The “Spanish transition”, the origin of the “state’s secret cesspit”

Catalan MonitorNews Roundup

In practice, this period entailed the dark personalities of the Franco regime remaining in place in the democratic era

By: Seda Hakobyan i Alexandre Solano

The transition was a pact between the democratic forces and the reformers of the regime. The supporters of the regime had the power to maintain the dictatorship after Franco’s death, nor did the opposition have enough to pull it down. The pact brought about a low intensity democracy in which the power structure remained intact and none of the bodies of the state was purged.
A very specific situation, during a period that should have been exceptional, was prolonged over time and, in practice, meant that the darkest personalities of the Franco era, such as the members of the Tribunal of Public Order (Franco’s instrument of legal repression) and the “Brigada Poltico-social” (Franco’s thought police), who are currently being investigated in a lawsuit in Argentina for crimes against humanity, remained. This low intensity democracy is still key in understanding the current political and power system in Spain.
A change of regime without altering the political system

The victory of the rebellious forces entailed a massive purge of the Spanish administration and forces. The purge began before the end of the 1936-1939 war, with the Law on political liability”, which purged the entire civil service, from security forces to the postal services and the judges.
In 1978, the power structure did not change, as it had in 1939. Those who got rich during the regime maintained their positions of privilege. In an interview, journalist Lluc Salellas recalls that no minister of Franco was ever demoted by the democracy, half of them became involved in politics and the other half became members of boards of administration, mainly of utility companies and banks. This practice became consolidated in the fifties and sixties, and carries on to this day.
Leaders of the regime, such as Manuel Fraga, Pío Cabanillas, Rodolfo Martín Villa or even Adolfo Suárez recycled as supporters of an evolution controlled by the regime. At the Parliament that created the new Constitution, about thirty members of the UCD party had been Franco’s prosecutors, as was most of the Alianza Popular party.
One of the motivations for Franco’s prosecutors to give in to the political reform in 1976 was in Exchange for transforming the parastate organisations, like the “Movimiento Nacional” and the “Sindicato Vertical”, which became part of the Spanish State administration. As no purge took place, the majority of senior officials remained in the government of the transition and even into the first PSOE led (Spanish socialist party) legislation. The elite of the structural administration were maintained, especially in public service, which entailed that 28% of the members of the constituting Parliament were civil servants.

The judiciary: from transition to democracy without any changes

The transition took Spain from Franco legality to democracy, but the judicial system remained intact.
The Tribunal of Public Order (TOP) took over from the Special Tribunal for Masonry and Communism, aimed at judging public order issues, mainly political-social ones. In their first resolution of the 3889 the magistrates, mostly Franco supporters, rendered, they sentenced a worker to ten years imprisonment for saying “Me cago en Franco” (“Screw Franco”) and in the thirteen years they were active, they were part of the repressive system, together with the “Brigada Politico-social” and never heard any injury claim. The TOP was dismantled and, still under the Franco legislation, immediately became the “Audiencia Nacional” (Spanish High Court).

The three presiding judges of the Court became, under democracy, members of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial instance of the land, while the first presiding judge of the Spanish High Court had been a magistrate of the Franco Supreme Court. Ten of the sixteen magistrates of the TOP ended up in the Supreme Court or the Spanish High Court and kept their Medal to Judicial Merit.

One of these was Antonio Torres-Dulce, who retired as presiding judge of the Provincial Tribunal of Madrid. His nephew was the State Prosecutor during the 9 November Catalan popular consultation on Catalan independence and his son, who also has a history with the Falange (Fascist organisation), is ambassador to Mauritania. Another prominent member of the TOP was Jaime Mariscal de Gante: his daughter is Margarit Mariscal de Gante, a minister under José María Aznar and currently a member of the Court of Audit, responsible for the investigation aimed at requiring Artur Mas, Joanna Ortega and Irene Rigau to pay the costs of the 9 November consultation.

A reform is still necessary in the judiciary

The absolute lack of purging of the judiciary, which is still influenced by those nostalgic for the regime gave rise, in 1983, to the association “Jueces para la Democracia” (Judges for Democracy). Judge Santiago Vidal pointed out that only about a dozen judges are members of this association and all the rest are of a markedly very conservative profile.

As a matter of age, the judges who were most involved in the Franco regime are no longer active, but the reminiscence remains. The magistrate of the Sapnish Audiencia, since 1989 is Ismael Moreno Chamorro, a member of the Franco police force who has become a judge and who imprisoned some puppet masters from Granada, ordered the investigation for sedition and rebellion of the ANC and AMI and investigated CUP town councillor, Joan Comas.

The governing bodies of the judiciary are still highly political; the political parties share out the appointments and the majority of judges consider that the principal of judicial independence is not as protected as it should and that appointments are not made according to merit and skill.

The judges who have been purged are those critical with the regime. From the disqualified Elpidio Silva, the controversial Baltazar Garzón and Santiago Vidal to judge Angel Vivas, who was not appointed as presiding judge of the Audiencia Nacional for having signed in favour of the right to decide.

The military: guarantors of the transition as it was

One of the main players in the transition was the military, who had imposed a dictatorship under Francisco Franco until 1975. They had a prominent role as legislators in the shadows and as opposition the democratic change.

Military pressure was fundamental in the drafting of the essential articles of the Spanish constitution. It was due to this pressure that Article Two enshrines the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation, common and indivisible fatherland of all Spaniards”, currently wielded against the Catalan aspirations. They also modified Article (which says that “the armed forces mission is to guarantee Spanish sovereignty and independence and defend its integrity and constitutional order”.

The fact that the monarchy was imposed or that the republican forces were not legalised in the first elections is also, largely due to the role of the military. The 1977 amnesty law, which included the majority of political prisoners and prohibited crimes committed during the 36-39 was and the Franco era, did not cover members of the Unión Militar Democratica (UMD), created in 1974 by members of the military in favour of democracy. This entailed great repression and discharge from the forces and military pressure ensured that those discharged were not admitted again.

The army conspired a few times during democracy. The first, in 1978, “Operation Galaxy”, taking advantage of a trip abroad by king Juan Carlos, were going to take La Moncloa (Government President’s official residence), and impose a “national salvation” government.

The main organisers were the lieutenant colonel of the Gaurdia Civil, Antoio Tejero, captain of the Armed Police, Ricardo Saenz de Ynestrillas and a colonel of te military staff who was never identified. Neither lost their rank and Ynestrillas even got a promotion according to regulation. The conspirators were not arrested and, on 23 February 1981, they orchestrated the coup d’etat that came to be known as the 23-F.

Later, a conspiracy was aborted on 27 October 1982; the intention was to perpetrate actions against left wing personalities and personalities in favour of autonomic rule, and a terrorist attack on a military apartment block in Madrid, blame it on the Basque terrorist organisation ETA and thus justify a military coup d’etat.

The last one to be known of was on 2 June 1985. The intention was to eliminate political and military authorities, including the king, in an attack against the official tribune at an armed forces parade in A Corunha. The object was to create a power vacuum, which would lead to a military intervention of Spanish politics.

Even after all these years, a conservative and ultranationalist image prevails; this is confirmed in some statements against the Catalan process that call for the “spirit of 23-F”, and a certain nostalgia for the Franco era which goes unchecked.

One example is the son of Antonio Tejero, who invited a number of 23-F conspirators, including his father, to a commemoration luncheon in 2014. Although he was discharged at first, the sanction as revoked and he was even later promoted. On the other hand, Lieutenant Luis Gonzalo Segura was discharges from the army for having reported military corruption.

The police: the state’s secret cesspit since before democracy

The documentary The State’s Secret Cesspit shows how the police forces were not reformed and there was no purge. A number of high level officers created the “Sindicato Profesional de Policia” (Professional Police Syndicate) and, under the cover of defending the police in a democratic manner, created an organisation in which the majority of leaders were members of Fuerza Nueva (extreme Spanish nationalist right wing political organisation) or the Brigada Politico-social , the most nostalgic of the Franco era.

Ex-police superintendent José Manuel Villarejo was party to the creation of the syndicate. Es- operations director of the Spanish police force, Eugenio Pino, jpined during the Franco era, in 1974. The main leaders of “Operation Catalonia”, Eugenio Pino, José Manuel Villarejo and Marcelino Martín-Blas, were decorated by the Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who awarded them the increase in salary together with the distinction.

The division that best represents the Franco regime is the Brigada Politico-social, the police in charge of persecuting and repressing opposition. The head of the division, Superintendent Roberto Conesa, and a great part of the division, were recycled from the dirty war against ETA and GRAPO.

Roberto Conesa’s right hand man, the torturer Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, aka “Billy el Niño” (Kid the Kid), decorated under the current democracy, didn’t leave the police force until 1982. He wasn’t prosecuted until Argentina requested his extradition in 2013, which was refused by the Spanish Audiencia Nacional.

After the 23-F failed coup d’état, an “anti-coup d’état brigade” was created (officially known as Brigada de Información de Interior (Interior Information Brigade)) made up mostly of Billy el Niño’s anti GRAPO group and known to be extreme right wing. The excuse for choosing highly conservative individuals was that it would be easier for them to infiltrate the organisations organising coups d’état. The results were negligible and no civilians involved in the plots were ever brought to justice.

Even after the years and a partial ideological renewal of the force, the demonstration last January, where more than a thousand police officers from minority unions of Mossos (Catalan police) (SPC, CAT and USPAC) and the majority union of Barcelona city police SAPOL) together with the Spanish police union (SIPEOL) and of the Guardia Civil (ASIGC), mainly against CUP (Catalan left wing party) for political persecution, go to show a nostalgic sediment. Ultra nationalist groups and Spanish legion platforms had called for participation in this demonstration, which shows how kinked the current institutions still are those at the beginning of the transition.