Magazine article History Today

Crime and Punishment in 1930's Barcelona

Magazine article History Today

Crime and Punishment in 1930's Barcelona

Article excerpt

On December 21st, 1934, Andres Aranda Ortiz, a twenty-year old anarchist, was garotted in Barcelona prison. Before the executioner ended Aranda's short life, the condemned youth launched a final passionate call of |Viva la anarquia' (Long live anarchy!), the favoured cry of anarchists condemned to death. Like many anarchists before him, Aranda faced his executioner with stoical contempt. However, Aranda was not executed for killing traditional anarchist targets, such as tyrannical politicians or hated employers. Instead, Aranda went to the executioner for his part in a bungled robbery on a tailors' shop which left a fellow worker dead.

Aranda represented the sum total of bourgeois fears in 1930s Catalonia. During these years, both the local authorities and business interests - what can be called |Official Barcelona' - were alarmed at the regularity of armed robberies which earned the city the title, |the Catalan Chicago'. At Aranda's trial, and in the conservative press prior to his execution, |Official Barcelona' forcefully articulated its accumulated neuroses regarding law and order. In fact, it was the deafening clamour of politicians, businessmen, and military, legal and religious personalities, rather than any conclusive evidence, which provided the basis for the prosecution case that led Aranda to his death.

Aranda's history of youthful crime was taken by the authorities as evidence of the breakdown in the family as a socialising influence. Aranda's parents lived and worked in Perpignan in France, thereby confirming conservative fears of declining parental guidance. Freed of filial responsibility, youth inevitably strayed from the path of Christian righteousness. This belief explained what the police complained was Aranda's |unlimited cynicism', and his lack of repentance for his criminal ways.

Aranda validated conservative moral panics about |runaway children' apparently |perverted' by anarchism. The press regularly ran stories of homeless young robbers and |bohemian youth' leading |dissolute' and |licentious' lives in the bars of Barcelona's notorious Barri Xino (Chinatown). The Barri Xino horrified |Official Barcelona': it was seen as both a potential flash-point for social conflict and the centre of criminal activity. La Vanguardia, Barcelona's leading bourgeois daily, encapsulated these fears, referring darkly to the area as |the undoubted danger of the slums, where the disease and decay of its dark hovels create a climate favourable to the most vile germinations'. images of the inhabitants of the Barri Xino, described as |legions of villains and swarms of parasites', clearly tormented the upper classes. Aranda himself frequented bars in the Barri Xino; the district also provided the setting for his failed robbery.

Born in Valencia, Aranda was not a native of Catalonia. He therefore fitted the racist criminal stereotypes drawn up by the Esquerra, the ruling Captain Republican party in the 1930s. Simplistically believing that the full separation of Catalonia from the Spanish state would end all crime, the Esquerra explained lawlessness as the near exclusive pursuit of non-Catalans. In the short-term, L'Opinio, a pro-Esquerra paper, backed immigration controls as, |Barcelona is a city open to all undesirables, not just from Spain, but from the world over'. Meanwhile, L'Opinio advocated the wholesale repatriation of those immigrants who had already arrived in Barcelona on the grounds that |they contaminate us'. Yet repatriation failed to cut crime. Finally, in March 1934, nine months before Aranda's execution, Esquerra distanced itself from its earlier advocacy of penal reform, accepting the need for the temporary and selective use of the death penalty against robbers.

According to |Official Barcelona', robbers were congenital law breakers. Again, Aranda apparently confirmed this stereotype. At the time of his arrest, he already had a conviction for a small robbery. …

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