Billy the Constitutionalist

In 1977 it was necessary to pretend that Spain’s Court of Public Order and the newly minted Audiencia Nacional were two different things

Antonio González Pacheco, Billy the Kid / EFE

On 18 September 2013 Argentinian judge María Servini issued an international arrest warrant against Antonio González Pacheco (1946-2020), the highly-decorated former Spanish police officer known as Billy the Kid [“Billy el Niño” in Spanish] who faced criminal charges [in Argentina] for having tortured a number of people in the early 1970s. However, Spain’s Audiencia Nacional court denied Antonio González’s extradition arguing that his alleged crimes had already prescribed. Although Servini’s warrant made extremely serious accusations, Spain’s Partido Popular (PP) government at the time refused to strip him of his decorations, some of which included a financial compensation that added to Billy the Kid’s retirement pension. The whole thing could seem a system malfunction but, in fact, the system kernel is based precisely on accepting that malfunction —and many others of the same sort— as a matter of course. The so-called 1978 regime is nothing but that. Franco’s Court of Public Order [TOP in Spanish], a key element for the dictator to lend the regime’s systematic repression some resemblance of legality, was dissolved on 4 January 1977. That same day, in the same building and with the same civil servants, the Audiencia Nacional was founded. This is the same court that turned down Argentina’s extradition request against Billy the Kid seven years ago.

Merely entertaining the thought that Franco’s notorious Court of Public Order and today’s Audiencia Nacional are two unconnected realities, that they have nothing to do with one another, is laughable. Yet the current system in Spain rests on that fiction. González Pacheco, the torturer, likely didn’t support Spain’s present-day Constitution when it was put to a referendum in 1978. Former PP leader José María Aznar certainly didn’t, if we are to believe his own words in an article titled Abstention printed in La Nueva Rioja on 23 February 1979: “With the proposed text, we Spaniards don’t know if […] the Constitution will lead us down a dangerous, pseudo-socialist, big government slope”. Surely a man like Antonio González Pacheco must have objected to many articles of the Constitution, like [far-right party] Vox does nowadays on the subject of Spain’s devolved regions, as well as other specific points that aimed to change the status quo arising from the 1936 military coup [which started the Spanish civil war].

In short, I mean that despite González Pacheco’s more than questionably sympathy for Spain’s current legal system, he was himself one of its greatest beneficiaries right up until the last day of his life. In contrast, others who genuinely fought for freedom ended up in the dumpster of history —the lucky ones— while the bodies of the less fortunate remain buried in unmarked graves by the roadside or outside cemetery gates. From a prudently myopic viewpoint, Billy the Kid’s case might seem an embarrassment only for those who afforded him legal protection despite Servini’s international arrest warrant. However, if we are a little honest, we should eventually admit that the case of a man who was capable of the most horrendous deeds (Lidia Falcón’s account, for instance, is chillingly revealing) not only does not constitute a contradiction for the current constitutional order, but it actually legitimises it on some level.

I realise that many will disagree on this point, but —as it turns out— the system is based on accepting the huge, monstrous historical contradiction that results from having a king emeritus (Juan Carlos) who was both Franco’s successor (“with the title of king”) and the great architect of Spain’s democracy. As the old scholastics used to say, ex contradictione quodlibet; that is, anything follows from a contradiction. And here we are … This time it was the case of Billy the Kid, but a similar one will crop up next week. Or worse.

I would like to emphasise that none of this is due to the actual text of the Spanish Constitution, it is not down to a particular article or other. Not at all. The problem lies in the flimsiness of its historical foundations, in its fictitious nature, in the unreal aura that surrounded its drafting and eventual unfolding. In 1977, forty-three years ago, I guess you had to pretend —as you tried to keep a straight face— that the Court of Public Order and the Audiencia Nacional were two different things. With the passing of time, we eventually forgot that this was just a bad joke. That is why nowadays we struggle to accept that such an individual could possibly die still covered in medals, as if he were a hero. However, it all makes sense. When fresh evidence surfaces about the shady deals of the king emeritus, without any consequence, it will all make near-perfect sense. I believe Spain’s constitutionalists will then need to do some serious reflection.

El + vist

El + comentat