Who Killed Lorca

The Death of Lorca

by Ian Gibson
J. Philip O'Hara, 260 pp., $10.00

Federico Garcia Lorca
Federico Garcia Lorca; drawing by David Levine

Thirty-seven years after the killing of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose fame had already spread far beyond Spain at the time of his death, it is still impossible to be absolutely certain of the accomplices in the crime and the exact motives for it. Even now, when Lorca’s name is rehabilitated in Spain—owing to foreign opinion—and the act has been officially deplored because of the damage it did (and still does) to the image of Franco’s “National Cause,” the blame is shifted from one group to another, without naming names. People who might have told much have died; some who could tell have grown old, memories have become vague or evasive. In Granada people waver between caution and fantasy. As in southern Ireland after the civil war of the Twenties, among those once close to the crimes committed there are embarrassment, the wish to forget, generalized talk of personal jealousies and “uncontrollable elements” that “come to the surface” in such times.

In Granada where Lorca died there was for example a “Black Squad” of lawless killers who were given carte blanche by Valdés, the civil governor, to terrorize the city. They mainly butchered workers in the streets or dragged the wounded from the hospitals. The names of many of these monsters are well known; many died violently, one committed suicide, one still thrives as a timber merchant, another became, of all things, a university professor. When the Franco apologists speak nowadays of “uncontrollable elements” they half hope we shall think Lorca fell to them. In fact it has been established that the arrest and shooting were very much a hysterical official affair and the work of “respectable” people in the quarrelling groups who were important in Granada. The moderate CEDA blames the Falange, the Falange blames the CEDA or the Acción Popular, and the story becomes a triangle of factions and provincial personalities. In any case the Andalusians are spontaneous inventors of hearsay and love to dramatize it. They play up, as the Irish play up to Joyce scholars.

Ian Gibson is the latest foreign investigator to go into the mystery. The pioneer, of course, was Gerald Brenan (the Spanish scholar who has lived in Andalusia most of his life) in his Face of Spain, published in the Fifties. Since then the French writer Claude Couffon, like Brenan, thought the murder might have been a reprisal for the death of Benavente. However, this suggestion came from a hysterical speech by the bloodthirsty Quiepo de Llano, who was trying to excuse his blunder in giving the order: Benavente lived long after the civil war. Quiepo de Llano may very well have believed the rumor and it seems probable—and is indeed reported—that he told the hesitant governor of Granada “to give Lorca coffee, lots of coffee”—Quiepo’s favorite euphemism when ordering an execution. Enzo Cobelli, an Italian, came to the conclusion…

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