Former Spanish PMs and union leaders pen letter to Argentinian lawsuit judge in support of Martín Villa

The former Franco minister has been summoned to a court hearing in Argentina’s embassy in Madrid

María Servini is the Argentinian judge who sits on the bench of the First Federal Court of Buenos Aires and she is handling the case against a number of former Spanish government officials who are facing charges of crimes against humanity committed during General Franco’s regime [1939-1975]. Justice Servini has summoned former Franco minister Rodolfo Martín Villa to a court hearing that will be conducted online from the Argentinian embassy in Spain on 3 September. Never before has a Franco minister been held to account for their decisions during the dictatorship. These days, ahead of the hearing, Justice Servini has been receiving letters from former Spanish prime ministers, cabinet ministers and trade union leaders in support of Martín Villa.

According to Ceaqua, a platform that represents several [Franco-era] victims, among the VIPs who have written a letter to the Argentinian judge are four former Spanish prime ministers: Felipe González, José María Aznar, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy. They have been joined by other former officials, such as ex-CiU MP Miquel Roca, former leaders of CCOO (Antonio Gutiérrez and José María Fidalgo) and UGT (Nicolás Redondo and Cándido Méndez-Rodríguez), the top two Spanish trade unions. Josep Borrell, the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has also written to the judge. All of them have stressed that theirs is a personal letter and mainly praise Martín Villa’s work during the political transition after General Franco’s death. They insist that the former Franco minister facilitated a consensus and even go as far describing him as one of the “parents” of Spanish democracy today.

Ceaqua is looking to determine whether Martín Villa can be held to account for the 1976 massacre in the Basque city of Vitoria. On 3 March 1976 Spanish police fired hundreds of rounds at workers who were gathered in a mass meeting at the local San Francisco church, killing five. The youngest victim was 17, while the oldest was 32. Hundreds more were wounded. The incident was never investigated. Martín Villa has also been accused of playing a role in other killings, including the deaths of Rafael Gómez Jáugueri, in Errenteria; José Luís Cano Pérez, in Pamplona; Francisco Javier Núñez, in Bilbao; l José María Zabala Erasun, in Hondarribia and María Norma Menchaca, in Santurtzi. Ceaqua has pointed out that Martín Villa led “a repression machine that nobody has answered for yet” and that “his actions led to an all-out, systematic attack against civilians”.

Justice Servini has attempted to interrogate Martín Villa several times. In 2018 Spain’s Audiencia Nacional court ruled that the former Franco minister was under no obligation to appear in court because his alleged crimes were barred from prosecution by either the statute of limitations or Spain’s 1977 Amnesty Act. Nevertheless, in March 2019 the Argentinian judge tried again and set a new date: 20 March 2020. The covid-19 pandemic meant that the hearing was initially postponed to 26 May and later to 3 September. Martín Villa, who is 85, has never refused to appear in court and has even stated on a number of occasions that he feels confident and is willing to give details of his actions during his ministerial tenure.

The same Thursday when Martín Villa is expected to testify, a demo has been called at 11 am in Barcelona’s carrer Ferran. That is the spot where Gustau A. Muñoz, a communist party member, was shot dead. Muñoz was a rather militant: he was involved in putting up a banner in Montserrat to protest the court martial against [theatre group] Els Joglars. On 11 September 1978 [Catalonia’s National Day], he attended the alternative march which the Spanish authorities had banned. His death has never been explained. He was only 16 years old. His brother, Marc Muñoz, is one of the plaintiffs in the case against Martín Villa.