During the 60s and 70s, General Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain responded to an increasing movement for basic human rights with horrific violence. Thousands were jailed, tortured, or assassinated, mostly for doing nothing more than being a member of an “illegal” organisation, such as the clandestine trade unions and political parties, handing out political leaflets, or going on a demonstration, all types of which were illegal.
In other parts of the world, such as Argentina or Chile, the perpetrators of similar crimes have been brought to justice – but not in Spain. Reel News is in Spain for two weeks to work with La Comuna, an organisation of ex-political prisoners fighting for justice and reparations.
I’ve arrived in Spain three days after huge demonstrations in 80 cities in Spain called by the “Indignados” movement against austerity and the latest revelations of widespread corruption in the Government. These demos have now got so big that it’s virtually impossible to count the amount of people involved – and the movement is still committed to non-violence, despite the violent response of the authorities.
Many people have compared the police tactics to those used by Franco’s regime – and on Sunday, El Pais published a revelation that showed this is not just a coincidence. Emilio Hellín, the man responsible for one of the most brutal assassinations during the transition to “democracy”, when neo-nazi terror groups were allowed to flourish, is now working in the secret police.
Sentenced to 43 years in prison in 1982 for the kidnapping and murder of 19 year old Yolanda Gonzalez, Hellin was released after only 14 years of the statutory minimum 30 years, despite breaking out of prison and fleeing to Paraguay for a period. He was then allowed to change his name and take on a new identity. He now has a senior role in the police, and holds conferences for the security forces, including those responsible for demonstrations – charging the Ministry of Interior for his services.
The two film makers from Madrid that I’m working on this project with, took me to the working-class district of Aluche where Yolanda was from. Aluche is the largest district in Madrid (and therefore in the whole of Spain) with 75,000 inhabitants.
101, Calle Tembleque
This is where Yolanda lived – and where Hellin kidnapped her from, taking her to an open space where he killed her with two bullets to the head. His argument was that she was a member of ETA – a complete lie.
We met Julian Rebollo, President of the tenants association in Aluche. He’s disgusted by El Pais’s revelations about Hellin; he knew Yolanda and told us that not only was she not a member of ETA, she had never been involved in any violence whatsoever. He also told us that she was not the only person assassinated in Aluche, an area with a proud history of struggle.
Julian himself started off as a factory worker, and was a key figure in organising strikes for better conditions in the 60s under the most difficult organising conditions imaginable. Not surprisingly, he was sacked – and so, like a number of other industrial miltants, turned his attention to setting up the “Associacion de Vecinos de Aluche” – the Aluche tenants assocation. This, like all the tenants’ associations that sprung up in the early 70s, were clandestine organisations, because under fascism all forms of organisation independent of the state are illegal.
He explained that Aluche was a fast growing neighbourhood at the time because of people coming to Madrid looking for work from areas like Toledo, Extremadura or Andalucia where jobs were scarce. So their first struggles were for proper housing for everybody.
It’s a testament to the bravery and determination of people like Julian that they had a lot of success in getting the housing they were after – but then they had more battles to fight. Flats had no hot water. There was no transport to or from the area – so even if you did find a job, how could you get to it? They also had to fight for schools, roads, parks, parking spaces – everything. Very quickly it became clear that they wouldn’t be able to obtain all this without struggling for freedom and democracy at the same time, so in fact the first major demonstration called by the tenants associations, although it was about all these concerns, was fundamentally called over freedom and democracy. From this point on, the tenants associations played a key role in bringing about the end of fascism, working in tandem with the clandestine workers’ and students’ movements.
The tenants association still exists today, and is still the first place residents go to to sort out their problems. Obviously those problems are increasing with the current austerity measures as they fight to save all the services they fought to get in the first place – and we finished the day joining them on a march to save a cultural centre used by 30,000 people, which includes the local library.
The association is working with the indignados movement against the cuts and in a new battle for true democracy, but Julian feels frustrated when he comes across people in the movement who see Franco’s regime and its crimes as ancient history, and therefore the struggle for justice as not a priority. He is adamant that another world will not be possible unless these crimes are addressed – and the revelations in El Pais about Yolanda’s assassin is just one aspect of what he’s talking about.
We will need to make trips to other parts of Spain in order to help in this crucial struggle for justice – but we need money to do it. Obviously there is no funding for a project of this sort in Spain, and with the brutal austerity measures, our fellow film makers in Madrid have no money either. If you can help, please click the donate button below.