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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 084: Saturday 5th October 2002

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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

 
The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Five
 

Hello and welcome to the history page. We left off last week at the threshold of the Republican invasion of the Pitiuses, noting that Commandant Mestre, the islands’ maximum military leader and a staunch National ally, found himself hard-pressed to defend his domain for a variety of reasons. Firstly, of the 143 professional soldiers at his disposal, he had posted 23 in Formentera, thus weakening an already tenuous position. Secondly, a hefty number of local volunteers deserted ranks and scattered to the countryside when real military action began to loom on the horizon. Thirdly, owing to a nearly total stoppage of commerce between town and country, primary necessities in Vila had dwindled to dangerously low levels (despite pleas to Majorca for food and fuel) making it necessary for Mestre to confiscate such staple items as flour, coffee, sugar and benzene. These shortages, compounded by the imminent prospect of armed combat, accounted for the exodus of large portions of land-owning city dwellers to their fincas, effectively placing Mestre’s forces in a no-win position.

Occupation Draws Nigh

To fully understand the Republican intervention in Ibiza and Formentera, which, after all, were not particularly crucial territories, we must look to the strategic importance of Majorca as a Mediterranean outpost. The Pitiuses were but ancillary appendages to the larger island, important only in the sense that their occupation by National forces would threaten the security of Majorca as a base of Republican operations. Therefore, as often occurred in the course of ancient and medieval history, the Pitiuses were targeted as initial objectives in the ante-theatre of greater war.

To this end, on 30th July, Republican aircraft circled low over Ibiza, throwing down propagandistic leaflets over Vila in an attempt to obtain peaceful surrender from Mestre and the Ibicenco people. What follows is a complete transcript of the proclamation:

IBICENCOS:

The loyal troops, seconded by the people, have suppressed the infamous rebellion against the Government constituted by the suffrage of Spanish citizenry.

Palma is being bombarded intensively and surrender is imminent.

Mahón, your sister island, seconds the Government, with [Republican] naval, air and ground forces fraternizing with her people.

Surrender so that you may avoid needless sacrifice, for your resistance will be suicide.

COMMANDANT MESTRES:

Abandon your absurd attitude which, without glory, will only bring you opprobrium and affront.

Disarm the fascists and ally yourselves with the Popular Front.

REPUBLICANS OF IBIZA:

If Commandant Mestres takes your side, which is the side of Reason and Justice, tolerate no reprisals against the fascists, for the Government of the Republic will take justice into its hands in due course.

We invite you to surrender in order to avoid the total destruction of Ibiza.

FELLOW COUNTRYMEN:

Do not give up. Evacuate the city. LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC!

Signed,

Military Commandant MARQUÉS and
Sergeant and fellow countryman JUAN TORRES

As it transpired, these words were written largely in vain for Mestre (whose name the propagandists managed to misspell twice) was as entrenched in the rightness of his position as the Republicans were in theirs. Nonetheless, as we noted earlier, the townspeople did heed the warning to vacate Vila, and all who could sought refuge in their country estates. In an unsuccessful attempt to halt this exodus, Mestre levied fines on anyone abandoning their habitual abode, censored the press and enjoined the Ibicenco people to place their trust in the new regime. Approximately sixty leftist sympathizers were incarcerated in the Castle at Dalt Vila, but none were killed nor was any blood shed during this initial mild phase of National repression.

The Republican Occupation (August - September 1936)

The actual capture of Ibiza was carried out under the auspices of the Generalitat, (the Catalan government) in conjunction with the Committee of Anti-Fascist Military Forces of Barcelona. The expedition set off from Barcelona on 5th August under the command of Captain Alberto Bayo, with Valencia as its first objective. There the Republican ranks were beefed up by a mixed regiment of soldiers, guardia civiles, left-wing activists (including six Ibicenco republicans who, for various reasons, found themselves in Valencia at the outbreak of war) as well as a rather motley crew of civilian militias who, in Artur Parron’s words “had little or no training, were of low social and cultural extraction, and for whom the expedition was merely an adventure.” This melange of humanity was headed up by Manuel Uribarry, described by Parron as “a contradictory character”.

On 6th August, the troops, under the dual leadership of Bayo and Uribarry, set of from Valencia in two destroyers, the Almirante Miranda and the Almirante Antequera, as well as a cargo carrier, the Mar Cantábrico. Their first stop was not Ibiza but Formentera, which they took hands down due to the smallness of the National detachment posted there under the command of Mestre’s subordinate, Lieutenant Miquel Tuells. In his memoir, My Disembarkation in Majorca (written during his exile in Mexico), Bayo describes the operation in vivid detail and I, in turn, reproduce it here for the readership:

“From the time we saw land we were possessed by nervousness and the desire to arrive swiftly.

We hoisted down some life boats and sent off two spokesmen, Justo Tur and Agustín Gutiérrez, to speak with the factious authorities on the island, intimidate them into total surrender and force them, in my name, to present themselves immediately in our ship (the Miranda), which they did in great haste.

Almost all of the inhabitants on the very beautiful island of Formentera were humble farmers or fishers who fully sympathized with the republican institutions but who had succumbed to the yoke of fascism due to the coercion of firearms wielded by the sergeant of the guardia civil and the detachment of infantry on that island.

These authorities spoke with me and assured me that there would be no resistance from any quarter of the island’s population.

[…] In Formentera we arrested Lieutenant Tuells whom I obliged to contact Commandant Mestres in Ibiza by cable, in my presence, and I dictated the words he should write:

 “My Commandant: I find myself in the position of having to surrender to the
forces of Captain Bayo which have come in two warships and two carriers
[here
there is a discrepancy for other sources site only one carrier] with many thousands
of soldiers, militias and abundant war material.


They have yet to arrive at this headquarter but resistance is useless. Within
minutes they will be here.
 
I inform you that tomorrow they will attack the island [of Ibiza] at four different
points with aviation, artillery and abundant personnel.
 
Here they have not taken reprisals and their moral is very high. They say that if                                 

Ibiza surrenders there will be no bloodshed, but if there is resistance all those
who oppose them will be swept away.”

Mestres gave the signal that he had received the telegram but did not reply.

Half an hour later I called him by cable and he attended my request for an interview.

I began by telling him this:                              

“Commandant Mestres: I have come at the helm of a strong regiment to re-establish constitutional legality, violated by a small group of traitors who have taken control of that island.

                                                                                                                                                   

I have sufficient forces at my disposal to take the island quickly despite any resistance, large or small, that you may put up.

                                                                                                                                                   

If you give yourselves up, your lives will be spared. If you want blood, you will have it in abundance.

                                                                                                                                                   

Think it over quickly and give me your answer in five minutes, which is the maximum time I will grant you.

                                                                                                                                                   

Your head is on the guillotine of war. It is up to you what I do with it.

                                                                                                                                                   

Captain Bayo”

Five minutes later he answered me thusly:

“The blood you wish to shed will be shed.”

Closing

Ironically, both Mestre and Tuells were subsequently executed, the former by the Republicans for his opposition, the later by the Nationals for his surrender. Join us next week as we go on to explore the imbrued events of Ibiza’s five-week Republican occupation. Until then.

 
Emily Kaufman
emilykaufman@liveibiza.com
 

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