Ramón Mercader

Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río (born 7 February 1913[1] – 18 October 1978),[2] more commonly known as Ramón Mercader, was a Spanish communist and NKVD agent[3] who assassinated Russian Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in August 1940 with an ice axe. He served 20 years in a Mexican prison for the murder. His mother participated in the preparation of the assassination, waited for Ramon near the house of Trotsky but escaped to Moscow and was awarded with the order of Lenin for her own part in the operation. It was told to her that Ramon had not yet deserved any award. Ramon Mercader was not assassinated by the Soviets similar to general Skoblin because of the activities of his mother in Mexico. In 1944, Caridad Mercader traveled to Mexico from the USSR with the purpose of getting her son out of prison by making some Stalinist contacts in the Mexican Communist Party. Although Stalin’s order was not to let Caridad out of the USSR, she violated this mandate and after creating a scandal, she learned that Russian intelligence (NKVD) was working either to get her son out of Mexico or to assassinate him after getting him out of prison. This situation affected the advances of the NKVD to get Ramon out of prison and, on the contrary, submerged him in a cell for 16 more years. The Mexican authorities strengthened the regime but stopped to torture Ramon and allowed him to marry the daughter of a prison worker.[4][5]

Ramón Mercader
Ramón Mercader.jpg
Jaime Ramón Mercader del Río

(1913-02-07)7 February 1913
Died18 October 1978(1978-10-18) (aged 65)
Resting placeKuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow, Russia
Other namesJacques Mornard; Frank Jackson; Ramón Ivánovich López; Leon Jacome; Leon Haikys (Not to be confused with Leon Gaikis)
OccupationWaiter, militiaman, soldier, agent of the NKVD
Spouse(s)Roquelia Mendoza Buenabad
Parent(s)Caridad Mercader, Pablo Mercader Marina
Criminal penalty20 years imprisonment

Mercader was awarded the order of Lenin and the title of Hero of the Soviet Union after his release in 1960. He divided his time between Cuba and the Soviet Union.


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.[6]

His cousin, actress María Mercader, became the second wife of Italian film director Vittorio De Sica, the father of Italian comedy actor Christian De Sica.

Mercader's contacts with and befriending of Trotskyists began during the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell's biographer Gordon Bowker[7] relates how English communist David Crook, ostensibly a volunteer for the Republican side, was sent to Albacete. He was taught Spanish[8] and also given a crash course in surveillance techniques by Mercader.[9] 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.[9]

Assassination of TrotskyEdit

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."[10] 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 by one of Mercader.[10][11] 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.[12] 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."[12]

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.[12] Sudoplatov claimed in his autobiography Special Tasks that he selected Ramón Mercader for the task of carrying out the assassination.[13]

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.[14]

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 the Russian was looking at the document.[15]

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.[16]

Caridad Mercader and Eitingon were waiting outside the compound in separate cars to provide a getaway, but when Ramon 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.[17]

Official copy (dated 1944) of the sentencing decision passed by the Mexican court on Mercader, listed as "Jacques Mornard Vandendresched or Frank Jackson"

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 him to the state of an affect and his wanting to murder Trotsky.

He stated:

... 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.[10]

In 1940, Jacques Mornard was convicted of intended 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.[18]

The sentence was in the beginning of 1943 when the USA and Mexico collaborated with Stalin while Trotskists organized strikes in the USA. In April 1943, Jacson-Mornard was sentenced to 20 years in prison, retroactive to the date of the crime. Shortly after the sentencing hearing of Jacson-Mornard adjourned, the prosecutor Cabeza de Vaca walked out onto the streinet in central Coyoacán and, according to his family, was assassinated probably by the Soviets for his decision to accuse Ramon in an intended murder and to drop charges against Ageloff and to send her to the FBI. 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 and behaved in the same way as other Soviet agents. Charges against her eventually were dropped because she as a long-time Soviet agent had promised to tell to the FBI a lot of data about both Trotsky's followers and Soviet spies in the USA and really discovered a lot of data to the FBI.[19]

Aftermath: release and honorsEdit

Shortly after the assassination, Joseph Stalin presented Mercader's mother Eustaquia Caridad with the Order of Lenin for her part in the operation.[20]

After the first few years in prison, Ramon 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.[21] 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 Ramon at a distance, but traveled to Mexico, where she was known if not as the mother of Ramon, but as the organizer of the assassination. That undermined an undercover operation that was being prepared to get Ramón Mercader out of jail.[22] Caridad Mercader's presence proved to be counterproductive, because she improved the life of Ramon in prison most significantly but the Mexican authorities tightened security measures, causing the Soviets to abandon their efforts to release Ramon. Though Caridad reported very important things to the Mexican authorities, Ramon served 20 years in prison (including the time under initial investigation and trial) according to the initial trial.[22] Ramón, who according to his brother Luis never shared his mother's passion for the communist cause,[23] never forgave her this interference.[24] 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 with the Gold Star and the Order of Lenin personally by Alexander Shelepin, the head of the KGB according to the order of Leonid Brezhnev to award Eamon dated by May 1960. Ramon 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 had married a Mexican named Rogalia in prison after 1943 and they adopted two children in Moscow. They were the children of his Spanish Republican friend executed by Frankists by 1960 and his wife who died in Moscow about this time after the birth of their last child.

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.[2] 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."[25]

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." He passed it 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..[25]

Decorations and awardsEdit

In popular cultureEdit

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.[26] 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)[27] and Trotsky by Geoffrey Rush.[28]

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[29] 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.[30]

David Ives' Variations on the Death of Trotsky is a short one-act comedy-drama based on Mercader's assassination of Trotsky written for the series of one-act plays titled All in the Timing.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Other sources date Mercader's birth on 7 February 1914
  2. ^ a b Photograph of Mercader's Gravestone
  3. ^ "The New Trotsky: No Longer a Devil" by Craig R. Whitney, The New York Times, 16 January 1989
  4. ^ J Jaramillo Rogers. Ramón Mercader, mission of silence.
  5. ^ Don Levine, Isaac (1960), The Mind of an Assassin, D1854 Signet Book, pp. 109-110, 173.
  6. ^ "Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow Had Trotsky Slain", The New York Times, 5 January 1989.
  7. ^ randomhouse.co.nz-authors Gordon Bowker Archived 2015-12-22 at the Wayback Machine biography in Random House website
  8. ^ "The Spanish Civil War and the Popular Front", lecture by Ann Talbot, World Socialist Web Site, August 2007
  9. ^ a b "The Guardian's Prism revelations, Orwell and the spooks" by Richard Keeble, University of Lincoln, 13 June 2013
  10. ^ a b c 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.
  11. ^ Hansen, J. (October 1940). "With Trotsky to the end," in Fourth International, volume I, pp. 115-123.
  12. ^ a b c Patenaude, Bertrand (2009). Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky, p. 138. London, UK: Faber & Faber
  13. ^ Bart Barnes (27 September 1996). "Pavel Sudoplatov, 89, dies". The Washington Post
  14. ^ "The fight of the Trotsky family - interview with Esteban Volkov" (1988), In Defence of Marxism website, 21 August 2006
  15. ^ CNN, (11 July 2005). "Trotsky murder weapon may have been found" Archived 2005-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Deborah Bonello and Ole Alsaker, (20 August 2012). "Trotsky's assassination remembered by his grandson", The Guardian
  17. ^ Lynn Walsh (summer 1980). "Forty Years Since Leon Trotsky's Assassination", Militant International Review
  18. ^ Schwartz, Stephen; Sobell, Morton; Lowenthal, John (2 April 2001). "Three Gentlemen of Venona". The Nation. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  19. ^ Eric London. Sylvia Ageloff and the assassination of Leon Trotsky
  20. ^ Don Levine, Isaac (1960), The Mind of an Assassin, D1854 Signet Book, pp. 109-110, 173.
  21. ^ The letter to Stalin of Caridad Mercader.
  22. ^ a b Hernández Sánchez, Fernando (2006). "Jesús Hernández: Pistolero, ministro, espía y renegado". Historia 16 (in Spanish) (368): 78–89. ISSN 0210-6353.
  23. ^ Juárez 2008, p. 107.
  24. ^ Mercader & Sánchez 1990, p. 101–102.
  25. ^ a b 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.
  26. ^ "Documental argentino revive a León Trotsky" ("Argentine documentary revives Leon Trotsky"), El Mercurio, 12 August 2007 (in Spanish)
  27. ^ "Casting de Frida" [Casting of Frida]. Sense Critique (in French). 2021. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  28. ^ "Frida" in IMDBase
  29. ^ Pollak, Lillian. The Sweetest Dream: Love, Lies, & Assassination; iUniverse; May 2008; ISBN 978-0595490691
  30. ^ "El hombre que amaba a los perros" ("The Man Who Loved Dogs") in Toda la Literatura review, 2009 (in Spanish)
  31. ^ "All in the Timing, Six One-Act Comedies". Dramatists Play Service. April 30, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2021.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit