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The Death of Hope

Francoist demonstration in Salamanca in 1937 – CC0

When foreign journalists would ask me if I thought that Antonio González Pacheco, alias “Billy el Niño” (BILLY THE KID), would ever be tried, I would answer no, that I never expected that there would ever be justice in Spain around the crimes committed during the Franco years. But deep down, I held on to the childish hope that an Argentine extradition suit against him would actually move forward and that one day we would see that criminal tried in a court of justice.

On May 7 that hope died with the death from complications of the coronavirus of the 73 year-old torturer. A death that took place in a hospital, attended to by skilled health workers who did all they could to save him. And if it had not been for the news media, the career of one of the most brutal criminals, who had thrived for 40 years with unchecked power and impunity, would have ended in anonymity.

What BILLY THE KID did is somewhat known in our country, although not nearly as well as in other countries that lived through the trials of their own dictators and torturers. Only Spain, lost in their interminable  dictatorship, had not tried even one of the authors of what Paul Preston coined the Spanish genocide. Not the military who bloodied Spain to kill the newly born Republic (1936) that augured a new era of equality, solidarity and democracy; not the politicians who ordered the massacres; not the police or the “State Security Forces”– what a laugh!– that carried out the orders; not the Falangists, the civil servants, the businessmen or the intellectuals who were their accomplices and justified it all with their florid fascist style.

Spain is an exception among the countries that overcame dictatorships. The impunity that followed the approval of the Amnesty Law in 1977, equivalent to the reviled Argentine Full Stop Law that was later overturned, did not allow for funeral rites for our assassinated mothers and fathers and family members thrown into the ditches of Spain, the bare minimum that any culture affords its dead.

In Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Greece, Portugal, France, Germany, and  South Africa, democratic forces felt the obligation to come to terms with their recent history to salvage the honor of the country. No such thing happened in Spain. Spain has no honor. The fascists who won the Civil War ended that. We all know that criminal regime ruled for 40 years with the complacency of the international “democratic”  community. Then there followed the years of the Transition to democracy where the dead continued accumulating in the streets of our cities.

They say democracy arrived and a Constitution was approved, similar to that of other western countries, and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party won the elections and governed with an absolute majority for 14 uninterrupted years, and then returned, due to the overwhelming response of the public, for another eight years to direct our destiny. Despite diverse changes that have plagued Spanish politics over recent years, it’s now been more than two years since the Socialists returned to Moncloa (the Spanish White House), with the sizable support of the amalgam of populist leftist organizations that initially evoked such great enthusiasm among the masses. And with all this, they couldn’t even agree to take away BILLY THE KIDS’S four medals and the pension that he enjoyed.

And there’s still more. The Minister of Education, María Isabel Celaá Diéguez, who at that time was the government spokesperson, explained to the press that Mr. González Pacheco calmly strolled through the streets of Madrid because he was a free man since there was no court case against him. He continued to have impunity because it was part of the Pact of the Transition. Impunity for the military who participated in the 1936 Coup that overthrew the legally elected Spanish Republic, while those who belonged to the UMD (Democratic Military Unit) couldn’t go back into the Army. Impunity for the assassins– of the Atocha neighborhood lawyers in 1977; of the activists Yolanda González, Arturo Ruiz, Salvador Rueda– who had minimal sentences or who opportunely fled. Impunity for those who looted the country during four terrible decades, made off with private houses and public buildings, plots of land, factories, schools, works of art, union locales, newspapers, political parties.

And impunity for the torturers who operated in Franco’s special police force, the Social-Political Brigade, hanging the arrested by their wrists and beating their stomachs, as they did to me in Madrid’s General Security headquarters during nine interminable days, from September 16 -25, 1974. They drowned prisoners in bathtubs, electrocuted them with broken lamps, broke their jaws, pulled out their teeth, threw the arrested out the windows and down the stairs, while enjoying absolute power over their bodies.

It’s been futile that the organizations that belong to the Recuperation of Historical Memory demand, denounce, protest, and even bring to court notorious cases of torture and disappearances, with a tenacity and persistence worthy of praise. The 1977 Amnesty Law has forever shielded crime and infamy, with the support of all the parties who signed it.

And they all signed it. All of them. Let there be no doubt about it. Neither the socialists nor the communists nor the nationalists expressed condemnation of or disagreement with the Constitution or Amnesty Law. Not even the trade unionists who had so many victims among their rank and file—let’s remember communist union leader Marcelino Camacho’s worthless speech—or the Catalan nationalists who today are so critical of the Spanish state, spoke out or voted against it. Nicolás Sartorius, another former communist union leader, still defends that law of impunity. In ditches, in roads, in fields, and in cemeteries of Spain, the remains of our ancestors who sacrificed their lives so that ours would be happy, haven’t found an honorable grave.

As Elena de León, my sister feminist, writes, “In those ditches, we don’t know who is who or what happened. Really, there was more respect in the executions of the Paris Commune.”

Madrid, May 8, 2020. Seventy-five years after the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.

Lidia Falcón is a Spanish lawyer, writer, and president of the Spanish Feminist Party.

Translated from the Spanish by Linda Gould Levine, Professor Emerita of Spanish, Montclair State University, and  Gloria Feiman Waldman, Professor Emerita, York College, CUNY.


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