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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Figures in Tenerife History

Here Lived D. Luis Rodríguez Figueroa. Lawyer, historian and poet. 1875 - 1936

There are many figures who have played a part in Tenerife's history, about whom, most of us, know very little. When it comes to those people whose lives were directly touched by harsh repression and the Spanish Civil War, our knowledge diminishes greatly and the mysteries multiply themselves manifold. The political and emotional repercussions of the war reverberated far beyond the boundaries of Spain and sparked passion among international intellectual and political communities, passions which still are present in Spanish - and Canary Islands - politics today.

One such figure is Luis Rodríguez Figueroa, who was born in Puerto de la Cruz in 1875 (where there is a street named after him) in. He studied law at the University of Granada and practiced law in Tenerife, along with maintaining a cultural, social and political life on the island. Rodriguez Figueroa was an intellectual, involved in the fight against the domination and influence of a cacique (political leader or boss). He was worried about the elevated level of illiteracy in the Canary Islands and about the mediocrity in political life. This mediocrity inspired Rodriguez Figueroa to write a novel, "El Cacique".

El Cacique is an novel of the school, Modernismo Canario (Canarian Modernism). The central character is an heir to the conquistadores and his sidekick, Cho Sixto, a descendant of the pre-colonial Canarian inhabitants. (The novel is available from Centro de la Cultura Popular Canaria). Rodriguez Figueroa also wrote in several newspapers on diverse subjects of the Canarian reality and, sometimes, used the pseudonym of Guillón Barrús.

Figueroa occupied various political positions: he was a local councillor in Puerto de la Cruz in 1912 and in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1920. He was a member of the Tenerife Cabildo (Island Corporation) in 1919. From republican ideas, Rodriguez Figueroa evolved towards a leftist position, some say close to socialism and was elected as a delegate for the Izquierda Republicana (Republican Left) to the Cortes (Spanish parliament) in February 1936. In that same year, Rodríguez Figueroa was assassinated by the fascist movement.

Writer, Leopoldo O'Shanahan, grandson of Luis Rodríguez Figueroa, says there are four versions of what happened to his grandfather. Some have said that he was thrown into the sea, others say he just "disappeared" en route between Cádiz and Tenerife, while others assure him that Rodríguez Figueroa was taken to Llano de Ucanca, in Las Cañadas del Teide, where he was obliged to dig his own grave. The forth story says he was beaten to death.

In the wake of the war, the winners began a program of mass killing of opponents where house searches were carried out, and unwanted individuals were often jailed or killed. On all sides, brutality was common. O'Shanahan, in an interview with Spanish news agency, EFE, on the publication of his own work in 2004, said it began with the thought that he was going to leave this world without knowing the truth about his family.

Rodríguez Figueroa's son, Guetón Rodríguez de la Sierra, had been born in the same year - 100 years ago in 1906 - as Canarian surrealist, Óscar Domínguez. In fact, the pair had gone to school together in La Laguna and later, shared the frivolous life of Paris. When the painter was broke, Guetón Rodríguez bought paintings from him in order provide him with a bit of money, although, later, these paintings disappeared during the Civil War, when the family home in La Laguna was ransacked. O'Shanahan believes that a bit much is being made of a purely casual link between Domínguez and other surrealists of that era and that the facts of the Civil War in the Canary Islands continue to be distorted.

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