- Ramón Mercader
Ramón Mercader Born 7 February 1913
Died 18 October 1978(aged 65)
Alias(es) Jacques Mornard, Frank Jacson Conviction(s) Murder Penalty 20 years imprisonment Occupation NKVD agent Parents Pau Mercader Marina (father) and Eustaquia María Caridad del Río Hernández (mother)
Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río Hernández (7 February 1913 — 18 October 1978) was a Spanish communist who became famous as the murderer of Russian Communist ideologist Leon Trotsky in 1940, in Mexico. Declassified archives have shown that he was a Soviet agent.
He served 20 years in Mexican prison for the murder; Joseph Stalin presented him with an Order of Lenin in absentia, and the KGB awarded him a Hero of the Soviet Union medal after his release in 1961.
Mercader was born in 1913 in Barcelona, but grew up in France with his mother, Eustaquia María Caridad del Río Hernández, after she separated from his father, Pau Mercader Marina. Cuban-born Caridad was an ardent Communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served the Soviet international underground. As a young man, Mercader embraced Communism, working for leftist organizations in Spain during the mid-1930s. He was briefly imprisoned for his activities, but was released in 1936 when the left-wing coalition Popular Front won in the elections of that year. During the civil war in Spain, Mercader was recruited by NKVD officer Nahum Eitingon and trained in Moscow as a Soviet agent.
Mercader's contacts with and befriending of Trotskyists began during the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell’s biographer Gordon Bowker relates how English communist David Crook, an ostensible volunteer for the Republican side, was sent to Albacete where he was taught Spanish and also given a crash course in surveillance techniques by Ramon Mercader. Crook then, on orders from the NKVD, used his job as war reporter for the News Chronicle to spy on Orwell and his Independent Labour Party comrades in the POUM Trotskyist militia.
Assassination of Trotsky
In 1938, while he was a student at the Sorbonne, in France, Mercader befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a confidant of Trotsky in Paris, assuming the identity Jacques Mornard, supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat. A year later, he was contacted by a representative of the "Bureau of the Fourth International." Ageloff returned to her native Brooklyn, in New York, in September that same year, and Mercader joined her, assuming the identity of Canadian Frank Jacson. He was given a passport which had originally belonged to a Canadian citizen named Tony Babich, a member of the Spanish Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War. Babich's photograph was removed and Mercader's was inserted in its place. Mercader explained to Ageloff that he purchased forged documents to avoid military service. In October, Mercader, ostensibly to tend to business affairs (a cover provided by Eitingon), moved to Mexico City, where Trotsky lived with his family, and persuaded Ageloff to join him. Through her, Mercader began to meet with Trotsky personally, posing as a supporter of Trotsky's ideas.
The then leader of the main American Trotskyist party, Joseph Hansen, was later accused by Trotsky's followers as being "a double agent of the FBI and the GPU" and of having assisted Mercader to penetrate Trotsky's inner circle of friends and acquaintances, an accusation Hansen denied.
On 20 August 1940, Mercader attacked and fatally wounded Trotsky with an ice axe, while the exiled Russian was in the study at his home in Coyoacán (then a village on the southern fringes of Mexico City). The blow failed to kill Trotsky instantly. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's guards burst in and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky, heavily wounded but still conscious, ordered them to spare his attacker's life, shouting "Do not kill him! This man has a story to tell."
Caridad and Eitingon, having arrived in Mexico City shortly after Mercader, were waiting outside the compound in separate cars to provide a getaway; but, when Mercader did not return, they left and fled the country.
Trotsky was taken to a hospital in the city and operated on but died the next day, as a result of "severe brain damages".
Mercader was turned over by Trotsky's guards to the Mexican authorities, to whom he refused to give his real identity. He would only identify himself as "Jacques Mornard". Mercader claimed to the police he had wanted to marry Ageloff, but Trotsky had forbidden the marriage. He alleged that a violent quarrel with Trotsky had led to him wanting to murder Trotsky. He stated that "... instead of finding myself face to face with a political chief who was directing the struggle for the liberation of the working class, I found myself before a man who desired nothing more than to satisfy his needs and desires of vengeance and of hate and who did not utilize the workers' struggle for anything more than a means of hiding his own paltriness and despicable calculations.... It was Trotsky who destroyed my nature, my future and all my affections. He converted me into a man without a name, without country, into an instrument of Trotsky. I was in a blind alley.... Trotsky crushed me in his hands as if I had been paper."
It was not until September 1950 that fingerprint evidence conclusively proved the assassin's true identity. Nevertheless, Mercader, in 1940, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Ageloff was initially arrested by the Mexican police as an accomplice, as she had lived together with Mercader on and off for about two years, up to the time of the assassination, but charges were quickly dropped.
Release and honors
After the first few years in prison, Mercader requested to be released on parole, but the request was denied by Dr. Jesús Siordia and the criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón. After almost 20 years in jail, he was eventually released from Mexico City's Palacio de Lecumberri prison on 6 May 1960 and moved to Havana, Cuba, where Fidel Castro's new revolutionary government welcomed him.
In 1961, he moved to the Soviet Union and was awarded the highest civilian decoration of the country, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, from the then head of the KGB Alexander Shelepin. He divided his time between Cuba and the Soviet Union for the rest of his life. He died in Havana in 1978.
Mercader is buried under the name Ramon Ivanovich Lopez (Рамон Иванович Лопес) in Moscow's Kuntsevo Cemetery. His name still has a place of honour in the Museum of Security Services in Lubyanka Square, Moscow.
In popular culture
- In 1967, West German television presented L. D. Trotzki – Tod im Exil ("L. D. Trotsky - Death in exile"), a play in two parts, directed by August Everding, with Peter Lühr in the role of Trotsky.
- Joseph Losey directed The Assassination of Trotsky, a film released in 1972, featuring Alain Delon as Frank Jacson/Mercader and Richard Burton as Trotsky.
- David Ives' play Variations on the Death of Trotsky is a comedy based on Mercader's assassination of Trotsky.
- A Spanish documentary about Mercader's life called Asaltar los cielos ("Storm the skies") was released in 1996, while a Spanish-language documentary, El Asesinato de Trotsky was co-produced in 2006 by The History Channel and Anima Films, and directed by Argentinian director Matías Gueilburt.
- The Trotsky assassination is depicted in the film Frida (2002), with Mercader portrayed by Antonio Zava (uncredited) and Trotsky by Geoffrey Rush.
- A 2009 novel by U.S. writer Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna, includes an account of Trotsky's assassination by "Jacson".
- Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes' novel El hombre que amaba a los perros ("The Man Who Loved Dogs"), Tusquets, Barcelona, 2009, refers to the lives of both Trotsky and Mercader, exploring the motivations and historical context of the assassination.
- ^ Other sources date Mercader's birth on 7 February 1914
- ^ a b Photograph of Mercader's Gravestone
- ^ Communication between Moscow Center and KGB Mexico City NSA archives
- ^ "The New Trotsky: No Longer a Devil", by Craig R. Whitney, New York Times, January 16, 1989
- ^ "Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow Had Trotsky Slain", New York Times, January 5, 1989.
- ^ "The Spanish Civil War and the Popular Front", lecture by Ann Talbot, August 2007
- ^ a b "Orwell and the spooks" by Richard Keeble; online International Journal of Radical Mass Media Criticism
- ^ a b c Sayers, Michael, and Albert E. Kahn. The Great Conspiracy against Russia. Second Printing (Paper Edition). London: Collet's Holdings Ltd., 1946., pp. 334-5.
- ^ Hansen, J. "With Trotsky to the End" in Fourth International, Volume I, October 1940, pp. 115-123.
- ^ International Committee of the Fourth International (1981): How the GPU Murdered Trotsky, 1981, ISBN 0861510194
- ^ "Trotsky murder weapon may have been found". CNN. Archived from the original on 2005-07-14. http://web.archive.org/web/20050714021002/http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/americas/07/11/mexico.trotsky.ap/index.html. Retrieved 2005-07-11.
- ^ "Forty Years Since Leon Trotsky’s Assassination" Militant International Review, summer 1980, from Marxist.net
- ^ Don Levine, Isaac (1960), The Mind of an Assassin, D1854 Signet Book, pp. 109-110, 173.
- ^ El Mercurio, 12 August, 2007
- ^ "Frida" in IMDBase
- ^ Toda la Literatura review, 2009 (in Spanish)
- Cabrera Infante, Guillermo (1983): Tres tristes tigres, Editorial Seix Barral, ISBN 84 322 3016 2.
- Conquest, Robert (1991): The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-507132-0.
- Andrew, Christopher; Vasili Mitrokhin (1999): The Sword and the Shield, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-00310-5.
- Padura Fuentes, Leonardo (2009): El hombre que amaba a los perros, Tusquets Editores (Narrativa), ISBN 978-84-8383-136-6.
- Jakupi, Gani (2010): Les Amants de Sylvia, Futuropolis, ISBN 978-2-7548-0304-5.
- Wilmers, Mary-Kay (2010): The Eitingons, Verso, ISBN 978-1-84467-642-2.
- Asaltar los Cielos, Spanish documentary about the life of Ramón Mercader, at IMDBase
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