Obituary: Ramn Rubial

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The Independent Culture
RAMON RUBIAL was for decades the Spanish Socialist Party's most convincing link with a history that reaches back to before Franco's dictatorship - indeed before the Civil War and the short-lived Republic that preceded it. His stooped head and craggy Basque features constantly accompanied the boyish faces of Spain's Socialist leaders in the new democracy of the mid-Seventies.

But, whilst Felipe Gonzlez, Alfonso Guerra and the rest grew grey and cynical after years in power, Rubial - already in his seventies when the party became first legal then triumphant - scarcely altered his appearance of stocky, wrinkled wisdom. As the party buckled under successive corruption scandals, Rubial's presence on the federal committee remained a symbol of higher principles, more heroic times and harsher struggles.

Rubial was appointed the Socialists' honorary president in 1976 at a congress that was still semi- clandestine. It was crucial for this old party with its fresh leaders to assert its historical credentials, because in those days it was the Spanish Communists, led by the charismatic old warhorses Santiago Carrillo and Marcelino Camacho, who claimed to be the true representatives of Spanish workers.

Rubial was also important as a Basque in a party whose leadership was laden with Sevillians. Being from the region most cruelly punished by Franco for its republican sympathies shaped Rubial's political life. He became, from 1978 to 1980, the only Basque regional leader not to be a Basque Nationalist, but a Socialist - still a minority affiliation in the region.

Son of a boilermaker and an ironer, Rubial became a lathe- operator's apprentice at 14 and promptly joined the pro-Socialist General Union of Workers, the UGT. At 16 he joined the Socialist Youth, and began years of conflict with successive dictatorial authorities that cost him 20 years in jail.

He was first detained in 1930 while handing out revolutionary leaflets in Bilbao, then in 1934 during the General Strike, when he was imprisoned for seven months in a prison ship off the Basque coast. He was condemned to six years for sedition but freed in 1936 after the election victory of the Popular Front.

While fighting in the republican militia in the Civil War on the Asturias front he was jailed in 1937 and condemned in 1940 to 14 years' imprisonment. He tried to flee to France but was detained once more. At that point his wife and daughter decided to move to Chile to prepare a new life for when he should eventually be freed.

That did not occur until 1956, but he decided to stay in Spain and work underground using the pseudonym "Pablo", and in 1957 his wife and daughter returned. For 20 years throughout Franco's dictatorship he worked in the party's underground leadership in Spain, a period when Spanish socialists were riven between those operating in Spain and those in exile abroad.

Rubial attended the clandestine conference in 1974 at Suresnes near Paris where those from the "interior" secured their victory under a new leader, Felipe Gonzlez, and prepared for the democratic age.

Ramn Rubial Cavia, politician and trade unionist: born Erandio, Spain 28 October 1906; married 1944 Emilia Cachorro Lopez (died 1982; one daughter); died Bilbao, Spain 24 May 1999.