Manuel Zapico, one of the last veterans of the guerrilla resistance
that fought in the hills and forests of Spain after the formal end of
the 1936-39 Civil War, has died in France at the age of 79. To the end
of his days, he was a vigorous campaigner for the rights of those who
had taken arms against the dictatorship, claiming rehabilitation and
recognition as defenders of the Republic that Franco's rebellion overthrew.
Zapico, known by his nom de guerre "El Asturiano", spent two-thirds
of his life in exile but clung to his Spanish nationality and his membership
of the Spanish Communist Party. In recent years, revisiting his homeland,
he was feted by the burgeoning movement for "the recovery of historical
memory" that reproaches the democratic mainstream for its "pact
of forgetfulness" with Franco's ideological heirs. His testimony
in interviews, documentary films and history seminars told a story of
the resistance "maquis" which had been systematically suppressed
Manuel Zapico Terente was born on 10 February 1926 in Sama de Langreo
in the northern mining region of Asturias, to a poor rural family steeped
in Republican politics. Franco's revolt in 1936 led to the fall of Asturias
within a year, but armed resistance began well before April 1939, when
Franco announced the war was over. It persisted for more than two decades:
the last recognised activist in the guerrilla maquis, José Castro
Veiga "El Piloto", was killed in 1965.
By the age of 15, Zapico was already working down the mines at Sama de
Langreo, later at San Luis, and was a member of the Communist Party. By
night, he used his skills to sabotage pits, rail tracks and supply lines.
Following the Nazi invasion of France, Manuel's father, Faustino, crossed
the border to fight in the resistance and perished in combat. His mother
had died several years earlier. In 1946, when his clandestine work was
attracting police suspicions, Zapico fled Asturias and sought work in
León. The net was closing on him when he opted to join the guerrilla
resistance full-time, first in Galicia, with the Lugo group led by El
Piloto, then in Ourense where he fought until the maquis suffered heavy
losses in the 1949 battle of Chavaga.
Zapico made his way back to León where, since
1942, a new maquis command under Manuel Girón Bazán had
united communist, socialist and anarchist ranks to harass Franco's forces
around El Bierzo and La Cabrera. The "Girones", as they became
known, were one of the most effective of all resistance units and Girón
attained legendary status, leading his men into battle even after a Civil
Guard officer had been decorated for supposedly killing him in action
in February 1949. Girón's sister Emilia had bravely identified
another guerrilla's corpse as that of her brother.
Two years later, Girón and a handful of his men were cornered in
the village of Corporales by a 200-strong Civil Guard force. The maquis
kept sniping for several hours from a house at the top end of a street,
while digging holes through the party walls, house by house, until all
could slip away through a back door at the far end of the block.
El Asturiano was one of Girón's closest lieutenants and became
a well-known figure in the villages around El Bierzo, helping the families
of persecuted Republicans, passing messages and collecting scarce supplies
for "the men in the hills". Their luck ran out in May 1951,
as Girón's unit was sheltering in a cave outside Molinaseca.
When El Asturiano and three comrades, Francisco Martínez "Quico",
Silverio Yebra "El Atravesao" and Juan Pedro Méndez "Jalisco"
left on a mission, an infiltrator shot Girón in the back. Since
the anti-fascist resistance had also lost hope of an Allied intervention
against Franco, the four survivors decided to make their way east and
escape to France.
Soon after they completed their hazardous five-month trek, Zapico was
arrested in southern France and was being deported back to Franco's custody
when he leapt from a moving train and went into hiding. When he emerged,
he found work in the construction industry in the Paris region, where
he eventually ran his own small business.
Under Franco's dictatorship, news of resistance activity was rigorously
censored. When mentioned at all, the maquis were portraited as "bandoleros"
or brigands, rather than fighters for the Republican cause. Even when
democracy was restored, mainstream parties preferred to draw a veil over
aspects of the country's bitterly divided past.
The award-winning Peruvian film-maker Javier Corcuera interviewed El Asturiano,
Quico, Emilia Girón and other maquis veterans for his 2002 documentary,
La guerrilla de la memoria. For those who only met Zapico in later life,
his warmth of character and gentle humour made it hard to imagine him
as a young man oiling his rifle in some icy mountain ravine. He was a
prominent member of the Asociación Archivo de Guerra y Exilio,
a pressure group set up to rescue the story of the resistance from oblivion.
Zapico died on 28 August and was buried near Montrichard in the Loire
region, where he had settled with his French wife, Yvonne, and their two
children. Two of his old guerrilla comrades, Quico and Jalisco, were present.
Quico Martínez told this newspaper: "Manolo was a noble character,
totally intransigent in the face of injustice. We saw a lot of good men
fall in a worthwhile struggle and he wanted us to fight on to see their
memory honoured." He said the Zapico family had received messages
of sympathy from the Spanish government and parties of the Left: "This
has eased the sense of injustice that always accompanies a death in exile."