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Friday, July 16, 2021

The days before July 18, 1936 in Tenerife

Palacio de la Capitanía General de Canarias Koppchen, CC BY 3.0

An assassination attempt led Franco to shout "Socorro, auxilio, pistoleros" (Help, help, gunmen), when they tried to enter his room at the Military Command of the Canary Islands, today Palacio de la Capitanía General de Canarias, located in the Plaza Weyler, by force. He had been in the capital of Tenerife for a few months - having arrived in Tenerife on Friday, March 13, 1936 - Franco knew that he was going to be the target of an attack, so he took great precautions. Among them, sleeping with the doors and windows completely closed.

The book Crónica de Vencidos (Chronicle of the Vanquished), by the researcher Ricardo García Luis, collects several testimonies about that attempted attack on Franco on the night of July 14, 1936 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. One of those testimonies is from Antonio Tejera Alonso, known as Antoñé. According to the author, this man from Tenerife was one of the three anarchists who wanted to kill Franco that hot night, 85 years ago.

They were not alone. They had help inside and outside the organization. 

One of the essential collaborators for his plan to go well was María Culi Palou, a 42-year-old Catalan living in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. She was the owner of the Odeón restaurant, but she also ran a soldiers' canteen located on one of the sides of the Captaincy General. This woman, known as Maruca, spent many years in prison accused of helping the resistance fighting the dictatorship. In her file, she appears as a liaison agent for extremist elements and she was tried and sentenced on January 11, 1937 along with 60 other people.

Lieutenant General Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo, in his book Mi vida junto a Franco (My life with Franco), also writes about this: “In July, at the insistence of the anonymous information I received, in which it was said that the plans to assassinate Franco were still being prepared, I decided to reinforce the Captaincy guard and increase the personal escort of officers (…) One evening several soldiers who were on duty noticed that someone was moving and taking shelter in the trees that were next to the wall of the building. They fired quickly making several individuals flee. There were three of them and they entered the recently opened streets that were in that sector”.

Days after the frustrated plan to kill him, on July 18, 1936, Franco prompted Golpe de Estado (coup) that started the Spanish Civil War.

Researcher Pedro Medina Sanabria tells us that on July 18, 1936: "With the first rays of the sun on July 18, 1936, Commander Alfonso Moreno Ureña occupied the Civil Government of Santa Cruz Tenerife, with the infantry troops under his command. They were joined by the forces in charge of the custody and defence of the Civil Government itself, who did not present any resistance." The Civil Government building was that of the old Palacio de Carta, located in the Plaza de la República, formerly known as Plaza de la Constitución, which is today Plaza de la Candelaria number nine.

The version of the events of July 18, 1936, by the journalist Víctor Zurita Soler (1891 - 1974), founder of “La Tarde”, a Tenerife evening newspaper for 55 years, (1927 to 1982), published in 1937 the book «In Tenerife Franco planned the nationalist movement» subtitled «Anecdotes and scenes from the stay of the Generalissimo in the Canary Islands and his departure for Tetouan». Reports with which the newspaper "La Tarde" reached unusual circulation numbers for its time, written in a language considered very journalistic and even colloquial, collecting various testimonies, among which those that Víctor Zurita Soler received directly from the Colonel Chief of the General Staff of Franco in Tenerife, Teódulo González Peral:
"I can assure you that a state of war could be declared in Tenerife from one o'clock in the evening, when we became aware of the military movement in Morocco. From here we communicated to General Franco the news of the Uprising in Africa, and if the time was delayed, it was only to hope that it would simultaneously take place in Las Palmas. I can also add that we had specific instructions to make the declaration of a state of war here, given by General Franco in person, as soon as we were cut off from him or something happened in the city or on the island that required it."
Mr. González Peral adds: “At one o'clock [on July 18, 1936] and meeting in his office, the military commander Mr. [José] Cáceres [Sánchez]; The auditor, Mr. [José] Samsó [Henríquez] and the main corps chiefs, an urgent radio [message] was received from Melilla, which notified the uprising of the African forces, news that we were already waiting for. Then I called the Las Palmas General Staff Commander by phone, so that he could get in touch with General Franco, indicating what was happening and urging him on the urgency of the case. As time passed and I had no news from the neighbouring island, I decided to call the hotel where the general was staying by phone. 

It was two fifteen in the morning. Franco rested.

"I called him given the urgency of the case. He came to the phone and I read him the text of the dispatch, the general then telling me that he would adopt all the pertinent provisions for the incorporation of Gran Canaria to the National Movement and that he would leave urgently for Gando, in order to take the plane that was prepared to take him to Morocco."

"As far as Tenerife was concerned, I told the general that everything was ready and that a state of war could be declared; but that he could delay it until 5 in the morning, not a minute more." That night, meetings and lobbying had been held in the Civil Government and the governor in person had been called to a cable conference that was held from the Telegraph Centre, and in it it seems that the elements of the Government told him that there were rumours of a military uprising, to which the civil governor replied that as far as the Canary Islands were concerned, all the precautions were taken.

He spent the night at the Military Command. 

The surveillance in the barracks was reinforced; Orders were issued for the entire officers to concentrate on them and whatever provisions were appropriate were adopted in such a serious case. Some officers came to the Command to ask me if something abnormal was happening, and I was forced to hide the truth from everyone, which they would soon learn, telling them then, to get out of the way, that we had news that an attempt was being made an assault on the barracks. Naturally, not everyone was very convinced by my words.

Later, in agreement with Colonel [José] Cáceres [Sánchez], I gave orders that at five o'clock in the morning, the strategic points of the city be taken, the State of War be declared and the Civil Government be taken. What will it cost? At five o'clock the troops left the barracks and entered the Plaza de la Constitución through the streets of Cruz Verde, Candelaria and Avenida Marítima, surrounding the building by its two facades. This was done without the slightest incident occurring.

The director of the National Telephone Company, Mr. Mestres, received at nightfall on the 17th, several urgent radiotelephone calls from Madrid, asking him if something was happening in the Canary Islands. Mr. Mestres - the colonel of the General Staff continues to speak, visited me to convey the question that was being asked from Madrid. I replied that absolutely nothing happened in the Canary Islands, as it was, in fact, since nothing had happened up to that moment, but this put us on our guard and we were constantly listening.

Next, Mr. González Peral tells us about a singularly painful matter. He thus manifests it to us when he begins to refer it to us and that anguish is noticed when looking at the face of the prestigious military commander who provides us with these data, or perhaps only when noticing his voice veiled by a hint of regret. The civil governor, condemned by a council of war, and later shot, could have saved his life. When General Franco was threatened with death in Tenerife, I went - says the colonel - to visit the now deceased Mr. Vázquez Moro to demand more than beg him to establish a close watch to avoid the attack prepared against the military commander of the Archipelago. The governor gladly offered to please me and arranged for two agents of the Vigilance Corps to discreetly accompany the general and guard him. The service, however, was incomplete since a car was not made available to these police officers so that they could closely follow the general, since he always travelled by car. In any case, I thanked Mr. [Manuel] Vázquez Moro for his request and told him: As things are going, it is not difficult that in not too distant time you will need, - to save yourself from revolutionary extremism, from the help of the military element, and by when that time comes I promise you my help.

When the national movement exploded and once the one who had been governor had been detained in his rooms of the civil government, I sent an official of my trust to that building to meet with him and tell him that he ratified me in the previous offer. There was nothing to fear, since I was ready - and General Franco would have approved my resolution - to make him leave Spain, the former governor fixing in advance the place abroad where he wanted to reside. But the sad thing was that Mr. Vázquez Moro later broke his promise not to leave his private rooms in the Government building and that he was reckless in arriving at the assembly hall and leaning out on the main balcony, giving rise with his attitude to an uprising that it had serious consequences and could have had much worse. That relieved me of the moral commitment. He was later subjected to summary and well known is the result.[1] The colonel concentrated his thoughts for a moment and finally replied: The governor was a good person; but he did not have good advisers. There is no doubt that these provoked and precipitated his ruin.

Palacio de Carta, Santa Cruz de Tenerife CARLOS TEIXIDOR CADENAS, CC BY-SA 3.0

[1] Palacio de Carta: On July 18, 1936, when it was the seat of the civil government, it was taken over by the coup military in the early hours of the morning, and the civil governor who also lived there, Mr. Manuel Vázquez Moro, was kidnapped, shot in October of that same year after a sham trial in which he was charged with treason. 

On Saturday, the 18th, at six in the afternoon, a bloody collision took place between the Army forces that were garrisoning the Civil Government building and a fraction made up of twelve guards from the Assault Section of this capital, under the command of a lieutenant, those who were located in some houses and rooftops of the Plaza de la Constitución (now Plaza de la Candelaria) and from there they fired on the infantry soldiers located in front of the aforementioned Civil Government building. This Assault force had initially joined the National Movement initiated by the garrison of the Canary Islands, but surely changed its mind as it was subjected to coercion and external influences. In the skirmish, which did not take on any greater character thanks to the promptness and courage used by force, an Assault agent was killed and another wounded.

After dark, the Captain of the General Staff, Don Francisco Rodríguez [Martínez] left the Military Command, commanding a few soldiers, who managed to disarm and capture the rebel guards, thus ending the bloody and regrettable episode of the 18th.

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