Luís Andrés Edo: Anarchist who fought the repressions of Franco's Spain
Tuesday 24 March 2009
With the death of Luís Andrés Edo, aged 83, in Barcelona, the anarchist movement has lost an outstanding militant and original thinker, and I have lost a comrade-in-arms, a former cell-mate – and an irreplaceable friend.
The son of a Guardia Civil, Edo was born in barracks in Caspe, Aragón, in 1925, but the following year his father was transferred to the Sants district of Barcelona where the young boy grew up, educated by nuns, monks and priests. Later, after the social revolution of 19 July 1936, the 10-year-old Luis became a "child of the barricades" and a "son of the CENU" (el Consell de l'Escola Nova Unificada), the rationalist schools that continued the principles of the Modern School launched by the anarchist and free-thinker Francisco Ferrer I Guardia in 1901. The education he received there and on the streets of revolutionary Barcelona was to prove life-changing.
Edo's working life began at the age of 14, cleaning machinery and odd-jobbing with Spain's national railway company, RENFE, where he was apprenticed as a locomotive engineer. In 1941 he affiliated to the underground anarcho-syndicalist labour union, the National Confederation of Labour (CNT). He remained with RENFE until 1946 when, after completing his apprenticeship, he was jailed, accused of stealing potatoes from trains as part of the CNT's food redistribution campaign. On his release he became a glassworker, manufacturing thermometers, which caused him enduring health problems from ingesting mercury and hydrofluoric acid.
He was called up in October 1947 for National Service, but in December he deserted, crossing into France. In 1952 he returned to Barcelona following a crackdown by French authorities on the CNT in exile. This was the result of a bungled train robbery in Lyon the previous year in which three people were killed. Luis was not involved, but the French police were going out of their way to make life intolerable for all Spanish anarchist exiles at that time.
Back in Spain Luis was arrested for desertion in August 1952 and was not freed until October 1953, when he was returned to the ranks – deserting again. He served a further six months in the notorious Castillo de Figueres military prison in Gerona, after which he went into exile in France.
In Paris in 1955, he became involved with Laureano Cerrada Santos, another former RENFE employee who had been a key figure in the anti-Nazi Resistance and its escape and evasion networks. Cerrada was also a master forger and an influential figure in France's criminal demi-monde, one of the most problematic, enigmatic and mysterious figures of the Spanish anarchist diaspora. It was he who, in 1947, had purchased a US Navy Vedette speedboat used by the CNT's defence committee to transport arms, propaganda and militants from France into Spain; he also bought the plane used in the aerial attack on Franco's yacht in San Sebastian in 1949.
In Paris, Luis's involvement with the Juventudes Libertarias, the Spanish anarchist youth organisation also brought him into contact with most of the other "faces" of the anti-Franco Resistance, such as "Quico" Sabaté, the near-legendary urban guerrilla, and José Pascual Palacios, the man responsible for coordinating the action groups in Spain and described by police as Spain's "Public Enemy No 1".
Edo worked at the Alhambra Maurice Chevalier Theatre as assistant scene painter to Rafael Aguilera, the Andalusian artist and a hero of the Spanish Civil War and the Resistance who had been imprisoned by the Nazis, who was also responsible for maintaining arms caches in Paris for the CNT. One of these was in his workshop in the attic of the Alhambra. When there was no work to be done in the theatre, Edo and Lucio Urtubia, a close friend and a protégé of Sabaté, would clean and oil the weapons; on one occasion Lucio was cleaning an old Mauser pistol when it went off in his hand, almost blowing Edo's brains out.
In the early 1960s Edo helped set up Defensa Interior, the clandestine section of the Spanish Libertarian Movement in Exile, whose function was to implement subversive actions targeting the Francoist regime and to assassinate Franco himself; it was in this role that I first encountered Edo in Paris in 1964, before I set off for Madrid with plastic explosives intended for that very purpose.
My next encounter with Edo was two years later, in Carabanchel Prison in Madrid. He and four other comrades in the First of May Group, the autonomous anarchist action group, were arrested in October 1966 by Franco's secret police and accused of planning to kidnap the head of the US armed forces in Spain, Rear Admiral Norman Gillette, and the exiled Argentinian politician, Juan Perón. He was also accused of complicity in the Rome kidnapping, six months earlier, of Monsignor Marcos Ussiá, the Spanish ecclesiastical attaché to the Vatican.
Edo and I shared a cell. I had just turned 20; it was he who taught me how to shave. We became close friends and comrades: I often recall, with pleasure, the discussions we had each evening after lock-up until lights-out in which we seemed to cover every subject under the sun. Many of these strands of thought he dedicated to fine onion paper in minuscule hand which we later smuggled out of prison. Some of these theses appeared 40 years later in his collection of theoretical essays, La Corriente.
For an inexperienced and naïve youth such as myself, Edo, with his charisma and strong personality was the ideal teacher, mentor, and role model. They were interesting and educational times – and involved two escape attempts organised by Edo with help from an action group from Paris. The discovery of the plan, just before his trial, led to our separation and my transfer in the summer of 1967.
Tried by a civil Public Order Tribunal – unusual for anarchists who, like myself, were normally charged under military law with "banditry and terrorism" and tried by a drumhead court-martial – Luis was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for illegal association (membership of the Juventudes Libertarias), six years for illegal possession of arms, and fined 25,000 pesetas for possessing false identity documents. He was released in 1972, having run the gamut of Franco's maximum security jails, organising escape committees and mounting hunger strikes and mutinies, for which he spent months in the punishment cells.
Arrested again in 1974 on charges of illegal association with other anarchist groups and with complicity in the Paris kidnapping of the Spanish banker Baltasar Suárez, he received a five-year sentence in February 1975. He served a little over two before being released under a royal amnesty during the post-Franco transition, in spite of having led the first major mutiny at Barcelona's Model Prison. It was a particularly painful period as he was separated from his partner, Rosita, and his two small children, Helios and Violeta, who remained in Paris.
With Franco's cohorts still in the driving seats of power, Edo played a key role in the CNT's re-construction in Catalonia and helped organise the "Montjuic Meeting", the CNT's first legal public gathering since 1939, which attracted 300,000 people, most of them a new generation of young libertarians. He was also a prime mover in organising the "Libertarian Days", which for five extraordinary days turned Barcelona into an international celebration of anarchism.
But 1976-1981 was also a time of major provocations by the rump of the Francoist power elite, the Búnker, desperate to hang on to their power and privileges. Edo was in the forefront of exposing the Spanish State's "Strategy of Tension", which began in earnest in January 1977 with the murder of five leftist lawyers in their offices in Atocha. He was arrested again in 1980 and charged with organising a terrorist group, but the charges were dropped in 1984 due to lack of evidence. In the subsequent 25 years, and throughout a debilitating seven-year illness, Edo was supported throughout by his soulmate and partner, Doris Ensinger, with whom he shared his life after separating from Rosita in 1981.
Edo remained an untiring activist and an intellectual dynamo of the libertarian movement. He was the voice, the conscience of what he was proud to call "the Apache sector", defending the principles of the CNT and fighting for the restoration of the union's property and assets seized by Franco in 1939, and for justice for the victims of Francoism. For at least two generations of young Spanish anarchists, Edo was an inspirational role model.
Luís Andrés Edo, anarcho-syndicalist, born 7 November 1925; two children; died 14 February 2009
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