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Jacques Mornard, Ramon Mercader, “The Man Who Loved The Dogs”, The Assassin of Trotsky
El Hombre que Amaba a los Perros (The Man Who Loved The Dogs) is Leonardo Padura’s insightful and interesting novel about the dramatic events that led to the assassination of Liev Davidovich (or Leon) Trotsky by a Soviet agent under the name of Jacques Mornard in Mexico City in 1940.
A war was taking place in Spain between two radical extremes: the left-wing Republicans, including the socialists, supported by Stalin, and the anarchists, the union-socialists, and many other factions some how divided among themselves, all of them against the right-wind Nationals led by Franco and supported by Hitler and Mussolini.
The Soviet Union
Lenin, leader of the October Revolution, died in 1923. Stalin then installed a terror state and Trotsky, a central figure of the October Revolution and one of Lenin’s close comrades, was expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1929.
Trotsky in the exile
After seven years in exile and always under surveillance and harassed by Stalin’s agents, Trotsky moved from Turkey to France and then to Norway, but he was asked to leave, as Norway felt strongly pressured by Stalin’s diplomacy. Trotsky wanted to be treated decently by France, Norway, and the United States, where his application to receive asylum had been rejected.
Trotsky was alone, persecuted politically by Stalin’s Soviet totalitarian state and considered an enemy of the October Revolution. This was the same Liev Trotsky who had been a leader of the October Revolution, who had created and organized the Red Army, and who had given the order to proceed with executing those who had dared challenge the socialist Soviet state. This was the former Revolution strategist and Red Army general who considered those executions as necessary collateral damage but who was now a victim of the same state he had helped create. The ideal of the October Revolution—that of the first egalitarian socialist state—had transformed into a state ruled by fear. The socialist state ideal had become a terror state ruled by a proletarian bureaucracy and led by Stalin who was imposing its own permanence by means of terror. The secret service spied on high-ranking members of the Soviet government and officials of the administration. To avoid being accused of treason, those people who were not under surveillance were obligated to denounce any behavior among their neighbors, fellow workers, or family members who could be considered against socialist principles. This repressive machine attacked Stalin’s political enemies and accused them of being anticommunist and engaged in conspiracies against the socialist state. They were forced to confess to these charges and eventually executed or sent by the hundreds of thousands to work in fields in northern parts of the Soviet Union.
With nowhere to go, Trotsky was urged to travel to Mexico, where he and his wife, Natalia Sedova, had been granted asylum by President Lazaro Cardenas through intervention by the painter Diego Rivera.
Trotsky arrived at the port of Tampico in 1937, where he was received by friends, fellow communist comrades, and the painter Frida Kahlo. The group was later joined by Diego Rivera. The group then traveled to Mexico City, using the presidential train car. Trotsky and his wife were housed at The Blue House, Frida Kalho’s house in Coyoacan where Diego and Frida used to live.
After two years, the Trotskys bought an old house nearby. Trotsky and Rivera soon came to dislike each other. Trotsky thinks Rivera is too much of an exhibitionist and a frivolous man, while Rivera considers Trotsky to be egocentric with no sense of political reality. Besides these developments, Trotsky and Frida had an affair, which ended soon after the Trotskys moved to their own place. Under the supervision of Trotsky’s wife, the house was soon transformed into a fortification.
Jacques Mornad, Ramon Mercader from Barcelona
Barcelona, mid 1930’s, a young man, Ramon Mercader del Rio, the real name of Jaques Mornard, had enrolled and is fighting for the Republican army. He is anxious of glory and to take bigger commitments in defense of a fair, socialis and egalitarian society. Ramon is ready to show Caridad del Rio, his mother, and also to persuade his girlfriend Africa de las Heras, of his value and determination to fight for the international communist cause.
Caridad is a fanatic Stalin’s follower, fighting for the Republicans, a secret soviet agent herself and lover of Kotov, a soviet agent in Spain, who later would become Mornard’s mentor, tutor and support agent on his secret mission in Mexico. Mercader’s girl friend Africa, also a Republican and a fanatic of the international communist cause, who had not time for love compromises and considers Ramon Mercader to be week man.
Ramon Mercader is good looking, speaks languages, knows and likes the good things of life. But he insist on having a bigger roll in the historic events that are taking place in the world. Eventually, Mercader is enrolled by the soviet secret services in Spain. The objective of his mission would be informed to him later.
Mercader has very diligently performed some spaying jobs in Barcelona. He is selected by the soviet secret services as one of the prospects to kill Trotsky in Mexico. Mornard, is then to be trained in Russia where he did very well. Besides, as his mother and girlfriend, he hates Trotsky, one of the important considerations to choose the right man for this mission. Mornard believes Trotsky is a traitor to the October Revolution.
Stalin’s “duck” Operation
On those years Trotsky was still considered by a fraction of the communist, inside the Soviet Union and around the world, a leader figure for the International Communism. On Stalin’s main Trotsky has become its dangerous political enemy. The war in Europe is evidently coming. Stalin speaks of Trotsky as a traitor that is talking with the Nazis. But Trotsky predicts, in his writings, that Stalin would sign an agreement with Hitler before the war starts. What he did. Preventing the Nazi army taking the Soviet Union, before Stalin was ready. The signing of such agreement caused much confusion for the international communism.
A well planed and very secret operation “duck”, directly reporting to Stalin, was in curse to kill Trotsky, who has been named in Moscow “the revisionist”, “the enemy of international communism”. Stalin’s was ready to vindicate himself from Trotsky who once called Stalin “the gravedigger of the October Revolution”.
Coyoacan, Mexico City
Waiting for the order to come from Moscow, Mercader had been living in Mexico City for several months, claiming to be a deserter from Belgium and working in imports and exports with his American girlfriend, Sylvia Ageloff. He didn’t know about the parallel operation to kill the “duck,” which was coordinated by Soviet agents in Mexico and carried out by local Mexican communist comrades led by the painter David A. Siqueiros. The operation, however, failed.
Some months later after three years of preparations, Mornard received the order to kill Trotsky. By then he was already a familiar face at Trotsky’s house and had been introduced months before by his very unattractive girlfriend, a faithful Trotskist from New York, who had been asked by Mornard to come to Mexico to be with him after she got a job as Trotsky’s assistant.
Sylvia had been chosen almost two years before by the Soviet secret service, selected from an American communist group. She was later seduced by Mornard in Paris, where she was “casually” introduced to Mornard by a female editor and a Soviet agent who had become friends with Sylvia and was traveling with her.
On the afternoon of August 21, 1940, Mornard arrived at Trotsky’s house, said hello to the guards, told them that Trotsky expected him, and then entered the studio. Trotsky began reading an article Mornard had brought, who was now behind him. Mornard then struck Trotsky in the head with an ice ax. Trotsky shouted, but he wasn’t dead, although he was bleeding profusely. His guards ran immediately to rescue him.
Before entering Trotsky’s house, Mornard knew that he would probably not be able to leave the house after the assassination. Although he had some doubts, he thought this could be his moment of glory. Kotov, now known as Tom, and Caridad were waiting outside to take him to an airplane and fly him to Cuba.
After Trotsky died later, Mornard was severely and violently interrogated. What were his motives? What was his organization? Who had financed him? Who was behind this crime? He didn’t answer any questions. He was later judged and sent to prison for twenty years. During all those years, he never talked about his real identity or revealed who had sent him to assassinate Trotsky.
Twenty Years Later
After leaving prison, Mercader traveled to Veracruz to take a ship and return to Moscow, where he took a new name—Jaime Lopez Pablovich—and was privately bestowed with the highest honors and also a privileged apartment for him and his wife, Roquelia, and his two sons. He was forbidden, however, from ever talking about his mission in Mexico.
Living in this government-provided apartment, Mornard felt isolated, socializing only with his brother Luis and former Republican comrades and with his former mentor, Kotov, the agent who first told him that he was his man—the one to do the job. Kotov had told him that he was going to be a hero. International communism would always be grateful to him for saving the October Revolution from Trotsky and fascism.
In Moscow, Kotov had been promoted to general by Stalin himself after his successful mission in Mexico. Now back in Moscow he was known as Leonid Eitington. Some years later he was accused of participating in another plot and sentenced to twelve years in prison, but he was liberated by Beria, his former boss and one of Stalin’s men. Unfortunately for him, as he updates Mornard, now Lopez Pablovich, Beria was also judged for a plot to kill Stalin and eliminated, and Kotov was imprisoned by Stalin for several years. He was later liberated by Khrushchev, who returned his grade of general but did not return his medals. Eitington was also assigned an apartment with no personal bath in an urban development where massive buildings were, as he described to Lopez, “built not with cement but with hate.” When Eitington meets again with Mecader in Moscow twenty-five years after the “duck” operation, he has become cynical and lives life the best he can.
After long walks, talks, and drinks in Moscow, Mercader asked Eitington for an explanation and the truth about the real motives and methods of the Soviets supporting Republican forces in Barcelona. He also asked about the real motives of his mission in Mexico.
From the answers he received, Mercader felt he had been used by the Soviets—all those years in prison, those stories of terror of the system he had helped create in the Soviet Union, which he read about in French, English, and Mexican newspapers. It was all true. The lies and terror were used to impose a 70-year utopia, trying to reach a fair and egalitarian socialist society.
Mercader in Cuba
Somehow, Mornard received a permit to move to Cuba under the name of Jaime Lopez on the condition that he keep quiet. Before he left Moscow, he received a gold watch from his KGB comrades. When he arrived in Cuba, he started to feel bad, but doctors in Moscow didn’t know why he was ill. Cuban doctors detected cancer.
The Man Who Loved The Dogs
He now knew he was going to die and spent part of his days walking on the beach with his dogs, two wonderful Russian greyhound Borzois.
Ivan is a Cuban who attended a very modest veterinary shop in La Havana. His years as an editor of articles dedicated to veterinary matters had given him certain knowledge that allowed him to assist clients with their animals’ health. He also read a lot about dogs and was very fond of them. One day he went for a walk on the beach and saw two wonderful Borzois playing near their owner, and some distance away a tall, black, and skinny man kept an eye on the man and his dogs.
Ivan, a would-be writer, had worked for some years as an editor for a veterinary journal in La Havana. He was considered as someone who needed to be reeducated. His unlucky situation started when he expressed his opinions to the veterinary faculty about two homosexual students who had been expelled while he was a student at the university. Some years later, he supported his brother, who was gay, when his brother and partner later disappeared at sea while trying to escape to Florida.
After meeting several times by chance on the same beach and talking about how they both liked Lopez’s dogs, Ivan knew Lopez as “the man who loves dogs.” Lopez felt comfortable with this man, whom he had probably investigated previously, and thought he was a writer trying to survive on the island. He thought Ivan was reliable and started telling him a story that he felt needed to be told, but Ramon Mercader died in La Habana Cuba in 1978 under the name of Jaime Lopez Pavolvich.
Many years later, in the 1990s, Ivan was researching about Trotsky and his assassin Mornard and began to write the story. One night he was unexpectedly visited by the tall and skinny black man who used to be Jaime Lopez’s driver, his guardian, and also his spy. Somehow, he knew that Ivan was writing a book about Lopez. The black man brought several large paper envelopes that contained numerous notes written by Lopez before he died, and he had asked the black man to deliver them to Ivan.
Before the black man left, he recalled that Eitingon said he was certain that Moscow agents had poisoned Mornard with radiation from activated thallium in a gold watch that he had received as a present from his KGB comrades before leaving Moscow.
Ivan knew that the black man had read the notes inside the envelopes. He knew why it had taken him so long to deliver these notes. The black man was afraid—the same reason why it had taken so long for Ivan himself to start writing Lopez’s story. Ivan had also been very afraid all those years.
The author told us how he was inspired to write this novel after visiting Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan, Mexico City.