonso, Tomás Cabrera Vera, Modesto Carballo Sosa, José Carreño Hernández, Pedro Carreño Hernández, Domingo Dieppa García, Miguel González Gutiérrez, Teresol Guerra Ortega, Jorge Hernández Mora, Francisco Infante Díaz, José Martín Herrero, Feliciano Pérez Jorge, Ginés Ramírez Bacindo, Francisco Reyes Martín, Tomás Rodríguez Benítez, Casimiro Romero Velázquez, Vicente Talavera Pacha and Miguel Varea Serrano] after the death sentences on two women – Carmen Goya Hernández and María Luisa Hernández Ramón – were commuted. Later, in relation to the same case, a further 5 people [Rafael Fajardo Peraza, Zoilo Afonso Campos, Enrique Villaverde Plasencia, Néstor Mendoza Santos and Rodrigo Coello Martín] were shot on 6 March 1937, the dead including Rodrigo Coello Martín, the secretary of the CNT’s regional committee who had been in that post since May 1936.

The “CNT 19” is how the people of Tenerife refer to the young workers (the oldest of them 41 years old) who perished before fascist gunmen in the Barranco del Hierro Battery, additions to a blood-stained list that already included, among many another, men like Manuel Marrero Mendoza (Bakers’ Union – tortured to death in August 1936 in the Provincial Prison in Santa Cruz de Tenerife), Paulino Hernández Hernández (Transport Union – shot on 18 September 1936), Francisco Sosa Castilla (Tenants’ Union – shot on 13 October 1936), or Martín Serasols Treserras aka El Catalán (a member of the FAI and of the Confederal Defence Committee (shot on 10 January 1937).

From: [adapted] from CNT (Madrid) No 331, February 2007 . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.