The republican who freed Franco’s Barcelona from the ice | Spain

-It’s okay. What happens.

“At your service, Excellency.”

El Pardo’s little light went out. It was close to eight in the morning on December 27, 1962. Two hours later, at the Farga de Moles Customs House, between Spain and Andorra, the commissioner gave the order to lift the barrier. “We’re leaving!” Shouted the leader of the 12-man crew at the controls of his snowplows. And the caravan headed down the road towards Barcelona.

At that same time, the Catalan capital woke up blocked by ice and snow for the third consecutive day. Like Madrid 59 years later. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1962, thicknesses of 70 centimeters were accumulated in the center of the city and 60 centimeters on the runways of the El Prat airport, which was closed for four days. The disturbance generated by the historic snowfall – whose records have not been surpassed by any other to date – passed quickly and on the 26th the low skies and the north wind favored a rapid freezing of the accumulated snow on the streets. That day, a public holiday in the city, the municipal services did not act, which aggravated the situation. As happened this past weekend in Madrid, Barcelona was completely paralyzed. Private cars, taxis and fleet of buses, immobilized. The subway worked intermittently due to continuous power outages. The entrances to the main hospitals were buried under a meter of snow and ice. The firefighters took over the work of transporting the sick. Shops and markets were closed for several days. The Army tried to open roads to supply the city without success: they lacked appropriate machinery.

Two decades earlier, in January 1939, Andreu Claret led the withdrawal of the high positions of the Republican Government in Catalonia. When he crossed the border, as just another exile, he joined the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation while helping other Spanish exiles like him in the south of France, among whom was Pau Casals. It was the Master who delivered him from a grim fate when he interceded for the Gestapo to free Claret after being arrested. In 1949 Claret settled in Andorra and obtained from the Government of that country an administrative concession to keep Port d’Envalira open during the winter months, an essential enclave to ensure communications with France. Andreu Claret thus became one of the most recognized experts in high mountain communications in Europe.

The post-world war years meant for Andorra a time of prosperity linked, among other activities, to the birth of snow tourism. Wealthy families in Barcelona chose the Principality as a destination for their winter holidays. And, for sure, on those days of snow, skiing and evenings by the fire, Andreu Claret made friends with José María Porcioles, the mayor in charge of Barcelona when the great snowfall arrived. With all essential services immobilized, Porcioles did not hesitate to contact his friend Claret, who accepted the challenge of crossing Catalonia to unlock Barcelona with his machinery and experience. But a serious problem crossed his plan: Claret lacked a passport and was also required in Spain by the military justice for an article signed by him in the publication Catalan people which was titled Franco, you are a murderer (“Franco, you are a murderer”). The commissioner in charge of the border, despite knowing and appreciating him personally, refused to allow him to pass.

“Claret: you go down, clear the snow and return straight to this border post, okay?” Ordered the commissioner before crossing the caravan.

There is no record of what course the efforts followed, but it is very likely that it was Porcioles who managed, in the early morning of December 27, to persuade the elite of the Francoist authorities – and perhaps Franco himself, with whom he had a good relationship – to authorize Claret to cross the border.

After 18 hours of travel the small army of snow plows reached the city. It is difficult to imagine what Claret felt when he contemplated the city from the top of the Diagonal 24 years after leaving it accompanying another army in retreat and on the verge of being defeated. The snowplows surrendered to their task for 36 frantic hours and their performance was decisive in lifting the blockade that the ice subjected Barcelona and its vital infrastructure.

Claret, after greeting his friend Porcioles at the Town Hall, set out on his way back to Andorra, thus complying with the order he received from the commissioner. The team of liberators of the city did not receive any financial compensation from the Spanish authorities, but they did receive recognition in the form of a plaque —written in Catalan— that Claret collected in April 1963 from the hands of Mayor Porcioles: “In tribute and record of the seva performed in the snowfall of December 1962 ″. Claret returned to Barcelona in 1964, from where he advised governments and companies in the design of high mountain infrastructures, such as the Guadarrama and Cadí tunnels. He died in his city in 2005.

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