Marcos Ana

Marcos Ana (1920–2016) was a Spanish anti-fascist poet who was imprisoned for 23 years (1939–1962) during the Franco dictatorship. He’d originally been sentenced to death after a show trial which convicted him of killing two priests during the Spanish Civil War.

He was arrested at the age of 19 and tortured in a Madrid police station before his conviction in a show trial. His lawyer was a Francoist appointed official who did not even bother presenting a defence, and merely asked for “clemency”. Ana was duly sentenced to death, and twice in the immediate post-war years he was allowed to believe his execution was imminent. At the second of these incidents, his death sentence was commuted to 60 years’ imprisonment the night before he had been due to be executed, but the jailers chose not to inform him of this, instead allowing him to endure the torture of believing he was living through his last night on Earth.

He’d come from a humble background, but in prison Ana was surrounded by intellectuals and he educated himself there. He took to poetry, and over the 1950s his poems were smuggled out of prison and published under the pseudonym of “Marcos Ana” (his two parents’ names).

In 2007 Marcos Ana wrote an influential memoir, Decidme cómo es un árbol (Tell Me What a Tree Is Like), which described his experiences. He wrote about the way that prisoners’ solidarity with each other helped them to maintain their sanity and their dignity. Anyone who got a package of food from their families shared it with the collective, and prisoners also organised underground study groups, clandestine newspapers, and even (later on) illicit theatrical performances.

In 1943 Marcos Ana took the heat when the prison guards discovered one of the clandestine newspapers. Through 20 days of torture, Ana maintained that he was the only organiser of this newspaper, so as to protect his comrades. (This was after various other prisoners had already broken under torture, leading to the identification of Ana as an organiser in the first place.) In his memoir, Ana described the imagining of one’s future as one of the only ways one can resist torture, stating that he strengthened his resolve by asking himself how he wanted to return to the other prisoners: with shame, knowing he’d implicated some of them, or with his head held high, knowing that he’d done the right thing.

After his release from prison he spent 15 years in exile in France, returning in 1977 just in time for the coup attempt which saw Francoist hardliners try to forestall the transition to democracy.

After the publication of his memoir, a representative of a far right political party, España 200, accused Ana of being a mere “murderer poet” who’d killed two priests. The left-wing party Izquierda Unida brought a defamation action against the representative in question, but a Madrid court found in favour of the representative, noting that as Ana had indeed been convicted of that exact crime, the representative was merely stating facts. This specific kind of injustice has finally been addressed in 2022, with the Spanish government passing a law to overturn all the Franco-era political convictions. This is, however, after Ana’s 2016 death, as well as after of the deaths of many of the others who’d suffered unfair, politically-motivated convictions.

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