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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Four

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. This week we will pick up the thread of our story in July 1936 with the outbreak of civil war across Spain. Although there is much more that could be said about pre-war society in Ibiza and Formentera, I will limit myself to reiterating the general political tenor of the islands as borne out by the three elections held during the Second Republic.

Political Composition of the Pitiuses

Without going into an exact breakdown of the different parties represented at the polls, I will simply give the results in terms of right versus left. In Ibiza, the 1931 elections (which ushered in the Reformist Biennium) gave a rightist-centre victory in the ratio of 68% to 32%, while in Formentera the same elections gave a leftist victory in the ratio of 85% to 15%. The 1933 elections (which ushered in the Black Biennium) gave a landslide rightist-centre victory in Ibiza in the ratio of 92% to 8%, while in Formentera the abstention of the anarchists resulted likewise in an unusual rightist-centre victory in the ratio of 56% to 44%. The 1936 elections (which ushered in the short-lived Popular Front) gave a purely rightist victory in Ibiza - by this time Spain’s political centre had caved in - in the ratio of 80% to 20%, while in Formentera the leftist victory was a rather close shave at 57% to 43%.

Although it would appear from the foregoing that public sentiment in Ibiza swayed strongly to the right and in Formentera tended somewhat inconsistently to the left, in actual fact the average man in the campo harboured no political sentiments whatsoever. In his brief but thoughtful pocket book, La Guerra Civil a Eivissa i Formentera (1936-1939), Artur Parron holds that: “Between the two blocks lay the great majority of the population, extremely passive and far removed from the processes of political dispute.” Nonetheless, for our purposes, we can perhaps resolve this dilemma by qualifying that the politically active portions of the Pitiusan population adhered to the foregoing tendencies.

The Outbreak of War

War was served in Spain on 17th July, 1936 when Franco’s ‘African Army’ set forth from Morocco intending to overthrow the Second Republic in one fell swoop. The General’s plans, however, did not take into account the fierce popular and military resistance, most notably in Madrid and Barcelona, that would thwart the effectiveness of the coup and give rise to a three-year civil war, one of the bloodiest in contemporary history. The Balearics was drawn into the theatre of war on 19th July when one of Franco’s top conspirators, General Goded, (leader of the Catalonian offensive) seized Palma de Majorca. In the strict military sense, Ibiza was left untouched at this point, although the maximum military figure on the island, Rafael García Ledesma (Captain of Infantry), lent his support to the National cause and declared a state of war in the Pitiuses.

Summering Commandant Takes Command

As it happened, when war broke out Juli Mestre, Commandant of Infantry - and therefore García Ledesma’s superior - was summering in Ibiza as was his yearly custom. On 20th July, Mestre was assigned military control of the island and immediately began to mobilize the troops on hand. As these were in short supply, the Commandant enlisted the aid of numerous local volunteers who readily (too readily, as we shall see) rallied to the National cause. In short time Mestre had at his disposal the 143 professional military officers who were stationed in Ibiza, some 30 guàrdia civils, a division of customs officers as well as a make-shift contingent of civilian volunteers that has been estimated at 150 to 200 men.

This civilian component was made up of the more conservative elements of Ibicenco society, including some extreme rightwing adherents such as Falangists and Carlists (i.e. monarchists who advocated the restitution of a long-extinct line of Bourbons to the Spanish throne). Many retired military men and civil guards, experienced in the use of firearms, also came forth to lend the Commandant their able-bodied support. These volunteers were incorporated into the patrol squads that were sent to the villages to maintain public order and repress any pro-republican activities as well as survey the coastline for unwarranted maritime activity.

Suffice it to say that within the space of a week Mestre had marshalled enough manpower to overcome any possible opposition from local leftwing factions which, in addition to being scant in number, were gravely lacking in internal cohesion. Mestre’s only misgiving - which subsequently proved accurate - was his feeling that certain elements within the customs division could not be counted on to uphold the anti-republican cause. His suspicions were borne out during the Republican occupation of the island when the customs divisions in both Ibiza and Majorca switched loyalties and banded with those who wished to conserve Spain’s legitimate government. (Readers will remember from our overview that the very heart of the Spanish Army was divided into two ideological blocks: the Unión Militar Española and the Unión Militar Republicana Antifascista.)


Meanwhile in Formentera, the elected representative for the Popular Front, Joan Riera i Yern, had been ousted from office on 19th July and replaced by the former rightist mayor, Joan Serra i Torres, who had held office during the Black Biennium. The rightwing thus regained control of the administrative level of Formenterenc society, but lacked military backing to bolster their position. To this end, Mestre sent a small detachment of 23 soldiers to the lesser isle, thus hoping to discourage any potential rebelliousness from anarchist quarters. In one sense, the Commandant’s ploy worked inasmuch as the mere presence of the detachment served to keep civil order in check without the use of violence. With one exception, the systematic persecution of leftist sympathizers had not yet come into play at this stage of the game. (The exception occurred on 6th August when five Formenterencs were sent to jail in Dalt Vila.) In another sense, however, Mestre’s plan backfired in that, during the imminent Republican occupation of Ibiza, the professional fighting forces at the Commandant’s disposal were reduced as a result of his posting soldiers in Formentera.


Also, as we shall see next week, many of his civilian volunteers backed out as soon as real military action reared its ugly head. Join us then for the continuing story.

Emily Kaufman