Spanish government makes legal move that could see Franco-era crimes prosecuted | Spain

The two parties that make up the coalition government in Spain, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and its junior partner Unidas Podemos, have tabled an amendment to the Democratic Memory Bill which aims to ensure that crimes committed under the regime of the former dictator Francisco Franco no longer go unpunished. The deal between the two groups – which could also see the Valley of the Fallen monument in Madrid renamed – was struck three days before November 20, the day Franco died in 1975.

The amendment aims to force a reinterpretation of the Amnesty Law, which was passed in 1977, without repealing it altogether. The PSOE has categorically rejected going so far as to overturn this legislation, which was approved during Spain’s so-called “transition” to democracy following Franco’s death, and has been used to secure the release of the regime’s political prisoners. However, it later served as a means of stopping any attempt to prosecute figures of the dictatorship for possible offenses committed before 1977.

The coalition government does not have an active majority in the lower house of the Spanish parliament, the Congress of Deputies, and therefore must seek support from other parties to pass legislation. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which has backed the administration of PSOE Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on a number of votes and issues, has called for the cancellation of key aspects of the amnesty law as a condition for support the Democratic Memory Act. Passing this bill has been a key promise of Spain’s centre-left administration, but getting sufficient parliamentary approval is proving more difficult than expected. The government will now have to negotiate with the ERC as well as with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) to rally them to the amendment tabled today.

The amendment, which was tabled at the last possible moment by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, reads: “All laws of the Spanish State, including Law 46/1977, of October 15, of Amnesty, shall be interpreted and applied in accordance with conventional and common international law, and in particular international humanitarian law, according to which war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture are considered imprescriptible and cannot be granted amnesty.

This change would open the door to the prosecution of crimes committed under the Franco regime by Spanish justice. So far, all such attempts – including the initiatives of former High Court judge Baltasar Garzón – have failed due to the 1977 Amnesty Law. In fact, so far the only Legal proceedings related to the Franco era that have made progress have been filed in Argentina.

So many years after the death of the dictator, we are taking very strong measures to ensure that his crimes no longer enjoy impunity

Enrique Santiago, Secretary General of the Spanish Communist Party

Sources from Unidas Podemos said it would not be wise to overturn the amnesty law, as requested by the ERC, among other reasons because the legislation was a major achievement for Democrats in the era. But the party maintains that its interpretation is directed via this amendment to prevent it being used as a shield for those suspected of Franco-era crimes.

That said, it remains to be seen whether such a change ultimately succeeds in court, given that the Supreme Court has established very clear case law against any prosecution of Franco-era crimes.

“So many years after the death of the dictator, we are taking very strong measures so that his crimes no longer enjoy impunity,” said Enrique Santiago, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and Congressman for Unidas. . Podems. “It is undoubtedly the last opportunity for our country after so many years. It is the only western country where impunity has been the trend with this kind of crime. It is a day to be satisfied”, did he declare.

“It will correct the interpretation of the courts,” continued Santiago, who was one of the negotiators behind the amendment. “The Amnesty Law can no longer be used as an excuse.” The politician admitted, however, that over time there will be no major concrete legal consequences, but a restorative and moral effect for the families of the victims.

“Death extinguishes criminal responsibility,” Santiago continued. “The majority of those responsible are dead. But at least it will put an end to an anomaly in our country. Any Francoist minister or anyone who committed acts of torture could be tried. Whether or not they are punishable, a forensic truth can be established, and this in itself can have a restorative effect for victims.

When asked why the PSOE accepted a change in the interpretation of the amnesty law without repealing it completely, Santiago replied: “We were all very aware that this was the last opportunity.”

Cuelgamuros Valley

The PSOE and Unidas Podemos have tabled a total of around thirty amendments to the law on democratic memory. According to this last part, this includes changing the name of the Valley of the Dead to its original designation, the Valley of Cuelgamuros. The Valley of the Fallen is a controversial site, built by Franco apparently as a place of reconciliation after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). But it also became the dictator’s resting place, and as such a powerful symbol of the far right, until his exhumation was approved by Congress and carried out in October 2019.

Other measures in the amendment, according to Unidas Podemos, include banning the display of portraits or other artistic depictions of figures linked to the Franco-era repression in public spaces, and the removal of accolades honorifics granted within the State security forces. The titles of nobility awarded to 33 personalities of the Franco regime, such as the posthumous appointment of the founder of the fascist political organization Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as duke, would also be withdrawn.

ERC party sources in Congress, however, still say the proposed changes do not go far enough, while admitting they are prepared to negotiate their way through parliament. For the ERC, the declaration of the Franco regime as illegal is not negotiable.

Edward K. Thompson