Historical Memory
Culture 17/10/2021

Former minister Martín Villa prosecuted for four murders during the Spanish transition to democracy

Argentine judge María Servini considers him responsible for the murders in Vitoria and Pamplona in 1976 and 1978

2 min
L'exministre Rodolfo Martín Villa, in an archive picture

BarcelonaThe Argentine judge María Servini, who has been investigating the crimes of Franco's regime since 2010, has decided to prosecute former minister Rodolfo Martín Villa for four murders during the early years of the Spanish transition to democracy (known in Spain as La Transición). According to the order, to which several media have had access, the magistrate attributes responsibility to him for the murder of three workers in Vitoria in 1976 and the death of Germán Rodríguez by police gunfire in Pamplona during the Sanfermines of 1978. It is claimed that the former minister occupied "a preponderant position in the hierarchical power structure" under which the deaths at the hands of the police took place, for which he is held ultimately responsible.

The defendant was civil governor and provincial chief of Barcelona during the dictatorship. During the transition to democracy he was Minister of Trade Union Relations (1975-1976) and Minister of Home Affairs (1976-1977), and continued in the post with the first democratic government of Adolfo Suárez (1977-1979). The complaint gathers up to twelve murders, the families of which sued in Argentina, under the protection of international legislation on human rights. In Spain they encountered an impassable wall in the justice system, due to the amnesty law of 1977, whereby the statute of limitations for the crimes would have expired.

Finally, more than a decade later, Judge Servini has ordered remand in custody, which will not be enforced, and a seizure of Martín Villa's assets to cover a sum of almost 10 million euros. The accused is now 87 years old.

Since the beginning of the Argentine case, attempts to interrogate or extradite around 20 former ministers, judges, doctors and police officers have been in vain. However, last summer the prosecutor's office unblocked an order opposing any proceedings. This led to the defendant testifying a year ago before the judge by telematic means. Martín Villa admitted "extensive errors and police behavior contrary to respect for people's rights", but affirmed that "it is impossible that during the transition to democracy there were crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity".

The cases that the Argentine case brings together are the murder of Arturo Ruiz in Madrid during the Black Week in 1977, the repression and shooting at a workers' assembly in Vitoria where five men between the ages of 17 and 32 died, five more deaths during the Pro-Amnesty Week in 1977 and the death of another man during the Sanfermines in 1978. After adding a new lawsuit for the death of a man in 1976 during the day of the referendum for the Government's Political Reform Project, the judge has decreed the prosecution of the former minister for murder and torture.