On this day August 20, 1940

In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe by Ramon Mercader. He dies the next day.

Trotsky Study in Coyoacán

Trotsky Study in Coyoacán

On May 24, 1940, Trotsky survived a raid on his home by Stalinist assassins led by GPU agent Iosif Grigulevich, Stalinist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Vittorio Vidale.

Jaume Ramón Mercader del Río Hernández, born in Barcelona Spain in February 7 1914, and died in Havana, Cuba in October 18 1978, was a Spanish Communist.

Declassified archives have shown that he was a Soviet agent. Some supporters of Joseph Stalin argue that he was simply a disgruntled former follower of Trotsky though Vyacheslav Molotov said that Stalin had ordered the killing.

In October Mercader moved to Mexico City where Trotsky lived with his family, to tend to business affairs (a cover provided by Eitingon) and persuading Ageloff to join him. Through her, he began to meet with Trotsky personally, posing as a supporter of Trotsky’s ideas.

On August 20, 1940 Mercader fatally wounded Trotsky with an ice axe in his study at his home in Coyoacán (then a village on the southern fringes of Mexico City). Trotsky’s guards burst in and nearly killed Mercader, but Trotsky ordered them to spare his life, shouting, “Do not kill him! This man has a story to tell.”

Caridad and Eitingon, having arrived in Mexico City shortly after Mercader, waited outside the compound in separate cars to provide a getaway; but when Mercader didn’t return they fled the country.

Mercader was turned over to the Mexican authorities, to whom he refused to give up his real identity. He would only identify himself as ‘Jacques Mornard’ . Mercader said he had wanted to marry Ageloff, and that Trotsky had forbidden the marriage. He alleged that a violent quarrel with Trotsky had led to his wanting to murder Trotsky.

He stated that “… 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.”

It wasn’t until September 1950 that fingerprint evidence proved the assassin’s true identity. Nevertheless he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Shortly after the assassination Stalin presented Ramón’s mother Caridad with the Order of Lenin for her part in the plot.

After the first few years in prison, he requested release on parole, which was denied by Dr. Jesús Siordia and the criminologist Alfonso Quiroz Cuarón. After almost 20 years in jail, he was eventually released from Mexico City’s Palacio de Lecumberri prison on May 6, 1960 and moved to Havana, Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s new revolutionary government welcomed him.

In 1961, he moved to the Soviet Union and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal from the then head of the KGB Alexander Shelepin. The order of Hero was the Soviet Union’s highest decoration. He split his time between Cuba and the Soviet Union for the rest of his life and died in Havana in 1978.

He is buried (under the name of ‘Ramon Ivanovich Lopez’ ) in Moscow’s Kuntsevo Cemetery and has a place of honor in the museum of the KGB in the Russian capital.

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