Céspedes, Débora (1922-2009)

Debora Cespdes

A short biography of Uruguayan anarchist Débora Céspedes.

Submitted by Battlescarred on February 1, 2024

Débora Céspedes was born on June 8th, 1922 in Uruguay. Through the influence of the old anarchist militant Pedro Othaz, she became interested in anarchism as a teenager. When she was 16 years old, thanks to the anarchists Negro Palmieri and Matilde Carreras, she got a job at a newsstand in a residential neighbourhood of Montevideo, and joined the Libertarian Youth of Uruguay (JLU).

In 1937 he began working at the Frigorífico Anglo warehouse in Montevideo, where she met Esperanza Auzeac, a young Moldavian anarchist with whom she would maintain a solid friendship until her death in Bolivia. They organised a workers' resistance society in the warehouse and were fired for this.

Soon after she got found a new job at the El Nacional cold storage warehouse where she continued with her workplace agitation and took part in the founding of the Federation of Meat Workers, for which she was secretary of events and for which she held rallies. At this time she frequented the Casa de los Libertarios cultural centre and the premises of the Bakers' Union, which was very close by. She took part in writing and distributing the newspaper Voluntad and helped set up the anarchist ateneo in the El Cerro neighbourhood. She participated there in the drama group Emilio Zola, made up of male and female workers in the cold storage warehouses, and acted in several plays.

During World War II she took an active part in propaganda against the establishment of Compulsory Military Service (SMO), a campaign that was carried out by the Liaison Committee of Autonomous Unions, the JLU and the Federation of University Students of Uruguay (FEUU), and against the parliamentary groups of the Socialist and Communist parties that accepted this SMO. In 1947 she fled repression to Buenos Aires, Argentina , with her partner Luis Alberto Gallegos, nicknamed Beto, whom she had met in the JLU.

They both became involved in the anarchist the FOA, as well as the Argentine Libertarian Federation (FLA), where they collaborated with militants like Jacobo Prince, Jacobo Maguid, Humberto Correale, Juanita Quesada, Diego Abad de Santillán, and José María Lunazzi.

In 1963 the couple returned to Montevideo. Débora reestablished the friendship that she had maintained since 1938 with the Italian anarchist Luce Fabbri. With the split between supporters and opponents of the Cuban Revolution within the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation (FAU), she resigned from the organisation with others Luce Fabbri, José B. Gomensoro, Iriondo, De Ottone, the Errandonea brothers, and Cresatti. She founded the Libertarian Alliance of Uruguay (ALU), opposed to supporting Castroism, which disappeared following the establishment of the military dictatorship. During the military dictatorship she took part in the activities of the Popular Action Centre (CAP) which brought together anarchists and left-wing people who wanted to organize autonomous communes.

With the fall of the dictatorship, she created with Luce Fabbri the Group of Anarchist Studies and Action (GEAL), which in 1985 replaced the ALU, and its newspaper, Opción Libertaria (1986 to 2004), a name proposed by Céspedes. She also played an important role in the frustrated attempt to create an anarchist coordination between the anarchist movements of Argentina and Uruguay (Coordinadora Anarquista Rioplatense), where Lunazzi, Corral and the Ateneo de Avellaneda, among others, also participated. Between March 1974 and February 2001, she served as editor of the Montevideo monthly newsletter Centro Oeste, of which 1,000 copies were published. She also collaborated in the Argentine feminist magazine La Medio del Cielo, directed by the writer and actress Leonor Benedetto. Between 1991 and 1998 she collaborated in the organisation of a consumer cooperative that eventually had 80 groups, each of which was made up of 12 families. She and Beto also ran the Luce Fabbri Library. A poet since the age of 10, she published poems in many newspapers and was awarded different prizes in Uruguay and Argentina.

She died in Montevideo on 18th May 2009, and her lifelong partner Beto followed her a year later.
In 2003 Hugo Fontana published Historias Robadas. Beto y Débora, dos anarquistas uruguayos (Stolen Histories, Beto and Débora, two Uruguayan anarchists. Thea municipal park in Montevideo was named after her in 2020.

Nick Heath