Who Killed Julio Antonio Mella?

Portrait of Julio Antonio Mella in Mexico (1929) / Tina Modotti

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García, Madrid, 23 March 2024 — On the night of Thursday, January 10, 1929, two scandalously beautiful young people walk down a Mexican street. In a room nearby are photos that some might consider indecent. Not only have they made love until dehydration in every corner of that space for the last four months, but she has wanted to immortalize the glory of their naked bodies. He is not yet 26 and she is about to reach the age of Christ. He has left a wife and a small child in Cuba. She has other lovers.

Two shots ring out at the corner of Abraham González and Morelos. A bullet from a 38 caliber revolver enters Julio Antonio Mella through his left elbow and passes through his intestine, the second one tears his lung. He falls to the ground, bleeding out. She screams for help and kneels next to him. An ambulance takes the body to the Red Cross hospital. When he inevitably dies, Tina closes his eyes and does what she does best in this world: flash on the corpse’s face, which is still strangely beautiful.

Officialdom blames Machado, without questioning any other possibility  

From there, all kinds of theories have been launched about who was the intellectual author of Mella’s death. The complex thing is that almost all the hypotheses are too sprinkled with ideology. The ruling party blames Machado, without questioning any other possibility. The opposition insists on pointing out the communists themselves, whether they are Cubans, Mexicans or hitmen sent directly by Stalin. Agatha Christie devotees swear by the love triangle and the crime of passion. There is so much material on the networks claiming to be “the definitive truth” about this case, that any reader will find some “conclusive” version that satisfies their own ideological prejudices.

It is a fascinating story, on that we all agree. Starting with the fact that neither Tina nor Julio Antonio were their real names. La Modotti was actually called Assunta Adelaide Luigia, a little less sexy than Tina. And he was registered in Havana as Nicanor McPartland y Diez, even less sexy.

The son of an adulterous relationship, little Mella wanted to take on the world from his cradle. As a child, he grew up hearing anecdotes about his grandfather Matías Ramón, a Dominican hero. When he traveled to the United States, while still a teenager, he lied about his age to enlist in the Army. They dragged him out of there by his ears and made him return to Cuba. At 17 he tried the same thing in Mexico, but the new Constitution prevented him from doing so, due to the fact that he was a foreigner. Then, since fate was kicking him away from the dream of weapons, he decided to embrace communism. A fatal decision, but understandable, in an era full of utopias.

It is known that Mella was arrested for some bombs that exploded at Havana’s Payret theater box office in September 1925.

It is known that Mella was arrested for some bombs that exploded at Havana’s Payret theater box office in September 1925. It is also known that the young man declared a hunger strike, holding out for 17 days, until suffering a heart attack. What the regime avoids saying out loud is that the Communist Party itself founded by Mella expelled him after his strike. The action was described as insubordination and “tactical opportunism.” They accused him of having ties to the bourgeoisie and “lacking feelings of solidarity.”

Disappointed, Mella did what almost all of his historical role models did before: he went into exile. But the Mexican communists would not receive him with just smiles and hugs either. There, too, Mella would show his rebellious side, generating a greater crisis among the ranks of the supporters of Trotsky or Stalin.

By that time there were already many people with an interest in his death. Beyond differences and political positions, there was something much more vulgar in the desire to annihilate him: envy. Mella had it all, he was tall, attractive, athletic, sensual, intelligent, charismatic, bold… and on top of that he had a legend. Juan Marinello would say that to know him was to believe in him. Both for his enemies and for his allies who aspired to achieve some measure of prominence, Mella was too burdensome an obstacle.

A friend who hates communism, but who admires this controversial figure, tells me that she does not see the Mella of today in any of the test tubes of the FEU [University Student Federation], the UJC [Young Communist League] or the AHS (Asociación Hermanos Saíz), much less in the insipid presenters on Cuba’s State TV Con Filo program. For my friend, today’s Mella is surely in some dark cell, or perhaps in exile, while others plan his death.


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