Family and lawyers 'frustrated' in fight for justice 50 years on from Puig Antich's death 

Anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was executed in Barcelona's La Model prison by the Franco regime in 1974

Flowers on the floor of La Model prison in memory of Salvador Puig Antich 50 years on from his execution
Flowers on the floor of La Model prison in memory of Salvador Puig Antich 50 years on from his execution / Pol Solà

ACN | @agenciaacn | Barcelona

February 29, 2024 01:16 PM

March 31, 2024 11:21 AM

Salvador Puig Antich would be 75 years old if he were still alive today. Instead, his family, and Catalan society, are marking 50 years since his death at the hands of the Franco regime. 

Executed on March 2, 1974, by garrote – a device that strangles the victim – 25-year-old militant anarchist Puig Antich was the last person to be put to death in Barcelona's notorious La Model prison.  

Attempts made to bring members of the Franco regime to trial over Puig Antich's death in Spanish, European and Argentine courts have all reached a dead end, frustrating his family and an Argentine judge who took on the case.  

Argentine case 

Argentina is the only country where there is an ongoing judicial investigation into the execution of Salvador Puig Antich, convicted for the death of a police officer. It forms part of a wider investigation into crimes carried out by the Franco regime during the dictatorship. 

In November 2014, federal judge María Servini requested through Interpol that twenty people be arrested and extradited. The Catalan and European parliaments, and the UN rapporteur on truth, justice and reparation, urged the Spanish authorities to collaborate. 

But, in March 2015, after delaying the process, the conservative People's Party government of Mariano Rajoy refused. 

Spain's then Minister of Justice, Rafael Catalá, argued that the "hypothetical" crimes had already expired, and that, in any case, any trial should happen in Spain. Furthermore, the death penalty "in the 1970s was included in the Criminal Code of the time" and whoever authorized it "did not commit a crime," he said. 

María Servini, speaking to the Catalan News Agency (ACN) from her office in Buenos Aires, laments Spain's lack of collaboration. "The truth is that we thought we would have more support," she says. 

Judicial secretary Alfredo Mangano explains more. "Any procedure we request takes between 5 and 6 months." 

"Since the beginning of the case, we have had very little collaboration, not only from the government, but also from the Spanish justice system," he says. 

In the decade since the Argentine judge's first request, the four ministers accused over Puig Antich's death sentence have died: ex-vice president Licino de la Fuente and ministers Antonio Carro, Antonio Barrera and José Utrera Molina. Only the judge who delivered the sentence, Carlos Rey González, is still alive. He retired last year as a law professor at the International University of Catalonia (UIC). 

"We can do absolutely nothing. It's a shame, it's frustrating, for us who have worked so hard," Servini says. 

"We don't have anyone to charge, because all the accused have died," she adds.


Family: "We have tried everything" 

Before the case was opened in Argentina, Salvador Puig Antich's four sisters tried the Spanish courts, but both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court twice rejected reviewing the death sentence. 

It was a similar story at the European Court of Human Rights, which said that at the time of the execution Spain had not signed up to European treaties and the case was therefore outside the Strasbourg court's jurisdiction. 

Puig Antich's four sisters, together with Barcelona City Council, also tried to bring a case against judge Carlos Rey González, but the Court of Barcelona dismissed it, citing Spain's 1977 amnesty. 

"We have tried everything," Imma Puig Antich says, speaking to the Catalan News Agency in La Model, where her brother was executed. 

"In the judicial aspect, for the moment, we have lost," she says. 

"Where we have not lost," she adds, "is that Salvador has not gone down in history as a murderer, an arsonist, a criminal, which is what the state wanted. But in the judicial field we are at a standstill." 

The family does not have much faith in Spain's new democratic memory law, approved in October 2022, based on what their lawyers have told them. 

"They view it worse than we do." Imma Puig Antich says. "They were the ones who told us that we are facing a brick wall." 

So what can they do? Carme Puig Antich explains the work they do, visiting prisons, universities, schools and institutes, to keep Salvador's memory alive.

But it's not easy, even five decades on from losing their brother.  

"The same thing happens to the four of us. You are explaining things that you don't normally talk about, like Salvador's last night, and when you talk about it, it moves you. It's human," Imma says. 

"Sometimes you think that 50 years have passed," Carme says, "that we've got older too, but it comes back, it comes back. Sometimes you have to be very strong, because your voice breaks. It's hard." 

Oranich and the 1977 amnesty

Magda Oranich is a lawyer who followed the case of Salvador Puig Antich closely 50 years ago. Looking back, she tells the Catalan News Agency (ACN) that it is "sad to remember" but that's she's "satisfied" with the efforts to make sure Puig Antich is not forgotten. 

Salvador would be happy that people remember his execution as a "brutal" and "unproven" sentence, Oranich says. 

She had a feeling of "satisfaction" when the amnesty law of 1977 was approved, she says. It was one of the demands of the anti-Franco movement, and she herself was included in the amnesty. 

But she also admits being very frustrated because it has become a double-edged sword, now the main obstacle to investigating Franco-era crimes. 

"None of us realized that later this amnesty would be applied to them," the lawyer says. 

"What they did cannot be granted amnesty," she says, as international law says it cannot be applied to crimes against humanity.  

She believes that the Spain's new democratic memory law "does open some more doors." Not to bring those responsible to justice, because many of them are dead, but "it could at least help to compensate."