Five corpses, a ring and an alliance, the remains of Franco's repression in Asturias

When the asphalt arrived there was no one left. The electric light also took its time. With democracy and the first mayors elected by the residents, these towns hanging from the mountains of the Asturian interior made up for lost time. Although too late: the guajes had gone to the cities to seek a new world. And to get rid of their parents, suffocated by death, resentment, they also did it from the threat of a dictatorship that was imposed by assassination in all the villages that drink from the course of the Cubia river and many other streams and streams that make these mountains a monumental beauty. Going up the course of the river, from Grau to the Port of Marabio, is to awaken the memory of barbarism, with soldiers murdering dozens of poor and defenseless peasants, whose sin had been trying to bend nature so that it would release some fruit with the one to keep pulling.

So there was no asphalt and no electricity. It was all death, fear and a typewriter. In the 1930s, in the entire council of Grau, there was only one machine, that of José Arias de la Roza, General Secretary of the Association of Farmers of Villandás, a migrant who had just returned from Cuba with his wife, Encarna, and two children. It was 1932 and José told his companion that he had to go back, that the Republic had arrived, that it was already another country.

Both had traveled to Cuba to carve out the future that was so resisted in Spain at the end of the 19th century. Between 1840 and 1940 nearly 300,000 young people left Asturias for America. The most numerous migrations took place until the first third of the 20th century, destined for Cuba, Argentina and Mexico.

According to the investigations carried out by the Museum of the People of Asturias, the kids who escaped from the province were between ten and 18 years old, mostly children of peasants, fleeing from poverty and the war in Africa. Across the pond tobacco and textile factories awaited them. When José and Encarna returned to his land, in the village of Villandás, he leased some land and planted the tobacco that he brought from America. Here they had three more children. Today María de los Ángeles (90) and Amparo (85) live. When José was murdered, the eldest of his daughters, Alicia, was 19 years old and Amparo was only a few months old.

Encarna did not want to return, she did not trust the change. But they came back and brought with them a portable victrola – a record player – and 54 records, in addition to other belongings and the Royal Qwerty typewriter, shiny black, made of cast iron with which they recorded the union of the farm workers. The granddaughter of José and Encarna, daughter of Alicia, is Dolores Menéndez Arias, she is 67 years old, was born in Cuba and returned when she was eleven years old. She preserves the documentary memory of the family and shows us the invoice for the goods that her grandfather presented to the Spanish consulate in Guantánamo (Cuba) before returning to Spain. There appears the Royal.

At that time not even the Grau City Council had a typewriter, says Pepe Sierra, former mayor of Izquierda Unida in this Asturian town that today borders on 10,000 inhabitants. Sierra has been dedicated for years to putting the council's memory in order, gathering testimonies, investigating how many were killed in the middle of the repression. “At the moment I have compiled 230 people executed in Grau, from the moment it fell into Francoist hands. They installed three Falangist flags in the council and razed them to the ground. They were on the hunt, they didn't even need summary trials," Sierra tells this newspaper. And he stresses that of the total, 18% of the people killed were women. “It is a very high percentage. They killed to terrorize,” he says.

Sierra's conversation piles up with the cases of barbarism that she has been documenting, but suddenly she remembers the teacher from Restiello, near where José and Encarna lived with their five children. The teacher was ordered to report to the Civil Guard barracks in Grau. He is about 20 kilometers away and got off on his bike. He was arrested and only released days later when his father showed up, a conservative from Salamanca, who demanded the release of his son. So they did. When the father returned to Salamanca and the teacher was riding his bike back to his house, they arrested him at the Grau exit and shot him. In the famous and creepy ditch of El Rellán. "Here all the teachers were from the Communist Party and they were the first to be assassinated," Sierra explains about the fear that the Francoists had of the teachers' ability to influence.

José Arias de la Roza was not a teacher. But he must have had character and people skills, says Sierra. Because like them, he was a nuisance element for the fascists and he was exterminated. This Tuesday in August his body was found in the grave of Canto la piedra, in a curve of the village of La Garba, five kilometers from Grau.

The volunteer archaeologists and historians of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) are in charge – also thanks to the support of the current mayor of Grau, José Luis Trabanco (IU) – from this Monday of the exhumation of the bodies of this trench that the Francoists turned into a grave. Marco González, coordinator of the excavation, warns that there is evidence of six bodies.

The only thing missing is for the DNA to confirm what the witnesses saw: on February 28, 1938, a truck arrived with four people and they were shot at the edge of the trench. At this point in history, a guy appears that no one in these towns has been able to forget for the crimes of which they accuse him. They called him the Pintao de Bayo. There are witnesses to the execution who told the relatives of the victims that the painted man, who pressed the gun and ended their lives. ARMH specialists found on the ground the shell casings of the 9mm with which he pulled the trigger. They were not rifles.

Along with José, Jovino González Fernández and the married couple María Concepción García Álvarez and Enrique Rodríguez Siñeriz were murdered that day. The marriage had been arranged between the parents, by photographs. Enrique was in Cuba working as a tailor and María Concepción went there to marry him. When he was denounced and arrested, her wife said that wherever her husband went, she went... Those days when they were under arrest in Grau, the bus was loaded with toys and sweets, says Pepe Sierra. They left three children orphaned.

Almost a year later, on January 7, 1939, they also killed and threw into the pit Erundia González López, 29, a mother of two children, owner of the Arellanes winch and denounced by a resident of the town of Los Llanos. It is not known what they could have done to her between the arrest and the shooting of her.

All these people were part of the lists made by Franco's forces. Anyone who was missing from the towns was considered a "red escaped". They persecuted them throughout Spain until they hunted them down. Pepe Sierra draws attention to a very relevant fact: among the five shot in this grave there are four who were working in Cuba. That was his crime.

“There is no logic that explains these murders. They were considered a threat and they had to be done away with,” says Sierra. “My grandfather was poor, he had no land. But a few wanted him, some even from my grandmother's family, "adds Dolores, José's granddaughter, in the conversation. The last thing his mother remembered of his father was seeing him in the barracks where he was arrested, forced to sing Cara al sol. "And she told it as if it were already the death of his father."

"I had a grandfather thanks to my mother," says Dolores. Alicia always kept the memory of her father alive, she never shut up about it even though she was cautious. "I didn't want to forget. I wanted to treasure and share.” Alicia, she died seven years ago, she couldn't see her father buried along with the rest of her family, although they knew exactly where she was. The exhumation of the remains of her grandfather is an "act of justice." She doesn't want revenge because the culprits are dead. “It is a consolation for the two daughters who remain alive. It is a chapter that closes, but the book does not close. Sometimes the story of the little ones is necessary to reconstruct the great story”, explains Dolores. This Wednesday she will visit the grave where the remains of her grandfather remain, battered by humidity, acid soil and roots. They made José disappear, they confiscated his Royal Qwerty, but they never erased the memory of him.

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