golpe y represión en el Campo de Gibraltar

A war against the people

On 18th July 1936 General Franco led an insurrection which the Spanish oligarchy had been slowly and meticulously planning for years. The objective was to put an end to the democracy and social advances represented by the Second Republic and protect with a firm hand the interests of the landowning class and its allies: the Catholic church, military hierarchy and the banking sector. The military supplanted the political right, who were only too happy to let it. They wanted it to overcome the left and establish an absolute power which would assure their privileges.

The generals wanted to make sure there was no repeat of the failure of the coup organised by Sanjurjo on 20th August 1932. Led by that general from Sevilla, that attempt failed because most of the Army failed to join in and because union organisations called a general strike in the capital city of Andalucía and confronted the rebels. This, known as the Sanjurjada, was the first uprising by the armed forces against the Republic since it was established in 1931.

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Merciless terrorism

The rebels used terror in the form of assassination, imprisonment and the torture of the defenceless civil population. Not only did they want to remove power from the Popular Front, who had won the elections in February 1936; they also wanted the physical elimination of everybody who was involved with left-wing parties and unions.

General Mola made this clear in the instruction he gave to the conspirators: “Bear in mind that the action has to be extremely violent to reduce the enemy, who is strong and well-organised, as quickly as possible. All leaders of political parties, societies or unions who are not part of the Movement will be jailed and harsh punishments will be applied to those individuals to make an example of them, and strangle any rebellious movements or strikes.”

The war against the Spanish people had been meticulously prepared by the official conspirators


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It took three years for fascism to prevail

The coup d’état didn’t triumph as quickly as those behind it had expected. Workers, farmers, soldiers loyal to the Republic, union members and local residents defeated the military traitors in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga and a large part of Spain. It took Spanish fascism three years of war against the people before it won. And when the war ended, the repression continued. More than one million dead, more than half a million in exile and hundreds of thousands of prisoners and those who suffered reprisals were the legacy of the death and repression by Franco and his allies.

With the arrival of the Republic and the disappearance of the monarchy, the landowners had lost one of their mechanisms of power: the aristocracy and the military who surrounded the monarch and exercised power through him, the so-called ‘camarilla palatina’ with its different military and civil factors. The aggressiveness of agricultural and industrial workers, the threat – more imaginary than real – of the Republican agrarian reform, the lack of political preparation by the aristocracy as a class and the favourable international situation with the ascent of fascism and Nazi-ism, incited the large landowners to employ a political instrument they knew how to use: the military coup.

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A strategic area

The rebels’ priority was to control the Straits of Gibraltar and the Bay of Algeciras. By the end of July they had already achieved this, and it enabled them to transport the African troops they needed to expand their power over the whole region. The troops came first by hydroplane, then by aeroplane and finally by boat. The military columns strengthened the rebels’ control through the use of terror. In Algeciras, the shootings began immediately. Those who were detained were taken to the cemetery, where they were executed by firing squad. They were then shot in the head to ensure that they were dead. More than 300 people were killed in this way. A similar number died in La Línea. In San Roque there is documentary evidence to indicate that 91 people met the same fate; in Los Barrios, 43; in Tarifa 58; in Jimena 85 and in Castellar, 24.

Very little war but a great many shootings in the Campo de Gibraltar

There were very few instances of conflict in the Campo de Gibraltar during the war. The coup carried out by the rebels against the legitimate government of the Second Republic rapidly succeeded in Algeciras, La Línea and San Roque.

There was practically no war, but there was fierce repression. There is documentary evidence that about 600 people were assassinated or shot, and in addition many were executed in the first months of the war, leaving no trace of their disappearance, and others died elsewhere. Historians calculate that Franco’s supporters shot about 1,000 people in the Campo de Gibraltar: approximately 300 in Algeciras alone and a similar number in La Línea.

In Jimena, where popular resistance delayed the entry of the fascists until the end of September 1936, there is evidence that about 100 people were shot by the insurrectionists.


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A planned repression

The military insurrectionists had a systematic plan to eliminate their political opponents. It involved killing or imprisoning everyone, in every village and every town, who was suspected of having collaborated with the Popular Front, the left-wing coalition which in this region had received more than 80 per cent of votes in February 1936.

The Republican reprisals against those on the right or who were suspected of collaborating with those plotting the coup were spontaneous, and the result of outrage when the atrocities committed by the fascists in the area they ruled became known. This Republican violence ended the lives of seven people in San Roque and 16 in Jimena.
Because of its geographic location and the speed with which the insurrectionists triumphed, the Campo de Gibraltar became the first testing site for Francoist repression: it was planned, systematic and cruel, and it cost the lives of more than 1,000 people who were shot against the walls of the cemeteries in seven municipalities.

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Thousands from the Campo de Gibraltar fled into exile

As Franco’s troops advanced, hundreds of people in nearly every town and village in the Campo de Gibraltar left. Many of them were union members, left-wing militants and republican sympathisers, who fled with their families to Málaga province. Many then went on to Almería, Valencia, Catalonia and France. More than 5,000 people saved their lives by entering Gibraltar, where they were housed in a refugee camp on the land where the airport stands today. Many went from there to North Africa, France, Britain or America.

Another of the more visible consequences of the war and the rebels’ repression of the civil population of the Campo de Gibraltar was the large number of people who left the towns and villages which were falling into the hands of the fascists. Tens of thousands of people left their homes, taking little more than the clothes they were wearing, and set off on journeys which took them in different directions.

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