Rafael Garcia Muñoz : A Micro-biography

On Wednesday 20 November 1940, Purificación Treviño Martinez arrived at the gates of the prison in Jerez de la Frontera. She brought with her a kilo of roast sweet potatoes, knowing that her partner Rafael Garcia Muñoz was very partial to them. They would afford him a few moments’ diversion and pleasure. He had been though more than enough hunger, mistreatment and degradation. She was unable to make the delivery. He had been executed that very morning. Purificación went crazy. Her grief exploded when they refused to tell her where he was buried. Folk like her husband – they told her – had no right to have their remains visited. That was how, many years later, her son Rafael Garcia Treviño remembered how his mother found out that his father had been murdered and how she had reacted to the news. After that, silence and oblivion descended. The corpse mouldered in the graveyard in Jerez and Rafael Garcia Muñoz was all but forgotten, except by his family and a few survivors from the social extermination carried out in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, as well as across the rest of the country, by the 1936 coup-makers and the Francoist state. Just one story among the many that could be turned up in villages and cities across the entire country.

1. “Chief leader and life and soul of the CNT in Sanlúcar … an anarchist activist”

That was how Rafael Garcia Muñoz was described in a report from the Sanlúcar Falange; it was drawn up in mid-June 1939, just as he was on the point of being returned to the town from Alicante. In Sanlúcar the news of his reappearance must have delighted many. The man they looked upon as one of the chief representatives of everything the coup d’état was meant to stamp out had been captured. Others, such as the socialist mayor Bienvenido Chamorro Merino and Carabineer corporal José Canalejo Moreno, had been murdered back in the summer of 1936. That left Rafael Garcia Muñoz, one of the most radical anarcho-syndicalists. The Civil Guard, Falange and Town Council drew up reports on the captive. He had been born in Sanlúcar on 22 August 1896. In the Civil Register only the names of his father – Manuel Garcia Cordero – were entered and there was the entry “mother unknown”. Anything but. It was known that Joaquina Muñoz was his mother. But since the couple were unmarried her name was left out.

Of his ideological education and early years as a trade unionist we know little. Historian José Antonio Viejo puts him as an active member of the grape-growers’ association based in the Calle Carmen Viejo at the beginning of the 1920s. A municipal report from 1939 stated that he “has been an anarchist for many a year.” Back in 1921 he was arrested together with Antonio González Garcia aka El Rubito, a neighbour from the Calle Sebastián Elcano, a childhood friend and himself a unionist of some note who represented the less radical strand in local trade unionism. In March 1930 the “Aurora Nueva” cultural society opened its doors for the first time. Rafael Muñoz was on its board. It was up and running for barely a year, up until it was closed down in January 1931 by the monarchist authorities. There as well as in many other locations around the country, the CNT was springing back to life with a vengeance.

During the years of the Republic, the CNT was the majority trade union in Sanlúcar. One of its mainstays was the “La Sembradora” society which embraced the biggest, most influential segment of the local working class, the grape-growers, as well as peasants and market gardeners. Garcia was on its board, becoming the representative of those most determined to turn their recaptured freedom into an overture to social revolution. By around that point he had already joined the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI). He was a member of a group that that went under the names ‘Acción Libre’ and ‘Luz Libertaria’, among others.

Between April 1931 (advent of the Republic) and July 1936 (the Francoist coup), he turned into one of the leading lights of local anarcho-syndicalism. His fiery words rang out at meetings and rallies in support of abstention in elections, direct action in labour disputes and anarchist ideology. He was one of the ones who insisted that the new (republican) authorities make a deep commitment to reform and look upon social issues as rather more than public order issues. He served on a number of strike commissions, was secretary of his union and chaired the Local Federation of CNT-affiliated Unions. In May 1936 he attended the CNT congress held in Zaragoza, reporting back on its resolutions to the membership at a meeting held on 20 May. Come July, he was local CNT secretary. He was arrested on several occasions and was twice tried and sentenced to a total of 10 months in prison. The first occasion was in late May 1932 during a strike called in support of the peasants’ strike in Seville. Charged with intimidation, he received a six month sentence. A second charge earned him four more months.

In July 1936 Rafael Garcia Muñoz was, as far as the employers and ideological right in Sanlúcar could see, typical of the worst of the changes introduced over the preceding five years. Those families, very often inter-connected and owners of more than half the real estate in the district had not reconciled themselves to the change of regime nor to the loss of power which had deprived them of their control over the town councils. Unable to reverse the trend, they turned to conspiracy. And the Popular Front’s election victory catapulted them into openly attempting a coup.

The officer commanding Sanlúcar’s Civil Guard unit in 1939, Domingo Bandrés Muñoz, had Rafael down as “very dangerous” for Rafael had played a high-profile role in the popular resistance to the seizure of the town. His words exemplify the coup-makers’ notion that those who resisted them were the threat, rather than themselves. This was a lie repeated time and again for forty years. Another chestnut was that the backlash against the revolt was disorganised and violent and proved unable to withstand even the coup-making forces’ first sally. That is the version offered in Manuel Barbadillo’s account and in the report that the Civil Guard drew up for Cuesta Monereo some years later. But it was not the case. The resistance was organised with coordinated activity involving republicans, socialists and CNT personnel. The Sanlúcar CNT followed the guidelines from its National Committee which urged its federations to ensure opposition unity and, in the event of enduring strife, to steer it in the direction of revolution.

The news [of the army revolt] broke on the afternoon of 17 July and spread throughout the district. By the morning of Saturday 18 July, it was public knowledge. Clusters of people gathered outside establishments with wireless sets, hoping to listen in to reports broadcast from Seville, Jerez and Cadiz. Sometime around two o’clock that afternoon, the authorities learnt that the coup was under way in Seville and Cadiz. Mayor Bienvenido Chamorro ordered the Civil Guard and carabineros in Bonanza to confine themselves to barracks. The CNT had been planning to hold a rally at the Victoria theatre two hours after that, speakers to include the Catalan militants Arturo Parea, Maria Durán and Francisco Arín. Chamorro and Rafael Garcia met and decided that it should be called off. Orders also went out for known right wing extremists to be arrested and for the Municipal Guard to patrol streets that were increasingly being filled by expectant men and women.

CNT union members gathered on the grape-growers’ premises in the Calle Luis de Eguilaz. The meeting was really stormy. There was unanimous agreement with the calling of a general strike. But when it came to whether to resist the coup by force of arms, they were divided. ‘ El Rubito’ thought that course of action suicidal whereas [José] Cao and Rafael Garcia Muñoz lobbied for it. No resolution was passed but as the meeting ended many of those attending headed for the town hall. Others stayed behind in the Barrio Alto. In the Plaza de Jerez there Antonio González called for passive resistance. Rafael Garcia entered the town hall. Gradually the town came to a standstill and the more determined groups set about searching for weapons and neutralising whatever back-up the coup makers might be counting upon in the town. The El Candado ironworks and Sport Sanluqueno club were searched and any weapons found there removed. As was the pawnshop where hocked shotguns held as collateral were stored.

During the night, Garcia Muñoz and other comrades collected handguns from their secret caches around the town. Then they ordered the town council workers to release the tools they needed to rip up the railway tracks and cut the roads leading into town. By daybreak on Sunday 19 July, the Pinar del Picazo where the roads leading from Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria joined was blocked by a barricade. The agreed strategy was not fully implemented, however. Attempts made overnight to create a rift among the thirty off Civil Guards in the Barrio Alto barracks had failed. Nor was it clear what course the fifty odd carabineers would adopt.

That day, as the news came that the authorities in Cadiz had caved in, the house searches and arrests of right wing extremists continued. A number of men took up positions on the rooftops and teams of women urged the maids to leave their households. Whether Rafael Garcia was directly involved in any of this, we cannot say. In 1939 some witnesses came forward to accuse him of having arrested the rightwingers himself. He did intervene to stop the lynching of the lawyer Celedonio del Prado Mosquera and his political co-religionist José Diaz Trechuelo. That incident provoked the Civil Guard into emerging from their barracks, leading to the first clashes and a dozen people were wounded. Chamorro then ordered the carabineers into town. They came in the knowledge that the coup was successful in Cadiz and Jerez and that pro-coup forces would be arriving in Sanlúcar within hours.

After noon, a lorry-load of troops from Jerez arrived. Those manning the barricade did nothing to impede them. Barbadillo states, indeed, that they fled in confusion. This, though, does not fit in with had happened a few hours before, not with what happened later. Maybe, in an attempt to avert confrontation, the intention was to allow the troops in and leave it to the carabineers to disarm them. Be that as it may, the lorry shot its way down the Carril de San Diego and reached the town hall. The carabineers were waiting on word from their commander who was with the town authorities. In the end, they decided to side with the coup-makers. The town council was stood down and a steering commission set up, headed by Antonio León Manjón. Then a proclamation was read out imposed a State of War, ordering an end to the strike, the surrender of weapons, imposing a curfew and placing a ban on assembly.

Even though the coup supporters had seized the town hall and enjoyed overwhelming superiority of numbers and weaponry, they were far from in control of the situation. The town was still at a standstill and the workers controlled the Barrio Alto. Rafael Garcia must have been there until Tuesday 21 July. The coup supporters did not dare occupy the entire town. They had issued further proclamations, raised a Citizen Militia and set up checkpoints to monitor comings and goings. Something happened that afternoon that weakened their position: a column of Civil Guards and civilians dispatched to nearby Trebujena was ambushed and forced to retreat with several men wounded (one of them fatally). That set-back came as a boost to those who had spent the night “taking pot shots” or gathering in the bars in defiance of the proclamations.

On the morning of Tuesday 21 July, Carabineer Corporal José Canalejo Moreno turned up. Stationed at the ‘Media Legua’ post, he was ready to stand by the government. He did try to raise support from among his comrades, but to no avail. He then contacted the republican, socialist and CNT committees. Clambering on to a churro (doughnut) stand in the Puerta de Jerez, he exhorted a crowd of several hundred workers to attack the pro-coup forces. They headed towards the Civil Guard barracks and asked the Guards to join them. The answer came in the form of a volley of gunfire that struck one of them who died the following day. The group scattered before meeting up again in El Cantillo where they were joined by Rafael Garcia and José Cao, among others. They overran the toll-house in the Calle Santa Brigida and disarmed its occupiers. From there, Canalejo called the Military Government in Cadiz, passing himself off as the commander of a column that had arrived from Seville. The telephone call raised the alarm as to what had happened in Sanlúcar. Within hours a company of North African troops was on its way there.

Resistance ended once those troops arrived. One group did try to stand and fight in El Ganado. The initial onslaught was halted and the rebels fell back. They waited for reinforcements from Jerez and attacked again, this time with more success after blowing up a house with hand grenades. At least 12 people perished and a further twenty were injured. That night the populace melted into the countryside and to nearby Donaña. Even hiding out in the river boats. Canalejo’s group made a break for the countryside around this time. It comprised thirty off peasants and Rafael Garcia was one of them. He left behind his partner and their four children – Libertad, Amor, Nardo and Elio – (aged 5, 3, 2 and 1). As they did with so many others, the victors in 1940 changed their given names for others chosen from among the Catholic saints.

For days and the CNT members roamed the local farmsteads. León Manjón, commanding the pro-coup forces, even issued a proclamation, Wild West-style, posting a reward of 2,000 pesetas for anyone supplying information that might lead to the capture of the carabineer Canalejo and Rafael Garcia. Hotly pursued and increasingly surrounded, the group eventually dispersed. Canalejo sought refuge in his birthplace, Los Molares, in Seville. He turned himself in there, in August. And was executed in a ditch in Cadiz’s Puerta de Tierra on 26 September. Rafael Garcia made it out to the republican zone. In the meantime, Sanlúcar was beginning life under occupation. About a hundred people would eventually be murdered. Many of them that very summer. For months the town resembled a North Africa colony with its homes bedecked in white flags and its streets deserted and silent. Like some “endless Good Friday”.

2. Rafael Garcia and Emergency Summary Proceedings 256/39

Garcia’s escape route remains unknown. In 1940 he stated that he arrived in Ronda after a ten day cross-country trek. Just like hundreds of other country dwellers. There is also a chance that he was covering up his real route. Manuel Barbadillo has written that, after boarding a ship in La Algaida, he headed for Huelva, reaching the government zone from there. Be that as it may, by August he was in Ronda. It must have been at around this point that he was wounded and evacuated to Malaga.

September was drawing to a close when Manuel Mora Torres arrived from Madrid. He was another prominent Andalusian CNT member, from Carmona. Organiser of the Ascaso Column. Rafael Garcia took command of the Column’s 2 nd Centuria. Up until the fall of Malaga in February 1937, he was assigned to operations mounted on the Antequera and Bobadilla fronts. Later he managed to get out to Almeria. Units were reorganised in the Viator camp. Rafael joined a battalion posted to the Jarama front. Later they sent him to the commissar training school in Valencia. War commissars performed a function that was as much social and political as involved with training and educational provision. As well as having to “chat with the enemy” by means of “front-line loudspeakers”. After a quick course he was assigned to the 114 th Mixed Brigade. After training in Ciudal Real, he was posted to the Extremadura front. He was identified from his voice during skirmishing in the vicinity of the river Guadamellato in the area around Villaharta (Cordoba) and the Seville daily newspaper ABC (11 August 1937) reported his speeches.

In October 1937, he was reassigned to the 73rd Mixed Brigade covering the Los Blázquez and Valsequillo fronts in Cordoba. That December he was appointed acting commissar with the 76 th Mixed Brigade in the Cierzos-Cornicabra district in Jaen. On 20 January 1938 he was made commissar with the Army of Manoeuvers, the unit to which it fell to mount offensives, as part of the 72 nd Division in Caspe. With that unit he took part in the fighting that ended in the collapse of the Aragon front. He served in Belchite and in Alcañiz where his unit was cut off. Rafael Garcia managed to get to Barcelona.

In late July 1937 he was assigned to the 214th Mixed Brigade on the Levante front in La Puebla de Valverde. He was involved in defending the access roads to Valencia until, on 7 March 1939, he left for Madrid to take part in the fighting that erupted between communist and anarchist and socialist units following the Casado coup. He stayed there until Francoist troops entered the city on Tuesday 28 March. He then headed for Alicante in search of the ships which were supposedly waiting there for those determined to escape. But was unable to get a passage and was taken prisoner. As an officer in the Popular Army, he was held in the San Fernando castle. Asked if there was anyone in Sanlúcar who could vouch for his actions, Rafael Garcia replied that there were, drawn “from every social class”. They did indeed remember him, but not as he might have liked.

On 12 June 1939 Marcelino Rancaño Gómez, Head of the Courts Service in Cadiz, took the view that there was sufficient evidence for him to be tried. An order to that effect was issued to Antonio Alós Guerrera, military judge in Sanlúcar. That May, the authorities in Sanlúcar forwarded to him what they deemed to be incriminating evidence. Rafael’s anarchist activism was attested by letters from the local CNT which he had signed as secretary and his credentials as a delegate to the Zaragoza congress, which had been found on file. In addition there were reports and statements made by municipal guards and residents in the summer of 1936, plus a variety of Falange, Town Hall and Civil Guard reports identifying him as one of the chief organisers of the resistance to the coup and as a member of the group headed by Canalejo. Three serving town council employees even declared that he had been issuing orders and holding talks with the mayor and his secretary. Others Highways & Works employees testified that they had seen him on lorries that had gone off in search of weapons, to tear up railway tracks, flooding ditches and building barricades. The tollhouse staff identified him as one of the people who deprived the council guards of their weapons.

The 1939 reports painted a picture of Rafael Garcia as “an activist anarchist and man of determination”. The Falange’s head of investigations insisted that in May 1936 it was Rafael Garcia who had urged the mob to attack the Fisheries Trust during the seamen’s strike. Which does not appear to have been the case. Antonio Ibañez Enriquez, the ship-owner attacked during that attack on the Trust, stated that he could not confirm it other than indirectly. In addition Rafael had advocated armed resistance against the coup at a meeting on 18 July 1936 on the CNT premises and disarmed right-wingers on the streets. The Council’s Public Order chief cited some of the most outstanding members of the local “crème de la crème” as witnesses to Rafael’s involvement in the resistance: people like Antonio León Marjón, Diego Merguelina, Celedonio del Prado, José Argueso González, José Ñudi Ruiz de Samavia, José Garcia Muñoz and others … 16 in all. He also mentioned that in October 1936 he had been posted as “wanted” in the province’s Boletín Oficial. Alós applied to have Rafael transferred to Sanlúcar.

On 11 August Rafael Garcia left for Cadiz Provincial Prison. He was committed to the Sanlúcar Municipal Depot on the morning of 5 September. Two days after that he was questioned by the judge. Garcia rejected every charge made against him. Not that he denied that he had been active and to the fore of the local CNT but he insisted that he had run away out of fear and he indicated several people in Játiva, Madrid and Valencia who could give an opinion on his behaviour. Then Alós Herrero ordered that he be tried for the offence of aiding and abetting rebellion, for being a dyed-in-the-wool anarchist, for having served on any trade union boards there had been in the town and for having been “the soul of the uprising against the Nationalist Rising”, in which connection, whatever instances of sabotage, attack or arrest had taken place in the town could be credited to him. “In the Red Zone” he had played an active role since he had attained the rank of Brigade Commissar. The indictment is the very model of Francoism’s upside down justice. The coup-makers were accusing him of attempting a coup when he had not and his resistance to one was being represented as rebellion.

The proceedings followed their course. The people Garcia had mentioned made their statements. One of them was his old friend Antonio González who stated that he knew him from the CNT, and a doctor from the 114 th Brigade testified that he had passed through the rebel zone and said only that he was too fond of a drink. The Military Police’s Investigation Agency in September forwarded its report, based on a text that Garcia himself had sent to the Commissar-Inspector of the XIX Army Corps detailing his C/V prior to joining the 66 th Division. During October and part of November 1939, the proceedings ground to a halt. Alós Guerrero pulled out and was replaced by Federico Pessini Abarrategui, a lawyer assigned to court martial duties. His fist move was to take a statement from the accused. Muñoz merely ratified what he had previously stated and on 7 December Pessini likewise ratified the trial proceedings.

When Rafael Garcia was removed to the Jerez de la Frontera Prison, we do not know. He was there on 6 May 1940 when he got the news that, the very next day, at 10 o’clock in the morning, he was to appear before a council of war and should nominate his defence counsel. The records show a note stating that Rafael Garcia picked Antonio Martinez de Salazar from a list presented to him. His defender was to be one of the men who, as examining magistrate, had laid the groundwork for golpista courts in Cadiz two years before. The men who served as court president, rapporteur and prosecutor at the council of war also began their careers in 1937: they were Rafael López, an officer who retired in 1931 before joining the pro-coup forces; Fernando Wilhelmi Castro, judge of the first instance; and Alfonso Palomino Blázquez, lawyer. And the panel members – Gabriel Garcia Trujillo, Alfonso Pérez Mas and José Toscano Barbera – were also well versed in councils of war. There was little to distinguish this one from the ones in which they had had a hand earlier.

The records contain no great detail. After the indictment was read out, Martinez de Salazar and López Alba questioned Garcia. Of them, we know nothing. Then the prosecutor, Palomino, pressed the charge of aiding and abetting rebellion and asked for a death sentence. The defence counsel asked that the charge be deemed aiding rebellion and requested a 12 year sentence. Finally Rafael Garcia spoke. He spoke up to ask that he not be entered in the record as a traitor. He knew that they meant to kill him and was staunch in his belief that nothing he had done constituted treason. They were about to take away his life, but he was concerned with preserving his dignity.

The verdict was another example of upside down justice. It unashamedly insisted that, together with Canalejo the carabineer, Rafael had launched a revolutionary uprising in Sanlúcar, in the course of which uprising numerous outrages were committed. Once the town had been “liberated”, though, he had fled to the “Red zone” and in the army there held posts from which he had mistreated his subordinates. Both his “outrageous behaviour and his previous record” were proof of “a whole-hearted identification with the guidelines and violent procedures of the communist-style revolutionary upheaval begun across much of the territory of the nation on the eighteenth of July nineteen hundred and thirty six”. Which gives us some idea of the calibre of Francoist justice, given that something like that could be written by a former examining magistrate by way of justification for a capital sentence. Rafael, being a “menace to society” and given his “perverseness” had earned the ultimate punishment: death.

Twenty days after that, the Appeal Court of Region No 2 endorsed the verdict, finding it correct, lawful and without flaws to invalidate it. Now everything hinged upon whether Francisco Franco would confirm the sentence or offer a pardon. In the meantime, Rafael Garcia was returned to prison in Jerez. We have the testimony from the Aracena socialist Isidoro Romero de la Osa who, many years later, recalled the close relationship he had struck up with Rafael in Jerez prison and how, in the course of conversations between them once the verdict had been announced, he told him that he had nothing to fear as long as he was not summoned to the office.

The months passed. On 10 October 1940, Franco rubber-stamped the sentence. After a further month, the machine sprang into action. On 11 November, the Military Governor of Cadiz had a telegramme from the supreme regional military authorities in Seville informing that it was now up to him to see to the implementation of the sentence. Six days after that José Pérez de Las Heras was assigned to the Jerez military court and set the wheels in motion for the execution. The location was to be “the usual place”, i.e. in and around the bullring. The date? Wednesday 20 November, at 7.30 a.m. The firing squad would comprise of 2 troopers from the 74 th Artillery Regiment, 2 Civil Guard personnel, 2 carabineers and 2 members of the Policia Armada. An officer from the artillery regiment would be in charge of this detail. The town hall was also asked to furnish a coffin and the Medical branch an army physician to certify the death. Finally, Pérez de La Heras visited the prison and notified Rafael Garcia that sentence was about to be carried out. The physician, Luis Encinas Álvarez certified the death. Judge José Ivisón Sánchez Romate, in charge of the Civil Register, recorded the death in Book 1, Page 311, No 726. The corpse was laid to rest in a mass grave.

Its whereabouts were withheld from Rafael’s widow.

From: www.todolosnombres.org. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.