A Libertarian haven in the Chile region (1939-1993)

In the wake of Franco’s victory, Chile’s Popular Front government hired a vessel, the Winnipeg, to bring Spanish refugees from the shores of France. One of the main handlers and administrators of this venture was the poet Pablo Neruda. Places on board were to have been allocated on a basis of proportionality to all the political and trade union factions in the republican camp, but Neruda, in cahoots with the Communist Party, rejected 86% of the names put forward by anarcho-syndicalists.

The ship brought in nearly 2,200 refugees. The libertarian factions should have had 24% of the places on board, that is, about 500 people. But the communists only let 19 on board and that figure included children and family members. Among those who did come were the Nogués family (Azucena, Floreal, Helios and Francisco), Manuel and Francisco Vallejo Jimenez, Fructuoso Rebull and his sons Liberto and Palmiro, Antonio Soler Cuadrat, 66 year old César Flores and Solano Palacio. And Solano Palacio had had to travel as a stowaway. The few libertarians on board the Winnipeg were greed on reaching Valparaiso by a small launch filled with comrades waving red-and-black flags.

Since the Chilean anarcho-syndicalist movement –linked at that time to the CGT (1931-1953) as well as the local IWW branch (1919-1951) – had been following events in Spain closely, support was quickly forthcoming. From the outset the CNT and FAI refugees could look to comrades from the SIA (Solidaridad Internacional Antifascista/International Antifascist Solidarity), whose Chilean section had been formed in December 1937. The SIA had offices in many towns in Chile and for several years its secretariat operated out of the port of Valparaíso port. And since 1939 there had also been a Spanish Refugee Support Committee in existence.

The initial influx of anarchist refugees into Chile arrived on the Winnipeg on 3 September 1939. Others were to follow. Many of those reaching Chile had been through the hell of the concentration camps for antifascists in the south of France. Some of them settled in Chile for good. Others were merely passing through. Among the latter were Solano Palacio, César Flores, Servet Martínez, Cosme Paules, Francisco Pauner Sospreda, Fructuoso Rebull Salbado, Juan Guasch, Mariano Jiménez, Miguel González Inestal, Antonio Soler Cuadrat, Ricardo Gordián Valdivieso, Antonio Pellicer Monferrer, Tomás Tolosana Félez, Pedro Simó, Tomás Corcuera Camara, Santiago Farrás Martín, Dr Raúl Vicencio, Bernabé García Polanco, Carmelo Soria (Soria, by then a communist, perished at the hands of the Chilean dictatorship), Manuel Álvarez Nieto, Manuel Escorza del Val, Inés Ajuria de la Torre, Luis and Agustín Muñoz Laviñeta and others whose names have yet to be identified.

The majority, though, settled in the country and from 1939 through to 1973 (when the Pinochet dictatorship began) they collaborated with the local CNT and SIA chapters which had been set up to keep the organisation afloat in exile, to help the comrades engaged in the clandestine struggle in the Peninsula, to preserve memories of 1936 and assist ventures designed to overthrow the Francoist dictatorship.

It should also be pointed out that several Spanish libertarians joined the local, Chilean movement. Which was no easy feat for – as some elderly native-born (criollo) anarcho-syndicalists recall it – in the event of a crackdown, the Spaniards could not count on the trade union support enjoyed by several of their Chilean counterparts.

Solano Palacio (whose literary and political contributions to the international anarchist press covered the years from 1915 to the 1970s) joined the ‘Enrique Arenas’ Anarchist Group and the Editorial Más Allá publishing venture in Valparaíso (1939-1960), as well as the International Anarchist Federation (FAI-Chile). Raúl Vicencio was another member of FAI-Chile. César Flores was involved with the anarchist newspaper Vida Nueva in the southern town of Osorno and district (1939). Fructuoso Rebull served as SIA secretary.

Among the many who played active roles as libertarians before and after going into exile and who arrived in Chile, a special mention must go to Cosme Paules who was, in our estimation, the most representative CNT figure to reach Chile. In addition to his membership of FAI-Chile, he was in the Libertarian Group in La Calera, where the review Presencia Anarquista was published (1958-1960). For many years he was general secretary of the CNT chapters in Chile. During the Spanish civil war he had served with the Durruti Column (as had other refugees) and had been almost killed by the communists in one of their chekas, had passed through the Argelès-sur-mer concentration camp in France and then left it for Cuba where his comrades forged the papers he used to make good his escape, before he moved on to Colombia, then to Venezuela and after that to Peru, before he finally settled in Chile. He was a prolific contributor to many of the publications of Spanish-speaking anarchists and all CNT-related publications between the 1940s and April 1993, when he died in the rainswept southern Chilean city of Temuco. Each one of these lives, and many another, make up a complicated story that efforts are now under way to rescue from oblivion. Given the nature of the sources located thus far, we have yet to get to grips with, among other things, the internal frictions and conflicts between the libertarian refugees, especially vis à vis the movement in Spain and in Chile.

These stories have yet to be told. For which reason, should any reader have anything to contribute or a memory to share, please do not hold back from getting in touch.

Victor Muñoz Cortes, ‘El Surco’ Anarchist Group

From: CNT, No 388, April 2012 (Madrid). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.