Ramón Álvarez, Barcelona 29 October 2021
Marcelino Camacho, during his speech in the Congress of Deputies defending the Amnesty Law.
Championed by the PCE as reparation for the reprisals of Francoism, the law that in 1977 wiped the slate clean of politically motivated crimes and misdemeanours has been an insurmountable barrier to the prosecution of the crimes of the Civil War and the dictatorship.
This piece is part of a series of contents published by La Vanguardia that compiles some of the most relevant speeches of the 20th century from a historical perspective and with an informative purpose.
“All acts of political intentionality, whatever their result, classified as crimes and misdemeanours carried out prior to 15 December 1976, are hereby amnestied”. So begins the wording of the Amnesty Law passed by the Congress of Deputies on 15 October 1977, the greatest display of magnanimity in Spanish democracy after the Law for Political Reform.
Championed at the time by the Communist minority in Congress, the law was supposed to be a reparation for those prosecuted and convicted by Franco’s regime for their political activities. However, the release of all ETA prisoners, the Grapo and other terrorist groups, leaving 97 murders unpunished, and the subsequent halt to the prosecution of alleged Francoist crimes have called it into question for more than four decades, and initiatives to repeal or amend it have not been successful.
Surreptitiously including blood crimes from the outset – “whatever the result” – in what was considered both a gesture to Basque nationalism and a way of winning the political and moral battle against ETA, the wording of the law expressly appealed to the crimes of rebellion and sedition and acts of expression of opinion, carried out through the press, printing or any other media that were the object of a misdemeanour or crime under the legislation in force during that period.
In no case did the law take into account the protection it could provide for Francoist crimes. At least not to the extent that it has come to have. In fact, the drafting committee did not include any representative of Alianza Popular, a party with representatives linked to the regime that criticised it and ended up abstaining in the vote. So did a deputy from Euskadiko Ezkerra who aligned himself with the opposing postulates defended by both the political-military ETA and the military ETA.
On 8 October, one day after the Council of Ministers had passed the law through Congress, ETA-m assassinated Augusto Unceta, president of the Biscay Provincial Council, and his two bodyguards in Gernika. Nevertheless, the law was passed with 296 votes in favour, two against, 18 abstentions and one null vote, and on 9 December the last ETA prisoner to receive amnesty left the martutene prison.
One of its rapporteurs, the deputy of the communist minority and recently elected secretary general of Comisiones Obreras Marcelino Camacho, came out in strong defence of the law. He gave the speech, which we have slightly excerpted here, in which he appealed to the reconciliation that the new law was supposed to bring about. A broad and definitive amnesty that extended the measures of grace that the government of Adolfo Suárez had already taken, such as the release and banishment of some twenty ETA prisoners and that of Camacho himself.
The law became a social demand, with citizen demonstrations that had their autonomist counterpart in Catalonia and the Basque Country, where the slogan of “freedom and amnesty” was joined by the clamour for autonomy statutes. The broad parliamentary support and this social correlate led the Supreme Court in 2012 to consider the Amnesty Law as “a basic and irreplaceable pillar of the Spanish transition”.
A ruling, however, that prevented the Spanish justice system from investigating and prosecuting crimes promoted, protected, or executed by the Franco regime or by those involved in the Civil War, with the massacres of Badajoz or Paracuellos del Jarama as alleged crimes against humanity, which the current rule of law has had to ignore.
“Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen:
“It is my honour and duty to explain, on behalf of the Communist Party of Spain and the Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, in this session, which must be historic for our country, our vote on the Amnesty law. I would like to point out that the first proposal presented in this chamber aimed at this amnesty was the one presented by the communist minority on 14 July as a result of a coherent and consistent policy that begins with our party’s policy of national reconciliation, as early as 1956.
We considered that the centrepiece of this policy of national reconciliation had to be the amnesty: “How could those of us who had been killing each other be reconciled if we did not erase that past once and for all? For us, as reparation for injustices committed during 40 years of dictatorship, amnesty is a national and democratic policy, the only consistent policy that can close that past of civil wars and crusades.
This law is the fruit of our party’s coherent and consistent policy of national reconciliation.
“We want to open the way to peace and freedom. We want to close one stage and open another. We communists, who have so many wounds, who have suffered so much, have buried our dead and our bitterness. We are determined to move forward on the road to freedom, on the road to peace and progress.
“It must be said that for many years only the communists fought for amnesty. It must be said, and I remember it, that in the meetings of the Democratic Council and the Convergence Platform, especially in the former, the word amnesty was erased; another word was sought, because it was identified to some extent with the communists. I remember that even in the prisons I have been in, when we discussed with comrades of other tendencies – who later sometimes demanded it by fire – they were also against the word amnesty.
We are determined to move forward on the road to freedom, peace, and progress.
“We have buried, as I said, our dead and our grudges, and that is why, today, rather than talking about that past, we want to say that the Communist minority welcomes the consensus of the mixed, Basque-Catalan and Socialist groups, and we would also have liked this to be an act of national unanimity.
“I would still ask the gentlemen of the Alianza Popular to reconsider this problem. We affirm from this tribune that this is the amnesty that the country demands and that, on the basis of it, crime and robbery cannot be considered, from whatever angle, as political acts. In this hour of joy, to a certain extent, for those of us who have spent so many years in the places you know, we only regret that, for the sake of this consensus and reality, friends, patriots, workers in uniform, cannot fully enjoy this joy. From this rostrum we want to say that we do not forget them and that we expect the Government to make amends in the near future and to restore them to their posts.
We have buried our dead and our grudges and we do not want to talk any more about the past.
“We also want to point out to the women of our country that if this problem is not discussed today, if this law does not include amnesty for so-called crimes against women, such as adultery, we want to remind them that the Communist Parliamentary Group presented a bill on 14 July which we believe is urgent to discuss and which we will of course discuss.
“We are asking for amnesty for all, regardless of where anyone has been. I believe that this act, this intervention, this proposal of ours will undoubtedly be for me the best memory of this Parliament that I will keep for the rest of my life.
“The labour amnesty is of great importance. We have been the most repressed and oppressed class during these 40 years of history that we want to close. On the other hand, what the history of our country teaches us is that after a period of repression, after the 1917 strike and the repression that followed; after October ’34 and the repression that followed, every time freedom regains the positions it had lost, there has been a labour amnesty. My father was a railwayman in a railway station and I myself saw how in 1931 the last railwaymen who had been sacked in 1917 were still coming in.
We call for amnesty for all, regardless of where anyone has been.
“If democracy should not stop at the factory gates, neither should amnesty. That is why the bill we are going to vote on here today has, in addition to the human and political aspect, a social and economic aspect for our country.
“The labour amnesty will be the first concrete step in the direction set out in the Moncloa agreements. We must not forget that we are coming out of a dictatorship in the midst of a serious economic crisis and that we all agree that the economy must be cleaned up and the national economy reconverted, that this is not possible without the help of the workers, and that we must therefore translate the spirit of the Moncloa into the practical reality of this reality.
What seemed impossible a year ago, to emerge from the dictatorship without serious traumas, is being achieved before our eyes.
“What seemed impossible a year ago, almost a miracle, to emerge from the dictatorship without serious trauma, is now becoming a reality before our very eyes. We are sure that we will also come out of the economic crisis, that we will secure bread and freedom if new labour-management relations are established and if a code of workers’ rights guarantees them, if we finally succeed in making us workers no longer foreigners in our own homeland.
“Yes, amnesty to govern, amnesty to strengthen authority and order based on the just respect of all for all and, of course, first and foremost, of the workers for each other. With amnesty, democracy will be brought closer to the people and the workplaces. Political and labour amnesty is a national necessity at this time in which we live. It is our duty and our honour, ladies, and gentlemen, to demand a unanimous vote by the whole House.
“Thank you very much.