Toni Strubell, Núria Bassa – Spain’s first Francoist on trial…in Argentina!

After the US, now Argentina is trying cases of fascists who in the EU are politely received

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Article publicat en catalan aquí


Rodolfo Martín Villa

Last week saw one of the first awkward jolts Spain’s Franco-friendly regime has felt in decades. Nothing spectacular but nonetheless significant. Argentina’s judge María Servini, after six years of investigation, finally announced the indictment of former minister Rodolfo Martín Villa (87), ex member of the Francoist Cortes and Civil Governor of Barcelona at the time of Franco’s death (1974-75). One of his “merits” is to have had tons of Falangist documents destroyed on Franco’s death, presumably to avoid incriminating evidence reaching the wrong hands. He also makes no attempt to hide that he is the proud holder of the Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows, a major fascist distinction awarded to him in the seventies.

Oddly enough though, it is for activities of his after the death of Franco that he may be tried for crimes against humanity, despite there being no guarantee that he will ever actually be tried in Buenos Aires. In line with consensus applied since Franco’s death, the Spanish authorities are most likely to do their utmost to help him avoid that. One must remember what happened to judge Baltasar Garzón when he dared bug corrupt PP members while in another line of investigation he questioned the amnesty law the fascists had treated themselves to in 1977: an 11-year ban from the bar. Now, Argentinian magistrate Julieta Bandirali, who described Martin Villa’s indictment as a “major breakthrough”, fears that an appeal against the indictment could well prevail. Indeed the chances of a conviction of aged Martin Villa are considered remote even by the most optimistic.

The crimes he allegedly committed came during his 1976-1979 term as Minister of Government. This post made him directly responsible for the control of the police (Policia Armada and Guardia Civil). These repressive bodies, under Martin Villa’s command, remained unpurged of their more brutal and openly fascist elements. Judge Servini has now charged him with the homicide -within the context of crimes against humanity- of three Vitoria-Gasteiz workers in March 1976. They were shot dead, unarmed, as they emerged from a church sit-in that Police evacuated with tear gas. There were also two other deaths by gunfire and scores more wounded. Martin Villa is also accused of the killing of German Rodríguez, a young marxist who was shot dead by police during the San Fermin festival in Pamplona-Iruña in 1978. This occurred after the Police entered the bullring firing against protestors on the terraces, episodes that should have put the world on guard as regards the kind of democracy Spain was adopting but of course, never did. Now, to face the civil liabilities at the trial, judge Servini has called for the preventive seizure of Martin Villa’s properties to the value of ten million euros.

Martin Villa’s indictment comes as one of the first steps taken in what is known as the “Argentinian Lawsuit” (Querella Argentina). It started over ten years ago as a long overdue plan to bring Francoist criminals before the courts. If this couldn’t be contemplated in Spain, then maybe Argentina would be a fitting scenario. The accusations trickled in at first but they have now boomed to approximately one thousand. These cases are considered crimes against humanity and are therefore not prescriptible. They include forceful disappearances, torture, murders, mass state-tolerated baby abduction and slave labour. Judge Servini decided to indict 22 people for these crimes in the period 2013-14. They included policemen, police chiefs, servicemen and others with posts in the dictatorship. Martin Villa, as the minister responsible for the Francoist police, is just one of those indicted today. On presenting the indictment, prosecution lawyer Eduardo Fachal –a member of CeQua Platform– admitted that judge Servini had taken utmost care in the indictment process, making it clear that the Francoist police was fully operative well after the apparent arrival of democracy. Perhaps for this reason, Martin Villa is only being indicted for 4 of the twelve murders he is thought to have participated in. 8 other cases need closer investigation before they are included in the case.

Although Mr Fachal admits that it may be a year before the trial starts, the prosecutors will call for the imprisonment of Martin Villa as a cautionary measure. As the indictment was announced, a Spanish lawyer for the prosecution -Mr Jacinto Lara- pointed to the shameful impunity afforded by the Spanish State to these offenders, an impunity that was cemented into the new democratic regime’s structure by way of the 1977 amnesty law. Though sold as a measure to offer amnesty to the political prisoners of the Franco regime, it more significantly served to slyly merge full amnesty for the political crimes committed by the Francoists into the deal. Lawyer Lara insists the current State has the legal means by which to revert this situation and bring Francoist criminals to trial. However, one has to admit that this whole process comes shamefully late as most of the accused are well into their eighties. Indeed, one of the most renowned Francoist torturers, Antonio González Pacheco (alias “Billy the Kid”), died of COVID19 in May 2020.

No, the new Memory Law won’t do the trick

Optimistic observers of Spanish politics may at some stage have harboured hopes that the new Spanish Memory Law, now being debated, would put an end to the impunity as happened after dictatorships fell in so many countries worldwide. However, as pointed to in an article published recently by lawyer Josep Cruanyes and former congressman Joan Tardà, it is obvious that the government has no intention of offering material compensation for victims in the law. It insists that the State can in no way be held responsible for crimes committed during the Franco dictatorship, nor will it offer compensation for damage caused nor properties seized, as UN rapporteur Pablo de Greiff denounced in 2014. Indeed, it remains a mystery why the law is to be brought in at all when no material harm is to be compensated for nor justice to be brought to bear against criminals of the regime. For the bill specifically rules that the perverse amnesty law of 1977 cannot be repealed. Symbolic gestures are all that can de expected. For nothing can be allowed to upset the Francoists and their offspring who are still in the driving seat of the Spanish State power system today. Nevertheless, judge Servini’s indictments of Francoists (perhaps added to Pedro Almodovar’s latest exposé of Franco’s mass graves in the film “Parallel Mothers”) are the first source of discomfort Francoists will have felt in 44 years. Maybe it’s a start. But it is in no way thanks to Spain’s justice system.

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