This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 32 and 33: 19 February – 5 March 1937

February 20

Republican General Asensio Torrado resigns his post as head of the Central front. Torrado is one of the few ‘Africanista’ Republicans who did not side with the Nationalists at the outbreak of war. Immediately after the initial coup, he led teams of soldiers in the Somosierra area just north of Madrid as well as the Battle of Talavera de la Reina. By October he was sub-secretary for war and leader of the Central Army by November, one of the leaders during the defense of Madrid. He created mixed brigades of men, both trained and those men new to fighting, to create stronger brigades. He was rejected by both anarchist ans communists due to his military-style control of the militias, and was forced to resign after the Republicans failure in Málaga.

February 21

The Non-Intervention Committee set up by the League of Nations officially bans all foreigners volunteering to fight in Spain, useless as thousands have now entered the country, defying their countries, or claiming statelessness. The Non-Intervention Committee is letting large countries such as England, France and the U.S sit on their hands, while individuals worldwide (even as far away as New Zealand) see the need to help Spain. German and Italy defy the ban daily by supporting Franco, and the Soviet Union aides the Republicans.

Captain Merriman prior to his injuries

February 23

The battle of Jarama is ongoing, but with the stalemate at the front line, snipers are killing on both sides, with no progress being made. The new Abraham Lincoln battalion are ordered to take Pingarrón (Suicide Hill) again, and send 450 Americans (supported by an Irish column) off to their first major offensive, one known already as a disaster thanks to previous battles. The men have no artillery or planes for support, but storm the Nationalists over four days, and are violently killed. The battle hears the immortal words of Irish poet Charles Donnelly – ‘even the olives are bleeding’, just before he is killed by machine gun. The Americans lose 127 men and another 200 are wounded, Captain Robert Merriman included, and mutiny ensues. Other Republican units catch those who mutiny to be court-martial, but the Soviets prevent them from being tried or punished. Naturally blame needs to be passed, and XV International Brigade Commander Vladimir Copic is named, who in turn blames wounded Captain Merriman. This marks the end of the battle of Jarama, as both sides are now totally exhausted and nothing can break the stalemate. The front line shall remain here for the rest of the war, a little over two years away.

March 4

The Battle of Cape Machichaco begins. The Basque Auxiliary navy, supporting the Republican navy, send four trawlers from France to Spain – the Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra. They accompany the Galdame, carrying  people, machinery, weapons, mail supplies and 500 tonnes of nickel coins, all owned by the Basque government. The Nationalists send the Canarias from port in Ferrol to stop the Galdame reaching the Basque ports.

By the following morning, the Canarias was spotted by the Gipuzkoa only twenty miles from Bilbao. Shots were fired, hitting Gipuzkoa on the bridge. Returned fire kills a seaman on the Canarias, and wounds others, forcing them to retreat. The Nabarra and Donostia engage in battle with the Canarias for hours before they are forced to retreat. The Nabarra is hit at the boiler and 29 are killed, including their captain. Another twenty men are forced to abandon ship. All the men are picked up by the Nationalist Canarias and treated for their injuries.

The Galdame is also hit by the Canarias and is captured by the Nationalists, and four are killed in the carnage. Gipuzkoa manages to get to port in Portugalete and Bizcaia lands in Bermeo. Donostia lands in France. The twenty survivors of the Nabarra are sentenced to death by Franco, but the Canarias captains beg mercy, and the men are released in 1938. On board the Galdames, the passengers are let go, expect for politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera from Catalonia, who is jailed before his execution a year later.

March 5

Trouble begins to mount as the PCE – Communist Part of Spain – holds its first council. They agree to favour democracy, against revolution and Trotskyism. The trouble is that this flies in the face of their allies, the Republican movement, the Spanish government and the powerful anarchist CNT. This decision will bring in-fighting among the Republicans in coming months, weakening the entire movement.

014guadalajaraAlso March 5

The Nationalists, fuelled with Spanish, Moorish and Italian soldiers, are preparing to attack Guadalajara, 60 kilometres north-east of Madrid. After all the failed attempts to take Madrid, and the collapse of battle at nearby Jarama, the Nationalists are keen to engage again. The Italians, fresh from taking Málaga, are ready to fight. The Nationalists have gathered 35,000 men, hundreds of artillery supplies over 100 tankettes, 32 armoured cars, 3,600 vehicles and 60 planes. Much of the tank, car and plane equipment comes from the Italians, as Mussolini strongly supports the offensive.

The Republicans are the 12th division of the Republican army with only 10,000 men, but only 5,900 rifles, 85 machine guns and 15 artillery pieces. They do have a few light tanks on their side. Guadalajara, until now has been peaceful, so no trenches, road blocks or defensive have been set up, but the Republicans know (assume), a Nationalist attack from the south is imminent. Meanwhile, the Nationalists are preparing to attack the 25 kilometre stretch of the Guadalajara-Alcalá de Henares road, south of Guadalajara, which will cut off the main road, and five other roads which stem from the area. The enormous offensive is planned for March 8.

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos and captions are auto-linked to source for credit, and to provide further information.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 28: 22 – 29 January 1937

Week 28: 22 – 29 January 1937

January 22

The Nationalists forces have been constantly battling to take Madrid since early November and still not able to get into the city. Franco decides its time to change tactics and attempt to cut off the city  by crossing the Jarama river, south-east of the city. This will cut off Madrid’s communications with Valencia to the east, which is the temporary Spanish capital. Franco groups together General Mola, General Varela and General Orgaz, and plans an attack 7 miles south of Madrid, with 25,000 troops and heavy artillery. The German Condors are also called in to help, while Italian troops plan an attack on Guadalajara at the same time. They plan to attack in early February.

Nationalist forces in the Jarama region

January 25

The newly formed Army of the South is still marching towards Malaga in the far south. The city is still in Republican hands, but their inland areas are slowing being eaten away by incoming troops left and right, while Italian troops march in to meet them in Malaga. The troops will take the remaining 10 miles left inland around the city in every direction as they face no resistance from unarmed Republicans.

January 27

The Basque Statute of Autonomy in the north is still holding, after being formed in October. The city of Bilbao is filled with civilians who have fled to the far north to find safety from Nationalist forces. But the Nationalists have been striking the city from the air repeatedly, to outcries from both sides. The Basques/Republicans are mostly civilians trying to stay safe, and there are prison-ships parked in the city where Nationalists are being held, now in danger by their own side. Over January, 224 are killed.

January 29

The workers’ militia are still controlling Barcelona, and most of the Catalonia region; most workers belong to the CNT/FAI. These militias have been working with the Catalonian government since the uprising in July, though the workers unions have control of the area. They have around two million members, plus the allies from the UGT union with one million members, and the Communists have just a few thousand. Regardless of numbers, everyone has equal representation.

Through some of the Catalonia region, and through much of the neighbouring Aragon region, militias have established an anarchist-led movement based on freedom and lack of government, working with the locals. While these sides in Barcelona are opposed to the Nationalist invaders, the Republican government in Valencia also sees these people as enemies, as the movement promotes freedom from government. As the situation continues to evolve, the CNT maintain control, with some representation from the Communists. The anarchists have opposition to all supervisory positions.

But trouble is starting to brew as so many factions working together is running into constant problems. The anarchists cannot work closely with the Socialists, Communists and Catalan nationalists (as in wanting independence from Spain, not the rebel Nationalists). Barcelona also has the communists splitting into different factions, some supporting Spain and the Soviet Union, the others supporting the Catalonian independence groups. Also now gaining traction are the Marxists, who formed the POUM (including famous writer George Orwell), who believe in war to gain social revolution, like the anarchists.  But the Marxists are also flaring up against Trotsyists. With all these groups working and living together, while trying to set up a new social order and hold back the Nationalist troops trying to conquer the area, things are getting heated and shaky in the northeast. They are more looking at each other rather than their common enemy.

XV International Brigade volunteers arrive in Barcelona, January, 1937

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

Week 11: 26 September – 2 October 1936

September 26

The Generalitat de Catalunya (government of Catalonia, based out of the capital of Barcelona) increases in size to incorporate more factions fighting for the Republican case. The anarchist CNT-FAI (workers unions) sends ministers, along with the communist POUM (Marxist workers group).

September 27

After a siege lasting over two months, Toledo is finally won by the Nationalists. The Legionnaires and Moroccan soldiers (Moros, as they are nicknamed) who have been murdering their way north, reach the city, and 100 men take Toledo, ending the siege on the Alcázar. A group of anarchists set fire to their own buildings and are burned alive so they are not captured and executed. The invading soldiers take the hospital, killing doctors and nurses, as well as the patients. All the Republican hostages that were taken at the start of the siege by Nationalist leader Colonel Moscardo are already found to have been long killed, and all Republicans are either killed or flee the area.

A full ‘This Week In Spanish Civil War History: Extra’ will be published on September 27

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Generals Verela, Franco and Moscardo in Toledo after the rebels capture the city

Also…

The Non-intervention Committee is doing a stellar job of not doing nothing to help Spaniards, and doesn’t bother to argue with Portugal over their continued support for the Nationalists. Germany and Italy are also sending weapons and equipment in defiance of the Non-Intervention agreement and the committee doesn’t lift a finger.

September 28

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is named head of the Spanish State by the Junta de Defensa Nacional (Nationalist militarised government) in Burgos, even though Spain has a Prime Minister and government still functioning in Madrid.

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Franco: A small man with a heinous attitude and a penchant for massacre (and rumour has it, sporting mangled testicles)

September 29

The Battle of Cape Spartel breaks out over control of the Strait of Gibraltar. The navy has been pro-Republican, but Nationalists have held the Galician naval base since the outbreak of war. A Republican ship is sunk and others badly damaged, and just one escapes the battle as the Nationalists also now control this crucial sea passage.

The Almirante Ferrándiz just prior to sinking in battle

September 30

Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Bishop of Salamanca, publishes his famous pastoral letter titled ‘The Two Cities’. He praises the decision of the rebel Nationalists to rise up and start the war. He defends the actions of the rebels and the need to destroy Republicans. He states the war is not a civil war, but a crusade to restore order and crush the ‘heretics’ in government. He also issues a pastoral latter claiming Franco as Spain’s leader, and sends him a telegram to congratulate him for the ‘glorious resurrection of Christian Spain’.

Enrique Pla y Deniel – a bishop with a small mind and a heart filled with hate and control, Catholic style

October 1

The Brigadas Internacionales (International Brigades) are officially formed. It gives a name and organisation to work with the foreign volunteers flocking to Spain to help out. People from 53 nations want to give their help to the Republican cause against the rebels. The group will swell to up to 35,000 fighters, plus 10,000 non-combat roles and up to 5,000 foreign CNT or POUM members. These brave individuals are true heroes, risking their lives for strangers in a strange land, thinking they can save the world from fascism while governments sit idle.

The famous International Brigades become official

Also…

Francisco Franco officially declares himself the Generalissimo in public, and settles into life as the controller of a country out of control. This formally gives him power over the entire Nationalist cause.

And…

The Republican government gives the Basque Country full autonomy, and Jose Antonio Aguirre is elected as leader of Euzkadi a week later. The Basque country is getting little support or outside help, surrounded, and already partly invaded, by the rebels. Autonomy gives them more control over their moves and their own army as they fight to control their region.

Jose Antonio Aguirre – politician, activist, leader

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This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: January – ‘The Exile’ by Mark Oldfield

The Exile

1954: Comandante Guzmán is out of favour and in exile. Franco’s one-time favourite secret policeman has been posted to the Basque country, a desolate backwater – in his eyes – of simmering nationalism, unlikely alliances and ancient vendettas.

Guzmán was last here during the war, at the head of a platoon of bloodthirsty Moorish irregulars. Personally, he’d rather forget all that – but up in the hills, he’ll find that he hasn’t been forgotten at all.

2010, Madrid: Forensic Investigator Ana María Galindez has been sent to the Basque country where, sealed in the cellar of a ruined building are three skeletons, each bound to a chair, each savagely hacked to death. In the debris surrounding them, a scimitar, stamped with a name: Capitán Leopoldo Guzmán.

Guzmán is the key that will unlock Spain’s darkest secrets. Guzmán’s name, she’ll discover, is a death sentence.

cover art and blurb via amazon.co.uk

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Here we are at last: The sequel to Mark Oldfield’s The Sentinel. If you are new, the Vengeance of Memory trilogy is based around Guzmán in the 1950’s, and Ana María Galindez in present day, with a few 1930’s war-time chapters for added plot twists. Sounds tricky? Keep up.

The Exile takes a slight leap forward from the end of The Sentinel which (potential spoilers ahead), left Ana María  in a messy state, and Guzmán surrounded by dead bodies. In 2010, Ana María is reinstated in the Guardia Civil, to continue her work as a forensic investigator. Off to the Basque country in northern Spain, she has to examine a scene of a multiple slasher-type killing spree from the 1930’s. The murder weapon is found – and it’s Guzmán’s. Ana María finally feels as if she is getting close to the man. But the bones are quickly forgotten when Ana María is put in charge of an investigation into the stolen babies of the Franco era, which started during the civil war and outlived Franco until around 1991. All the while, she is still suffering from past injuries thanks to Guzmán’s chamber of secrets and not at all over the murder of her father by Basque terrorists, something her memory has blacked out. Ana María believes in science, and with her new assistant Isabel, they come up with statistics – not only were a large majority of babies stolen from private clinics, most of the parents who complained were then killed. When a mother claiming to have had a daughter stolen at birth winds up dead, Ana María finds this old and vicious crime is still going on. The corruption and cover-ups run deep, and has the ability to kill anyone who pokes into fascist business.

Meanwhile, Guzmán is tramping around the wilderness of the Basque country in 1954, with his sidekick Ochoa. Guzmán has freshly killed a terrorist cell, but more remain at large. El Lobo (The Wolf), a mysterious bandit is riding through the forests, killing people and robbing banks. Guzmán has to kill him in order to go home to Madrid. Flashback chapters to 1937 show Guzmán and Ochoa have been north before – and straight away, faces in the small town are very familiar. Everyone wants to be Basque, speak Basque, but it is illegal. No one can be trusted and traitors lurk everywhere. Guzmán has full powers over everyone. With insane killers in power in the region and running loose in the forest, Guzmán needs to fight for his career and his life if he is see through all the murders, terrorists, special informants, inept Guardia Civil men, stupid-hat wearing French smugglers, and traitors on both sides of the political divide. He meets Magdalena Torres, beautiful daughter of a general, and while she seems perfect for Guzmán, with lives on the line and missions to complete, literally no one is who they seem.

I have waited three years to read The Exile after the release of The Sentinel. The format, chapters alternating timelines is the same as I have written, as is the stolen babies of the Franco-era storyline, along with Brigada Especial men like Guzmán. I have finished my series and it is fun to see someone else taking the ideas down a very different path. There is only one side to Guzmán – perverse and savage. Whether he is thinking, talking or acting, he is cruel. He hates everyone, especially himself. So when he is taking a dinner break rather than murdering or intimidating, he hooks up with Magdalena, who is ready to jump into bed with this emotionless man. She too is cold and emotionless. The spark between them doesn’t exist, they instead gravitate toward one another, similar beings in a land of haters. Every speaking male character in this book (almost the entire cast) are perverts. They look every woman up and down with sexual ideas. Women are kept in cells, raped and tortured. Every woman is a whore. A general holds parties where local girls, keen to avoid jail time (for invisible crimes) attend parties naked, there for gratification, to be raped, tortured and/or murdered. One is there purely to be placed naked on a garrotte machine. Women as entertainment for the depraved and over-empowered. Guzmán spends little time on anything except thinking or discussing murder or what’s under a woman’s clothing. I kept telling myself that women where treated poorly under Franco and that was part of the story, but still, the level of violence to women is explosive. Women are only good for two things in Guzmán’s world. Sex and death. One character, a young Basque woman Nieves, someone Guzmán should respect, is still watched naked, and exists for gratification, for torture, beatings, sexual assault by the whole damn world. The constant leering by every male character at every woman is truly evil. Men are in power; women are only whores. There is no other way.

In the 2010 storyline, things are no better. Ana María, a lesbian (which is not made a big deal of in this book, covered in the first installment) is leered at by men everywhere she goes. Every step and a man seemed to be leering or making a sexual innuendo. Ana María attacks a man early on; she shouldn’t be popping painkillers (addiction in disguise), she should be in therapy and on antidepressants. The crime scene early on in the book gets forgotten as the stolen babies take priority, and it takes a long time for her storyline to run parallel with Guzmán’s – almost the end of the book, but it all makes sense over time. One thing Ana María is – BADASS! Going for babysitting and ending up in a gun battle is no problem for fearless Ana María. Her storyline suggests baby stealing continued well into the 1990’s and parents were murdered; let’s hope that part never turns out to be true!

The storylines move nice and quick – accidentally skip a paragraph in 1954 and Guzmán’s body count has risen or another person has turned traitor.  In 2010, in a matter of 2-3 pages, Isabel is introduced, decides to be author, Ana María agrees to work with her, and both are hired by the government. Fast work for life-changing decisions I thought. People with little in common come together in brisk writing so the juicy details can emerge. There is a dam-full amount of juicyness, too. The first 200 pages set the scene, Guzmán being the book’s leader. After that, both 1954 and 2010 battle for supremacy. Guzmán’s end turned out just as I expected, but the twists and turns of Magdalena, Nieves and Bogeña left me feeling flat. In 2010, poor Ana María gets insanely accused, threatening her entire life, stumbles upon an old film reel laden with coincidence (and I mean insane levels) and yet, in the final sentences, ends as I expected – and (almost) hoped for (I had imagined her at least wearing undergarments and/or pants).

I would recommend this book to anyone. There is no detail on Spain’s situation in either periods, the book jumps straight in and readers get pulled along. Reading the first book would definitely be an advantage. I re-read it before picking up The Exile. The violence against women, the leering and innuendo, and the sexually frustrated losers of the book are hard to stomach, yet with all that, the twisting plot, the traitors and unlikable characters like Guzmán and Ana María, the author has produced a hell of a novel. While I liked The Sentinel, The Exile is so much better again, worth the wait for sure.

One tip – Don’t get attached to anyone (that’s easy, everyone’s horrible), because the body count is so high, the Game of Thrones writers should take notes. No one is safe. How the third book winds all the dangling storylines together will be a treat to read. I really don’t know how I want the series to end.

Read my review of the first installment – The Sentinel by Mark Oldfield

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The New Spaniards’ by John Hooper

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Modern-day Spain is a country changing at bewildering speed. In less than half a century, a predominantly rural society has been transformed into a mainly urban one. A dictatorship has become a democracy. A once-repressed society is being spoken of as a future ‘Sweden of the Mediterranean.’ John Hooper’s outstanding portrayal of the new Spanish society explores the causes behind these changes, from crime to education, gambling to changing sexual mores. This new, up-to-date edition is the essential guide to understanding twenty-first-century Spain: a land of paradox, progress, and social change.

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The New Spaniards is a book which has sat on my to-read shelf for far too long. The second edition of this book got released in 2006, so by the time I pulled it from my shelf, I wondered if its information would be little irrelevant, given the changes to Spain in the past eight years. I could not have been more wrong.

So often mentioned in the same breath as Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett, the book which pulled me from my slumber about Spanish history, The New Spaniards is a must read. The author brings together over 400 pages, creating a solid, credible and easy to read review of Franco and modern life. One chapter in, what immediately becomes clear is the efficient and clean writing style Hopper has; while other books on the subject can feel academic and stiff, the prose is fresh and makes the reader comfortable among a detailed and insightful presentation.

The book starts with a section of the Franco reign, from the years of hunger, the economic boom, the mass migration of Spaniards both abroad and within their own nation, and effects of the reforms made during the dictatorship. The 1970′s, once Franco had gone and democracy set in, is covered with excellent detail, without any confusion on what was undoubtably a dizzying time of change in so many ways. Then-young king Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez are well discussed, along with the placement of the young and the old to form a peaceful democracy. The changes made by the Socialist government in the 1980′s are well touched upon, their effect on the economy and the high unemployment rate (easy to identify with today), along with the stark changes in the 1990′s by successive governments.

Chapter 7 – Legacies, Memories and Phantoms – is an engrossing read, whether a reader understands Spain’s 20th century history or not. It explains how Francoism has not survived the passing of years, but a legacy has become ingrained in Spanish life. The pact of forgetting, which did not allow anyone to forgive or heal, is touched upon with honesty, as is Valle de los Caídos outside Madrid. Hooper’s accurate argument is that the omission of the civil war (and its mass graves) in school textbooks, because it is not old enough to be considered history, is an excuse wearing thin.

Part two sweeps in with a section on the churches’ role in Spain, along with the curious and absurd prudery of Franco and the changes to modern time, such with gay marriages. It makes an enlightening read for those less acquainted with subjects such as prostitution, abortion, contraception and gay rights in Spain. Another absorbing chapter is the death of machismo in Spain as women gain rights after being so deeply and cruelly oppressed under Franco. The fact Spanish women are still suffering sexism, like all nations, is also explained, with the all the relevant details to back up the claims. The role of family in Spanish life is given a thorough and honest portrayal, as are the changes in domestic violence and divorce laws which have changed the precious Spanish family for the better.

Part four sheds light on the autonomous regions of Spain, something not well understood by those not living in the country. The Basques, the Catalans and the Galicians are all opened up as Hooper shares their desire for self-governance, with all the information on the remarkably different laws and goals for their regions. (I wanted to wave the flag for the region of Valencia at this point, which has been trapped under their corrupt PP mayor for over 20 years). The book covers the how’s and why’s of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain, their individual paths to freedom, and what lies ahead for these proud places. I learned more about this process, despite having studied it in the past, a testament to the author’s respect for detail.

 This book covers so many subjects that it can dizzying when looking back over all that is covered – from Spanish gypsies, to the welfare system, to the ups and down of the education system, housing and the booms and busts suffered, to the legal system, the media, the arts, but Hooper guides readers through every subject with a smooth yet meticulous manner, opening up each of these fundamental subjects. For me, one of the final sections on changing traditions was especially fascinating. Bullfighting is covered in-depth with an unbiased yet accurate voice. I have read much about bullfighting, but it can be hard to find anything written that does not either lean heavily in favour or against the art form. Regardless of your opinions on the subject, any reader can gain from the information shared by the author.

While much as happened politically, socially and economically to Spain since this book was written, it still serves to provide a clean, realistic picture of Spain and why the nation sits in its current form. The book shows how the past has shaped the present, and can also show that what Spain is currently suffering is not unique. Each generation of Spaniard has seen suffering, but also moments of hope in the time since Franco died. If anyone wanted to learn from the past mistakes, the tips to succeed could well lie in the words of John Hooper.

This book got first published in 1986, rewritten in 1995 and revised in 2006, and could be easily overwhelming if it was not so well planned and laid out. I have yet to find a book that captures Spain’s identity as well as The New Spaniards. It should be handed out to each person who arrives in Spain and plans to make a life there.

My only gripe is that my paperback copy has a tiny font! While this has nothing to do with the quality of the author’s work, I had a headache the entire time. I can understand a publisher’s desire to make the text small, with so much to give to a reader, but it was difficult to read. Going to a Kindle version and sizing up the text is needed for everyone with delicate eyes.