Back in the days when your name might bring you to grief

Start of the 1960s. José Luis Pascual Palacios was working in the metalworking sector. Born in 1924 in Alfaro in La Rioja, the world capital of swallows. All unsuspected by José Luis, his life was about to take an unexpected and grisly turn.

From comrades and friends, he found out about job opportunities (at rates of pay that would not stand comparison with Spanish wages) in Holland. So, having mulled it over quietly, and weighed up the pros and cons, he made his decision. He was about to become just one more of the three million Spaniards who succumbed to the lure of better pay and less suffering and even though it would carry him far from home, it was a good choice.

What is more, José Luis was a skilled worker, so he reckoned he would have no problems finding a job that matched his abilities. As we have said, he was a metalworker, having worked in the industry since 1953 when he was hired by the Alcorta foundry in Bilbao.

José Luis was not one of the many Riojans who moved to the Basque Country in search of work. What brought him to Bilbao was his military service. Yes, the mandatory abduction of khaki-dressed men that was enforced upon us as our patriotic duty, all Spanish-born males over the age of 18, right up until well into the 21st century. And so he left his home town on the banks of the Ebro in the early 1940s for the capital city of Vizcaya. He was assigned to the Arellano Infantry Regiment, serving out the required two years. When his army service ended, he did not need to move away too far as he started working for the Alcorta company (established 1911) right there in Bilbao, as a labourer.

Everything was going about as well as it could, back in those times of hunger and fear. He became a specialist. In the mid-1950s he swapped the damp climate of Cantabria for the drier conditions of the Valladolid plateau. He stuck with the metalworking sector, but was now with a firm dealing in aluminium products. So far, so good.

Once the offers starting coming in from Holland, José Luis spotted an opportunity to better his precarious circumstances … big mistake.

One of the bits of red tape he had to contend with in order to secure the job he was after was to get hold of a passport, and, in order to get that, he needed a certificate showing any past criminal record. Jose Luis was unfazed as he had never been in bother and had a clean sheet.

But that was when things stated to go pear-shaped. When he went to pick up his certificate, he found himself being arrested. The manners and treatment doled out to him left a lot to be desired and he was baffled. First off, he was taken to the station and he was being handled, not by the Policía Armada, but by the feared Político-Social Brigade (BPS). And then the questioning began, questions relating to people home he had never heard of. Sabaté? Facerías? No 2 Rue Belfort in Toulouse? Action groups?

Things were looking bad, very bad, because his interrogators responded to his denials by losing the rag and turning up the heat. And the worst thing of all was that he had not the slightest clue as to what was going on.

Are you José Pascual Palacios? Yes. More slaps and questions. Do you recognize the person in this photo? No. When did you come down from France? I’ve never been to France. More punches and more questions. After a lengthy stay at the station, he was committed to the prison, ending up in the daunting Modelo Prison in Barcelona.

In response to his repeated answers, the BPS personnel decided to question their ‘plants’ inside the CNT in exile. Their replies left them astounded. José Pascual Palacios was still in France, a patient in the Les Villetes TB sanatorium in Paris.

There had been a mistake somewhere. They decided to check into the history of the La Rioja-born worker and actually discovered one José Luis Pascual Palacios, metal-worker, born in Alfaro in 1924. Had never been to France, never been to Barcelona, never a member of an anarchist trade union and naturally knew nothing of the whole list of libertarian guerrillas with which they – between slaps and punches – confronted him.

José Luis Pascual Palacios was released on 16 March 1963. Whether he was still keen on securing that passport and head off to Holland or uttered plenty of curses over the muddle, I cannot say. But at least his life had been spared.

The real José Pascual Palacios never did find out what had befallen his namesake. This one did know Sabaté and Facerías and all of the expeditionaries in the photos the BPS had shown. This one did live in France, in Toulouse to be exact and had besides been placed in charge of the Defence Commission (the section dealing with clandestine matters, action groups and the apparatus of subversion) during the 1940s and early 1950s. Not only did he know them, but he was the man whose task it was to organize the groups, assign them specific missions and send them off to carry them out, either in France or inside Spain.

But this José Pascual Palacios had been born in Huesca in 1916. He had embraced the libertarian ideal at an early age and belonged both to the Libertarian Youth and the CNT. In July 1936 he had been in Barbastro doing his military service. Along with several comrades from the barracks he had taken action to thwart the mutiny planned by their commanding officers. He had gone on to join the Durruti Column, serving with it right through until the defeat of the Republic. Crossing into exile, he had wound up in the Le Vernet camp where most of the members of the column (since become the 26th Division) had been incarcerated.

Like many others he was the transferred to the foreign labour companies where he secured the position where he was in charge of blasting on dam sites. From there he was able to supply amounts of dynamite and other explosives to a range of resistance groups in the area. Come the end of the Second World war, he was active in the orthodox wing of the exile community. As well as handling clandestine activities, he also held the post of coordinating secretary on the Inter-Continental Secretariat of the CNT-in-exile. Arrested by the French police in February 1951 in the wake of the bloody [post office van] raid in Lyon, he was severely mistreated as his namesake José Luis was to be years later, but was released after two months, having had nothing to do with the raid.

During the 1960s he re-engaged with clandestine activity, working actively in concert with the Defensa Interior (DI) organization. On 11 September 1963 he was arrested again in France in the wake of a rash of DI attacks. This time he served six months behind bars and even mounted a hunger strike in order to secure political prisoner status.

José Pascual Palacios died in the Paris sanatorium named earlier on 13 May 1970, from complications due to chronic silicosis.

From: El Salto, 27 June 2020. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.