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Trotsky asylum opens its doors.

Fronting a busy highway yet hidden from view by a high concrete wall, the residence at 45 Viena Street looks like any other in the neighborhood, with its vine-covered, old-world arches and red-brick construction. Its last occupant is what sets this house apart from the others. Leon Trotsky - founder of the Soviet Red Army, hero of the Russian Revolution, and Communist reformer forced into exile in 1929 - lived here before his assassination by a Stalinist spy on August 20, 1940.

More than 50 years after the murder, the refuge in Mexico City's Coyoacan suburb has finally been turned into a full-fledged museum attracting tourists from all over the world. A glance at the guest book shows entries from as far away as Cuba, Israel and the Soviet Union, though most visitors during the museum's first year of existence have been Mexicans and Americans.

Sandra Rodriguez Castro, an administrative assistant, says the Trotsky museum, established on October 20, 1990, is sustained only by its 10,000-peso entrance fee for the general public (5,000 pesos for students, workers and teachers).

Mexico was the only country in the world to give Trotsky permanent asylum. It is fitting then that the house is maintained by Derecho de Asilo y las Libertades Publicas, a non-profit organization that helps foreign dissidents fight for political asylum in Mexico. An informational pamphlet explains: "Political asylum is one of the institutions that has given Mexico an honored place in history, during the Spanish Civil War, World War II and diverse moments in the history of Latin America. One of the most important figures of the twentieth century to be granted political asylum in Mexico was Leon Trotsky. It is of particular significance that the Institute is located in a building adjacent to the Trotsky Museum."

The revolutionary (whose real name was Lev Bronstein) arrived in Mexico in January 1937, along with his wife Natalia Sedova and son Leon Sedov, after having wandered from Turkey to France to Norway. Shortly after his establishment in Mexico City, Trotsky began working on a biography of Lenin. In the meantime, the Soviet government sentenced him to death in absentia, and the Mexican Communist Party began to plan ways to carry that sentence out. On May 24, 1940, Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros and twenty devoted Communists tried to kill Trostky, but failed. Less than three months later, Ramon Mercader del Rio, a Spanish Stalinist posing as Belgian playboy Jacques Mornard, gained entry into the house and killed the 60-year-old Trotsky with an ice-pick as the unsuspecting Russian read his newspaper.

"He cried out, got up on the chair and walked towards the dining room," explained a museum guide. "He fell in the doorway. Natalia asked him what happened, and he said, |What I always expected would happen.'" Trotsky died the next day. His murderer spent 20 years in a Mexican jail; upon his release in the 1960s, he went to Havana, where he died of cancer. Natalia moved to France and died there, though her ashes were sent back to Mexico to be buried along with her husband's. In fact, the first thing visitors notice as they walk through the garden to cactus shrubs, potted plants and tall trees is the huge Trotsky tombstone, engraved with hammer and sickle and decorated with the red flag of Soviet Russia.

Entering the house, one passes Trotsky's kitchen, filled with Mexican ceramics from the state of Puebla, and his spartan bathroom, where his jackets still hang in the closet above his shoes. Every artifact in the house, from the Indian bedspreads down to Trotsky's dictaphone, has been carefully restored - even the Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestia were chemically treated so they would not crumble. Elsewhere in the house, a deteriorated oil painting of Trotsky by E. Andreas was rescued and restored, as was the huge wall map of Mexico which dominates the study.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the house is the library where Trotsky's own History of the Russian Revolution competes for space with Beard's The Rise of American Civilization and Karl Marx's Das Kapital. A separate library containing 20,000 volumes on politics and history is planned by Derecho de Asilo. This library will be located in the Institute's main offices, along with spaces for art exhibits.

Besides caring for the Trotsky house, the Institute's main goals, it says, are "to study political asylum in Mexico and in the world; organize activities related to political asylum such as courses, conferences, roundtable discussions and expositions; and invite professors, investigators and overseas visitors to present their studies and experiences on political asylum."

At least one of the Institute's members can be considered an expert on the subject: Esteban Volkow Bronstein - Trotsky's grandson and his last surviving heir.
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Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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