OBITUARIES : Joseph Ortiz

Click to follow
Joseph Ortiz was given various names in the Algeria of the 1950s and 1960s. He was the "cafetier", as he ran a brasserie on the Forum in the centre of Algiers. He was also "the king of tomatoes", as it was he who supplied the tomatoes with which the new French prime minister, Guy Mollet, was pelted when he visited Algiers on 6 February 1956. But above all his name was associated with the barricades that were set up in January 1960, intended to be the signal for a general rising in Algiers, which would be supported by civilians and military alike and which would bring about the downfall of de Gaulle. He was "l'homme des barricades".

Ortiz was born in Algeria, at Guyotville. He had served in the army and had been taken prisoner in 1940. He escaped and, joining the Free French army, had fought in the Italian campaign. Although usually easily dismissed as a violent, thug-like character, he claimed to be a follower of the right-wing philosopher Charles Maurras, and in 1958, rather than simply accept the return of de Gaulle to power, he had militated for Algeria to be made into a corporative state, with different orders and responsibilities.

In 1959 he created the French National Front in Algeria. He always believed that a rising of the people in Algeria, and by this he meant a rising of the French and European population, could bring about fundamental political change. He hoped that this would come about by humiliating the prime minister, or by killing the Commander-in-Chief (the bazooka plot against General Salan in February 1957). May 1958 had been a successful rising, but unfortunately de Gaulle had deceived them and was against keeping Algeria French. Therefore 1960, when the army was angered by de Gaulle's policies, was the ideal time. It was true that while the gendarmerie attacked Ortiz's heavily armed positions (suffering 14 deaths and many wounded), the parachutists were slow to appear on the scene and there were no more attacks.

Ortiz was triumphant. "Tomorrow in Paris, I shall rule," he exulted. But the army made no move to support him. Nor did opinion in France. De Gaulle made no concessions. Even the weather turned against the rising, and Ortiz fled to the Spain of this ancestors.

Ortiz was condemned to death in his absence. Amnestied in 1968, he went to live in Toulon. He had a certain political activity on the extreme right but his main concern was to organise, through the newspaper that he acquired, the French who had been in Algeria. Most recently he devoted himself to the construction of a memorial, at Thoule, in southern France, to the memory of that part of the French nation. It is there that he is buried.

Douglas Johnson

Joseph Ortiz, political activist: born Guyotville, Algeria 4 April 1917; died Toulon 15 February 1995.