Posted by: puebloman | April 19, 2009

The Beaux Gendarmes

There are no police at all in Cútar, so you had better get on with your neighbours because they effectively police themselves. They certainly decide what is and what isn’t important. When our wheelbarrow was pinched they said “oh, never mind!” And when we found it chucked down a ravine with the wheel missing they said “there you are then – it was just kids!”

Criminal activity in Cútar is is very rare and is always blamed on “gypsies”. This could mean real gypsies who steal your babies, but usually means Roumanians who are blamed for everything.

Almachar on the other hand has all sorts of police. There is the “Local” policewoman who is the arm of the law in the morning and works in the sweet shop in the afternoon, so if you are going to commit a crime, do it after lunch. She appears in full fetish with cuffs and truncheon on Friday market mornings and civic occasions such as Fiestas. She is local, well liked and more or less ignored.

Almáchar is also policed by the “Guardia Civil”. They are the military police, the Gendarmes of Spain, the state police force so feared and hated during the Franco dictatorship. They have housed themselves in the biggest building in the pueblo. Purpose built, huge, square and sited right on top of the hill it stands as a monumental response to  “bandit country” by which this region has always been known. The terrible terrain of the Axarquia – its steep hills upon which a donkey can hardly stand, its dog-leg tracks, its earth like broken glass, its passes and rock outcrops ideal for an ambush, makes it the last redoubt for refugees from the state.

During the sixteenth century, “the Monfi”, bands of outcast Muslims driven by Christians from their homes and livelihoods, escaped the Inquisition by fleeing into these hills. They robbed travellers and descended upon settlements to take their revenge upon priests and innkeepers who had betrayed them to the authorities. Now Cútar commemorates them with a fiesta.

During the nineteenth century bandits of the romantic sort flourished here , including the notorious “El Bizco” (the Boss-Eyed) bandit of El Borge – the village between Almáchar and Cútar. Bizco’s real name was Luis Muñoz Garcia, the “Billy the kid”of the Axarquia. Bloodthirsty, depraved and treacherous, his violent life story is tangled up with folklore. He was born in 1837 and was gunned down by the Guardia Civil in Lucena in the province of Cordoba on May 21st 1889. Today, Bizco’s house is a restaraunt.

After igniting a civil war in 1936 against the democratically elected government, Franco  — aided by Hitler and Mussolini — finally conquered Spain 1939 and ruled it for the next 36 years. He sent political prisoners to concentration camps and homosexuals to mental asylums. Women were not allowed to work without the permission of their husbands. For many in the Axarquia, the post war period was a time of terror deeper than the war itself. Villagers were caught between the violence of the Guardia Civil, brutal and unaccountable, and Republican ‘terrorist’ Guerillas who waited in vain for the allies to take on fascism in Spain as they had in Germany and Italy.

After Franco’s death in 1975, collusion across the Spanish political spectrum maintained a “pact of silence” about the Civil War to ensure, it was said, a peaceful transition to representative government. The dark side of of “peaceful transition” was that Francoist criminals kept their positions and remain unaccountable for the crimes they had committed. So there is not yet a restaurant or fiesta to commemorate this particlar era of killing. Too much remains unresolved.

Today the Guardia continues to patrol its stamping ground, the rural areas,  maintaining its duties in the areas of civil order, immigration, customs and terrorism. They have lost their feared black capes and tricorn hats and have assumed additional responsibilities for traffic and the environment. Officers can sometimes be seen lounging on their cars round the deserted grape fountain in Almáchar, slightly ridiculous with mirror sunglasses and automatic weapons, ready to arrest teenagers  riding scooters without insurance.
Their mottos “El honor es mi divisa” – Honour is my emblem and “Todo por la patria” – All in the service of the Fatherland do not yet acknowledge accountability and mutual consent, two vital aspects of policing a democratic country. Their emblem emblazoned across the bonnets of their cars is a bundle of rods round a double headed axe. It symbolises “strength through unity”, a favorite motto of Franco’s and  an icon of the Roman Empire, the “fasces” chosen by Mussolini to symbolise the fascist movement he invented. Perhaps Prime Minister Zapatero under his new law of “Historical memory” will recall this too and make some changes. . .


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