Forty-two years ago this month — 2 March 1974 — anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was garroted in Barcelona’s Modelo Prison. The following is a personal account by his sisters of the events leading up to his judicial murder.
“In his cell, facing a warder, the impeccably uniformed soldier informed our brother, alvador Puig Antich, of the double death sentences passed on him. According to the witnesses, Salvador wept. He was the third born of a family of six brothers and sisters. From an early age he had shown a tendency to advocate on behalf of the poor. He was expelled mid-way through the school year from the Bonanova De La Salle College for defending a fellow pupil unfairly treated by a teacher. It was hard to find another college to take him, but he did go back to school, the Pompeya Capuchin College; a year later he entered the Salesian College in Mataró where he sat his baccalaureate. It was there that he met Father Manero, the priest who was to be his companion during his last night a few years later.
“The following year he started a trade apprenticeship while enrolling at the Maragall high school. There he concentrated on the sciences, having decided to study economic sciences. There too he met the friends with whom he later went on to found the MIL (Iberian Liberation Movement).
“Over the course of the school year he realised that the economic sciences were not for him and swapped to the faculty of philosophy and literature. In 1968 he began his clandestine struggle against the Francoist regime, taking part in various Workers’ Commissions demonstrations.
“At that time he was living with our older sister who observed the changes in Salvador: he was edgy and sleeping badly … clearly his life was veering off in a different direction. In 1971 he joined the MIL, a libertarian movement that set its cap at fighting capital in all its guises and was out to bolster working class self-organisation and autonomy. It was equally critical of the hierarchical view of society and of trade unionism as a means of integrating the workers into capitalist society. Clandestinity meant that Salvador distanced himself from the family. Albeit that in practical, sentimental and emotional terms, he was very close to us on account of our mother’s health issues and he was interested in what was happening to us.
“On 7 February 1973 when our mother passed away, Salvador broke cover and came to our house; from then on he supported us in everything. That was the last time we saw him as a free man.
“On Tuesday 25 September, he was arrested with fellow MIL-member Xavier Garriga, following the arrest of another MIL militant, Santiago Soler Amigó, who had been used as bait to arrest his comrades.
“Under surveillance from the police and more specifically from the unit tasked with breaking up the MIL, Soler Amigó came to a rendezvous with inspectors Francisco Rodriguez and Timoteo Fernândez, and sub-inspectors Francisco Anguas and Luis Algar. The rendezvous — the ‘Funicular’ bar — was at the junction of the Calle Girona and the Calle Consell de Cent. A scuffle erupted and the policemen overpowered Salvador and his friend and took them into the doorway at 70 Calle Girona, next to the bar where there was a scuffle and shots were fired in which Salvador was wounded as was police sub-inspector Anguas, fatally so. Both were taken to the Barcelona Clinical Hospital.
“The family found out what had happened the following day, in the newspapers. It came as an awful shock to us, especially for our father. One newspaper headline read “Burglar Kills Police Officer”. We had nothing reliable to go on. Nor had we any idea where he had been taken. Our fear was that he might be at the station in the Via Laetana, notorious for the large numbers of people who had been tortured there. That was a very worrying time.
“The sensationalist weekly El Caso relentlessly accused Salvador of numerous offences that he had not committed. Right up until his execution he was used as the perfect scapegoat for the regime’s overall problems. Oriol Arnau and Francesc Caminal had a law practice on the Gran Via. Oriol was a friend of Carmen, one of Salvador’s sisters and knew Salvador; they had actually given him advice previously over an issue. Carmen rang him and Oriol and Frances sprang into action, presenting themselves immediately to the police as Salvador’s lawyers. They were told that he was in the Clinical Hospital and that he was in a serious condition, but they could see him.
“Carmen and Imma went straight to the hospital where the police hit them with a battery of questions — and prevented them from seeing their brother. They called out: “Salvador, estem aqui” (We’re here, Salvador). Later, in the Modelo prison, Salvador told them that he had indeed heard them. That was the first indication to him that we loved him and were standing by him.
“Three days after the incident, Salvador was still in hospital, handcuffed and tied to his bed and unable to receive visits. The atmosphere there was filled with hatred. On 1 October. In order to repair his broken jaw, his mouth was fitted with a flexible mask and it was in that fearsome state that he was committed on 2 October to Cell 443, Landing No 5 at the Modelo. Accused of murder, he was held in isolation, a good thing for us as it meant we would be able to see him at last.
“That first visit made for a very odd, very intense situation. He was already in the visiting room when we arrived. He looked clumsy, slow moving and drained. Physically he was very weak but when he heard us speak he felt the same was as we did. He was very happy to see us. In spite of everything he told us that he was extremely annoyed at our being dragged into the matter. The relationship between us was a deep one, right up until his execution.
“On 19 October there was an on-site reconstruction at the scene of the crime. On 23 October the military agreed to the ordinary courts’ renunciation of jurisdiction and it was plain that they were taking charge of the matter.
“Oriol Arnau and Francesc Caminal, his lawyers, had tried to come up with an appropriate defence counsel. They themselves were young men and had relatively little experience under their belts. They searched for someone with prestige in the court system and a measure of respectability in the eyes of the regime. Not an easy prescription to fill. In the end, Francesc Condomines Valls, doyen of the Barcelona Bar Association and president of Catalonia’s Academy of Legislation and Jurisprudence accepted the brief. On 27 October he was formally appointed as Salvador’s defence barrister with Oriol Arnau as his his ‘junior.’
“At that point we began to have our eyes opened as to the seriousness of the charges. The body coordinating the libertarian groups got in touch with Catalonia’s libertarian students to set up the Libertarian Anti-Repression Committee as a way of mobilizing on behalf of the imprisoned MIL members. Connections were made with French libertarians and in their publications the latter profiled the MIL. The political character of the MIL had to be highlighted and a MIL dossier compiled that was circulated by the underground press and forwarded to organisations and political personalities.
“On 26 November an army officer came to Salvador’s cell to tell him that the prosecutor-general was asking for two death sentences. There was a swift response: activities were stepped up albeit that many organisations had misgivings about the methods used by the MIL. Timidly, the anti-Francoist parties and groups and the workers’ movement called for the abolition of the death penalty. Loneliness is the greatest problem faced on a daily basis by someone denied their freedom. There were twice-weekly 20-minute visits from family members; all conversation had to be conducted in Castilian. Salvador grappled with the loneliness by reading and writing. Quim, our older brother who was living in the United States immediately turned up in Barcelona as soon he heard what the prosecution were asking for. The prison governor had to authorise permission for the visits as the visiting room only held four people — and there were five of us. At the sight of his older brother and in order to break the ice, Salvador asked him a few jokey questions about US scientists. Quim came away from the meeting overwhelmed. That was the last time they eer saw each other.
“Between the toing and fro’ing at the Modelo and forever living on hope, a dose of realism descended on Salvador: on 20 December, a bomb ended the life of Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s right hand man. When we arrived at the interview room, he told us: “ETA m’ha matat” (ETA has killed me). He was not wrong.
“On 5 January 1974 a council of war was convened for the 8th of the month in Barcelona’s military government building.
“At the time, democratic-minded military were in short supply and badly organized. Savador reckoned that the situation was moving towards democracy but there were still hard-line Francoists to be contended with: together with the far right, organized around Blas Piñar Girón and General Iniesta Cano.
“The political situation being what it was and with pressure from the military, the trial amounted to an auto da fé, with two death sentences being sought. We, Immaculada and Carmen Puig, were the only women in the room. Barrister Condomines spoke for an hour and closed by saying that Spain needed neither vigour nor violence. The matter rested with the decision of the Supreme Council of Military Justice which had eight days in which to reach a verdict.
“In the interim, there were continued displays of solidarity with Salvador in France, Italy and elsewhere in Europe and on 19 February, the Supreme Council of Military Justice delivered its verdict.
“It was now up to Franco’s cabinet to endorse the sentence. After that the death sentence would have to be carried out with 12 hours’ notice — unless a pardon was forthcoming. Puig Antich’s life depended upon the dictator. As soon as the verdict was confirmed, we were all distraught.
“Requests for clemency built up pressure as the time for the cabinet to give its endorsement drew nearer. There were countless demonstrations, telegramms, rallies — as well as devices planted …A whole series of isolated acts designed to prevent that hateful outcome.
“On 1 March, Information and Tourism minister Pio Cabanillas announced that the government had approved the two death sentences, and that Heinz Chez and Puig Antich were to be placed on death row under Article 860 of the military Code of Justice. Heinz Chez, a Pole, had been convicted of murdering a Civil Guard. He was alone and had no family. The same cabinet meeting saw the commutation of a death sentence passed on Civil Guard Antonio Franco, charged with killing his superor, was commuted.
“Salvador was lying on his bed when they arrived; he was told to stand. It was the moment he had been waiting for for a long time. He was escorted into another room where examining magistrate Nemesio Alvarez, in dress uniform, informed him of the government’s determination.
“Offered the assistance of the prison chaplain, he declined, and was then moved to death row. There was no drama, only silence.
“Oriol Arnau heard the news at first hand from judge Nemesio Alvarez; Arnau immediately contacted his colleagues and they met up at the Bar Association where a standing assembly was opened. Desperate efforts were made to save Salvador’s life by establishing contacts with the heads of state in Great Britain, France and Germany. By the time Franco’s personal physician, Dr Puigvert, became involved the die had already been cast.
“It being a Friday, the family waited to hear the cabinet’s decision. Oriol told us that Salvador was now on death row and we headed for the Modelo. We were reunited once again.
“Salvador was again asked if he wanted the chaplain and answered that he would like to speak with Father Manero, formerly a teacher at the Salesian college in Mataró, where Salvador had been a pupil and he looked upon him as a friend.
“In the room we sat on small, uncomfortable, armchairs going through many mood changes. The situation was so surrealistic we were telling jokes to relieve the tension, talking about old friends and so on. As the night progressed all hope of clemency evaporated. The standing commission at the Bar Association sat through the night. The abbot of Montserrat, Cassia Just, contacted the Vatican who contacted the Pardo Palace (Franco’s residence] to ask for clemency.
“We were running out of things to talk about; Father Manero’s arrival was crucial and the mood reverted to a more relaxed tone — until the moment when a soldier summoned Imma to ask her where we wanted him buried. “You’re the ones killing him, you can bury him!” was her response.
“We waited for clemency through to nine o’clock the next morning , when we were ushered out. Imma and Oriol Arnau asked to stay with him to the end, but permission was refused. Salvador asked how and where they meant to execute him.
“Salvador was executed half and hour later by “vile” garrotte – [which is the official name, it being a relatively slow way of dying, reserved for bandits, as opposed to the swift death by firing squad reserved for politicians and the military] at 9.30 a.m.
“At 10.15 a.m. on 2 March, the van carrying Salvador Puig Antich’s body left the Modelo bound for the Montjuic cemetery.
“In Tarragona prison, also on 2 March, Heinz Chez was executed. There was nobody to weep for him.
“Hate trumps life.”
From Contra Franco (testimonios y reflexiones), Madrid, Cedall & Vosa, 2006, pp. 321-329