The City of the Jungle, the great secret camp of the anti-Franco guerrillas

It was not a legend, because the residents and the Civil Guard knew of its existence, but the passing of the years blurred its geometry, redefined its frames and conferred the category of myth on it. Oral tradition had distorted and mythologized the Jungle Citywhich was not known by the countrymen as such, but as the huts of the escapees, there where the reds were, a diffuse space that, from the village of Casaio, extended through the mountains of the Ourense region of Valdeorras, bordering with the Bierzo and the Cabrera.

The efforts of the researchers of the Sputnik Galego project have dusted off the pages of history and modulated the story of the local people. His work, focused on archaeological prospecting, has been complemented by the work of historians, anthropologists and editors such as Paco Macías, who has brought together their studies in the book Federation of Guerrillas of León-Galicia (Positive Editions), which sheds light on “the most important deposit of the warfare in Western Europe”, according to Miguel Riaño, head of production at Metropolis.coop and director of the documentary Jungle City.

There is no fantasy in his film and the admiration is contained, since he did not set out to narrate the history of the legendary guerrilla camp from the scraps of memory —because the memory can magnify, but also disrupt—, nor from the black and propaganda chronicle of the Francoism —also in need of enemies, the fiercer and more ruthless, the better—, but to reconstruct, based on archaeological findings, the geographical and operational dimension of the enclave. “A photograph or a description are not enough: the City of the Jungle is only understood when you are there,” says Riaño.

Getting there is not easy, hence its location: steep mountains, inaccessible valleys, a capricious and capricious orography that provided a refuge for those fleeing repression, those defeated on the northern front, and those who were afraid —the fifth , to war, to life—, precisely those who returned to the plain or turned themselves in to the authorities when they believed they were no longer in danger. The least politicized, so that those who remained in ambush were those who still dreamed that everything could change, confident that the Allied victory in World War II would bring about the fall of Franco.

Anarchists and communists, trade unionists and militiamen, workers and republicans entrench themselves in the mountains, commit robberies, avenge their dead and forge the future Federation of Guerrillas of León-Galicia, whose congresses —with the exception of the founding one, in Ferradillo (Bierzo)— take place in Ciudad de la Selva, where the ideological, economic and military bases of the organization are established. “It is the definitive step for those who have fled to become guerrillas, in the vanguard of the old Republican Army that continues without being defeated,” writes Alejandro Rodríguez Gutiérrez in the book published by Positivas.

“This is how a mythical place was born, the only one where the republican flag was raised during the Franco regime,” recalls the archaeologist and historian Xurxo Ayán. In addition to the group of CasaioOthers operate in El Bierzo, La Cabrera, Os Ancares and the area of ​​Valdeorras, Viana and Trives. Among the proper names, Manuel Girón, César Ríos or Marcelino Fernández Glassesalthough some researchers prefer to speak of the collective and not of individuals, who nonetheless survive in the popular imagination for various reasons, such as Bailarín.

Members of the Leon-Galicia Guerrilla Federation. Positive Edits

Going into the City of the Jungle was suicide, explains Miguel Riaño, who describes the group that operated in the Casaio mountains as “the one that had the most in check to the Francoism“. It was well articulated, its logistics were commendable and it had solid networks. “Before, the guerrillas carried out skirmishes and attacks from different points, but they did not have a defined fighting space. Something that does happen in the City of the Jungle, a battlefront to use from where the continuation of a specific conflict starts,” adds the director of the documentary.

In addition, the guerrillas would have the help of the engineer Alexander Easton, known as the Englishman despite his Scottish origin, a spy for the British Government who lived in El Bierzo who provided them with contacts with political groups in exile, a typewriter, a duplicator, a radio and other tools, in addition to fitting out the attic of his house in Carracedo as a clandestine clinic where they treated the maquis wounded. And, through José María Urquiola Chemawould establish relations with the PCE and would join the Spanish National Union (UNE), which was trying to overthrow Franco from France.

Xurxo Ayán contrasts that unredeemed territory of the long war, where the newspaper was read the guerrilla, with the silent and silenced struggle of the women of the plain. “Anti-Franco historiography insisted on demonstrating that the guerrillas were very well organized. However, it is a military and androcentric vision. In reality, it survived thanks to popular support and the care of those who acted as liaisons. Some were not even politicized, but they applied the peasant ethic of solidarity”, explains the historian. “The rear guards are also part of an army,” he writes in the book. “He knew it well. repressive apparatus: by going against the women you were fighting the very heart of the guerrilla”.

“The Federation posed a real danger to the Franco regime,” concludes Carlos Tejerizo-García, archaeologist and director of the Sputnik Labrego project. “The authorities did not know exactly where they were hiding and they did not dare to enter either. The difficulty of the mountainous landscape had facilitated the installation of a permanent camp in a border area connected to various areas controlled by other guerrillas. Thus was born the City of the Jungle” . When he found out about its existence, Tejerizo set out to discover the real dimension of a mythical but indefinite territory. Then, after putting on his boots, he went into the mountains. What he found he will tell in a future installment.

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