Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río
7 February 1913
|Died||18 October 1978 (aged 65)|
|Resting place||Kuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow, Russia|
|Other names||Jacques Mornard; Frank Jacson; Ramón Ivánovich López; Leon Jacome; Leon Haikys (Not to be confused with Leon Gaikis)|
|Occupation||Waiter, militiaman, soldier, agent of the NKVD|
|Spouse(s)||Roquelia Mendoza Buenabad|
|Parent(s)||Caridad Mercader, Pablo Mercader Marina|
|Criminal penalty||20 years imprisonment|
Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río (7 February 1913 – 18 October 1978), more commonly known as Ramón Mercader, was a Spanish communist and NKVD agent who assassinated Russian Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940 with an ice axe. He served 19 years and 8 months in Mexican prisons for the murder.
Mercader was awarded with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, and the Gold Star after his release from a Mexican prison in 1960. He divided his time between Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other countries.
Mercader was born on 7 February 1913 in Barcelona to Eustaquia (or Eustacia) María Caridad del Río Hernández, the daughter of a Cantabrian merchant who had become affluent in Spanish Cuba, and Pau (or Pablo) Mercader Marina (b. 1885), the son of a Catalan textiles industrialist from Badalona. Mercader grew up in France with his mother after his parents divorced. She was an ardent Communist who fought in the Spanish Civil War and served in 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 Popular Front coalition won in the elections of that year. During the Spanish Civil War, Mercader was recruited by Nahum Eitingon, an officer of the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, an agency preceding the KGB), 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, ostensibly a volunteer for the Republican side, was sent to Albacete. He was taught Spanish and also given a crash course in surveillance techniques by Mercader. Crook, 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 (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) militia.
Assassination of Trotsky
In 1938, while a student at the Sorbonne, Mercader, with the help of NKVD agent Mark Zborowski, befriended Sylvia Ageloff, a young Jewish-American intellectual from Brooklyn, New York and a confidante of Trotsky in Paris. Mercader assumed the identity of Jacques Mornard, supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat.
A year later, Mercader was contacted by a representative of the "Bureau of the Fourth International." Ageloff returned to her native Brooklyn in September that same year, and Mercader joined her, assuming the identity of Canadian Frank Jacson. He was given a passport that originally belonged to a Canadian citizen named Tony Babich, a member of the Spanish Republican Army who died fighting during the Spanish Civil War. Babich's photograph was removed and replaced with one of Mercader. Mercader told Ageloff that he had purchased forged documents to avoid military service.
In October 1939, Mercader moved to Mexico City and persuaded Ageloff to join him there. Leon Trotsky was living with his family in Coyoacán, then a village on the southern fringes of Mexico City. He was exiled from the Soviet Union after losing the power struggle against Stalin's rise to authority.
Trotsky had been the subject of an armed attack against his house, mounted by allegedly Soviet-recruited locals, including the Marxist-Leninist muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. The attack was organised and prepared by Pavel Sudoplatov, deputy director of the foreign department of the NKVD. In his memoirs, Sudoplatov claimed that, in March 1939, he had been taken by his chief, Lavrentiy Beria, to see Stalin. Stalin told them that "if Trotsky is finished the threat will be eliminated" and gave the order that "Trotsky should be eliminated within a year."
After that attack failed, a second team was sent, headed by Eitingon, formerly the deputy GPU agent in Spain. He allegedly was involved in the kidnap, torture, and murder of Andreu Nin. The new plan was to send a lone assassin against Trotsky. The team included Mercader and his mother Caridad. Sudoplatov claimed in his autobiography Special Tasks that he selected Ramón Mercader for the task of carrying out the assassination.
Through his lover Sylvia Ageloff's access to the Coyoacán house, Mercader, as Jacson, began to meet with Trotsky, posing as a sympathizer to his ideas, befriending his guards, and doing small favors. Trotsky's grandson Esteban Volkov, aged 14 at the time of the assassination, emphasized that Jacson had been present in Trotsky's house during the first attack led by Siqueiros.
On 20 August 1940, Mercader was alone with Trotsky in his study under the pretext of showing the older man a document. Mercader struck Trotsky from behind and mortally wounded him on the head with an ice axe while he was looking at the document.
The blow failed to kill Trotsky, and he got up and grappled with Mercader. Hearing the commotion, Trotsky's guards burst into the room and beat Mercader nearly to death. Trotsky, deeply wounded but still conscious, ordered them to spare his attacker's life and let him speak.
Caridad and Eitingon 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 injuries.
Trotsky's guards turned Mercader over to the Mexican authorities, and he refused to acknowledge his true identity. He only identified himself as Jacques Mornard. Mercader claimed to the police that he had wanted to marry Ageloff, but Trotsky had forbidden the marriage. He alleged that a violent quarrel with Trotsky had led to his wanting to murder Trotsky.
... 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.
In 1943, Jacques Mornard was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Sixth Criminal Court of Mexico. His true identity as Ramón Mercader eventually was confirmed by the Venona project after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ageloff was arrested by the Mexican police as an accomplice because she had lived with Mercader, on and off, for about two years up to the time of the assassination. Charges against her eventually were dropped.
Aftermath: release and honors
After the first few years in prison, Ramón Mercader requested to be released on parole, but the request was denied by the Mexican authorities. They were represented by Jesús Siordia and the criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón. In 1943, Caridad Mercader applied to Stalin personally for her part in the secret operation to release Ramon Mercader. In 1944, she obtained a permit to leave the USSR. However, contrary to the agreed-upon conditions, she not only led the attempt of release of Ramón at a distance, but traveled to Mexico, where she was known not only as the mother of Ramón, but also as an organizer of the assassination. That undermined an undercover operation that was being prepared to get Ramón Mercader out of jail. Caridad Mercader's presence proved to be counterproductive; although she improved the life of Ramón in prison significantly, the Mexican authorities tightened security measures, causing the Soviets to abandon their efforts to release Ramón. Though Caridad reported important things to the Mexican authorities, Ramón served 19 years and eight months in prison (including the time under initial investigation and trial) according to the initial trial's 20-years-and-one-day conviction. Ramón, who according to his brother Luis never shared his mother's passion for the communist cause, never forgave her this interference. After almost 20 years in prison, Mercader was released from Mexico City's Palacio de Lecumberri prison on 6 May 1960. He moved to Havana, Cuba, where Fidel Castro's new socialist government welcomed him.
In 1961, Mercader moved to the Soviet Union and subsequently was presented with the country's highest decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union, personally by Alexander Shelepin, the head of the KGB. He divided his time between Czechoslovakia, from where he traveled to different countries, Cuba, where he was the advisor of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the Soviet Union for the rest of his life. He married a Mexican named Rogalia in prison after 1940 and had two children.
Ramón Mercader died in Havana in 1978 of lung cancer. He is buried under the name Ramón Ivanovich Lopez (Рамон Иванович Лопес) in Moscow's Kuntsevo Cemetery. His last words are said to have been: "I hear it always. I hear the scream. I know he's waiting for me on the other side."
The ice axe recovered by the Mexico City police was stored in an evidence room for several years until it was "checked out" by a secret police officer, named Alfredo Salas, who claimed he wanted to preserve it "for posterity." It was a mountaineering ice axe known in French as a piolet, made by the Austrian manufacturer Werkgen Fulpmes. Mercader cut off about half the length of the handle. He claimed to be an experienced mountaineer, and bragged to police interrogators, "I had a rare ability to handle the piolet, since two blows were sufficient for me to crack through an enormous block of ice".
Salas passed the ice axe on to his daughter, Ana Alicia, who eventually put it up for sale in 2005. Trotsky's grandson, Esteban Volkov, stated that he is "unconcerned" about the fate of the alleged murder weapon and wondered "if it is the real axe." The ice axe was bought by Keith Melton, an American collector and author of books on the history of espionage, and is now on display at the International Spy Museum, in Washington, D.C.
Decorations and awards
- Hero of the Soviet Union, 1940 (in absentia) according to Isaac Don Levine (1959)
- Hero of the Soviet Union, May 31, 1960
In popular culture
There have been many documentaries about the assassination and Mercader over the years. 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 as a joint US/Argentine production, and directed by Argentinian director Matías Gueilburt. There have been also many films, such as the 1972 Joseph Losey-directed The Assassination of Trotsky, featuring Alain Delon as Frank Jacson/Mercader and Richard Burton as Trotsky, and the 2016 film The Chosen, directed by Antonio Chavarrías and filmed in Mexico, which is an account of Trotsky's murder, featuring Alfonso Herrera as Mercader. The Trotsky assassination is depicted in the film Frida (2002), with Mercader portrayed by Antonio Zavala Kugler (uncredited) and Trotsky by Geoffrey Rush.
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. Trotsky, a 2017 Russian Netflix series, features Konstantin Khabenskiy as Trotsky and Maksim Matveyev as Mercader, who is referred in the English subtitles as "Jackson."
Trotskyist veteran Lillian Pollak depicted her friendship with Mercader, then known as Frank Jacson, and the assassination of Trotsky in her self-published 2008 novel The Sweetest Dream while 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' 2009 novel El hombre que amaba a los perros ("The Man Who Loved Dogs") refers to the lives of both Trotsky and Mercader.
- Other sources date Mercader's birth on 7 February 1914
- Photograph of Mercader's Gravestone
- "The New Trotsky: No Longer a Devil" by Craig R. Whitney, The New York Times, 16 January 1989
- "Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow Had Trotsky Slain", The New York Times, 5 January 1989.
- randomhouse.co.nz-authors Gordon Bowker Archived 2015-12-22 at the Wayback Machine biography in Random House website
- "The Spanish Civil War and the Popular Front", lecture by Ann Talbot, World Socialist Web Site, August 2007
- "The Guardian's Prism revelations, Orwell and the spooks" by Richard Keeble, University of Lincoln, 13 June 2013
- Sayers, Michael, and Albert E. Kahn (1946). The Great Conspiracy against Russia. Second Printing (Paper Edition), pp. 334-335. London, UK: Collet's Holdings Ltd.
- Hansen, J. (October 1940). "With Trotsky to the end," in Fourth International, volume I, pp. 115-123.
- Patenaude, Bertrand (2009). Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, p. 138. London, UK: Faber & Faber
- Bart Barnes (27 September 1996). "Pavel Sudoplatov, 89, dies". The Washington Post
- "The fight of the Trotsky family – interview with Esteban Volkov" (1988), In Defence of Marxism website, 21 August 2006
- CNN, (11 July 2005). "Trotsky murder weapon may have been found" Archived 2005-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
- Deborah Bonello and Ole Alsaker, (20 August 2012). "Trotsky's assassination remembered by his grandson", The Guardian
- Lynn Walsh (summer 1980). "Forty Years Since Leon Trotsky's Assassination", Militant International Review
- Schwartz, Stephen; Sobell, Morton; Lowenthal, John (2 April 2001). "Three Gentlemen of Venona". The Nation. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
- Don Levine, Isaac (1960), The Mind of an Assassin, D1854 Signet Book, pp. 109–110, 173.
- The letter to Stalin of Caridad Mercader.
- Hernández Sánchez, Fernando (2006). "Jesús Hernández: Pistolero, ministro, espía y renegado". Historia 16 (in Spanish) (368): 78–89. ISSN 0210-6353.
- Juárez 2008, p. 107. sfn error: no target: CITEREFJuárez2008 (help)
- Mercader & Sánchez 1990, p. 101–102. sfn error: no target: CITEREFMercaderSánchez1990 (help)
- Borger, Julian; Tuckman, Jo (13 September 2017). "Bloodstained ice axe used to kill Trotsky emerges after decades in the shadows". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
- Agence France-Presse (August 20, 2020). "Ice axe that killed Trotsky now a museum exhibit". Straits Times. Singapore. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
- Cartagena, Rosa (May 8, 2019). "The Strange 79-Year History of the Spy Museum's Grisliest Artifact: The ice ax that killed Trotsky still has his blood on it". Washingtonian. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
- "Documental argentino revive a León Trotsky" ("Argentine documentary revives Leon Trotsky"), El Mercurio, 12 August 2007 (in Spanish)
- "Casting de Frida" [Casting of Frida]. Sense Critique (in French). 2021. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
- "Frida" in IMDBase
- Pollak, Lillian. The Sweetest Dream: Love, Lies, & Assassination; iUniverse; 2008; ISBN 978-0595490691
- "El hombre que amaba a los perros" ("The Man Who Loved Dogs") in Toda la Literatura review, 2009 (in Spanish)
- "All in the Timing, Six One-Act Comedies". Dramatists Play Service. April 30, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
- Isaac Don, Levine (September 28, 1959). "Secrets of an Assassin". Life: 104–122. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
- 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.
- International Committee of the Fourth International (1981): How the GPU Murdered Trotsky, New Park, ISBN 0-86151-019-4
- Asaltar los Cielos, Spanish documentary about the life of Ramón Mercader, at IMDBase