Lidia Falcón in an archival photo, likely taken before her seventh and final arrest under the Franco dictatorship. The leftist lawyer and feminist was falsely linked to a crime allegedly carried out by Basque separatists in Madrid in September 1974. A café frequented by secret police was the target. Falcón had nothing to do with the attack at all, but that didn’t stop the dying dictator’s sadists from doing their worst to her. For 40 years she was unable to talk about it. Now, she tells her story to Público:
Lidia Falcón was tortured to the limit in the fall of 1974. She was beaten, insulted and humiliated. But not only in prison. In the official media as well. The daily newspaper, ABC, didn’t hesitate to publish her photo on the front page and link her to an ETA attack on the Rolando coffeehouse in Correo Street, near the Puerta del Sol, on September 13, 1974. Falcón had nothing to do with that massacre. But for the police, the Franco régime, and for its hangers-on, it was all the same. She was arrested in Barcelona and transferred to Madrid three days after the attack. She thought she would never get out of jail. That they would kill her first. Franco was near death, and the hatred of his Political and Social Brigade was running rampant throughout Spain. Tortures unimaginable today were commonplace.
The lawyer, writer and founder of the Feminist Party has taken 40 years to recount that dramatic episode of her life. The nine months she spent in prison and the nine days she suffered the interrogations of Billy the Kid and Roberto Conesa. She kept it hidden as much as possible, she doesn’t really know why, she says. Every victim manages the trauma of torture as well as they can. Every person has their own defence mechanism. Silence and pretending were the methods Falcón chose.
Today, forty years later, she has decided to put those tortures in writing and present a denunciation before the Argentine embassy in Madrid as part of the so-called Argentine Case, the only judicial proceeding currently investigating the crimes of the Franco dictatorship and the Spanish Civil War.
“They arrested me seven times between 1960 and 1974, but no one has ever been told what I lived through during that last detention. Why? I don’t know,” Lidia Falcón told Público. She says she finally decided to take that step and make the denunciation in order to “help my comrades who are making such a great effort to put an end to the impunity of Franco-fascism.”
On September 16, 1974, three days after the ETA attack, the Politico-Social Brigade (BPS) arrived at Lidia Falcón’s office to arrest her and take her to Madrid, accusing her of taking part in the attack by planting an explosive charge in the Rolando Coffeehouse in Madrid, a place frequented by the BPS police. They had no evidence. They probably also knew that Falcón was not implicated. But it was all the same to them. They forced her into a car and drove her to Madrid. The same for her daughter and her companion, Eliseo Bayo. They wouldn’t even let her go to the bathroom during the 12-hour trip.
The worst, obviously, was still to come. Falcón spent nine days in the Franco-fascist terror’s station. “They threw Grimau out the window there. They tortured him to the point of uselessness. One thinks it’s possible not to talk about it, that it not come out,” Falcón said, in front of the Argentine embassy in Madrid. “They were furious and hungry for revenge. We can’t forget that 13 people had just died, and there were 84 injured,” Falcón continues.
A doctor examined her upon arrival. “Do you suffer from any illness?” he asked her. “I’ve recently had hepatitis,” she replied. Billy the Kid and Roberto Conesa now had the perfect target to destroy their victim: “They hit me in the stomach and in the liver and tugged at my arms until I thought they’d fall out.” This for three days. No sleep, no food, no drink. Between beatings, they talked about her daughter: “She’s in jail. Maybe she’ll find a boyfriend.”
After 72 hours in detention, she was visited in her jail cell by the instructing judge, the commander of the First Military Tribunal of Judges and Officials of Madrid, and after a lengthy interrogation, Falcón signed a declaration in which she did not confess to participation in the attack, nor any relations with the terrorists. “I’ve asked myself whether the CIA was implicated in the attack,” Falcón remembers, describing how the judge thumped his chest and exclaimed, “I will not allow betrayals of this uniform!”
After the official left, she was returned to her cell. The next day, Billy the Kid and Conesa came back for her. They handcuffed her to two hooks in the ceiling, but Falcón’s wrists were too small. Her 50 kilograms of body weight were not enough to fill the cuffs. Falcón fel again and again. Finally, they tied her with ropes and began to punch her in the abdomen, stomach and liver.
“Do you recall anything Billy the Kid said to you during the interrogation?” asked a journalist.
“Yes. Of course. There’s one thing that I’ll never forget. Ever. While he was beating me about the stomach, he said to me, ‘Now you’ll never stand up again, whore,'” replied Falcón, recalling that after the interrogations, she had to have five surgeries to try to repair the damage from the tortures to her shoulders, stomach and uterus.
Like other victims of Antonio González Pacheco, alias Billy the Kid, Falcón remembers his face well. Those eyes that sparkled upon seeing another’s pain, which enjoyed inflicting terror and exercising the superiority of having a victim tied up and free rein to torture. “He was a sadist. He liked it. You could see he was enjoying those moments,” Falcón adds, recalling that she finished most of the torture sessions by losing consciousness.
When she fainted, they untied her and laid her on the floor. They woke her with a bucket of water. Then the doctor examined her, checking the whites of her eyes and her blood pressure. “Let her rest,” he usually recommended. She remained on the floor, wet, for hours, until they brought her back to her cell. The next day, the tortures continued. On the sixth day, the torturers could not continue with the same abuses. They could not hang her from the wall because she would lose consciousness quickly as a result. Then, when she awoke, she went on receiving punches and kicks while lying on the ground.
On the ninth day, they transferred her to the Women’s Prison of Yeserías in Madrid. The tendons of her arms were torn, as were her uterus and abdominal muscles. She spent nine months in that prison. On June 11, 1975, they gave her provisional freedom and a fine of 30,000 pesetas. Though she had been accused, she never went to trial. In fact, No one ever went on trial for that ETA attack. Neither she, nor the other 21 accused.
Years later, Falcón went to the Historical Archive to look for the documents from her stay in prison, her detention, and the seven arrests. They didn’t exist. Her name only appears on a document which recounts a conversation between two police officers. “Everything has been eliminated. It’s part of the pact of silence of the Transition. Everything stays behind. There are no guilty parties. No one was sentenced. No investigations. Spain is a single country, and bipartisanism shares a big part of the blame,” Falcón says.
In case you wonder why Argentina should be involved in this case, you may recall what I blogged a few weeks ago about the exchanges between the military academies of Spain and Argentina. Even as Franco’s régime was in its last gasps (literally, since the dictator was on his deathbed), that of Argentina was just around the corner. Already the fascist (“anticommunist”) brigades, both military and civilian, were harassing Argentine leftists, and bodies were beginning to fall. In a country with a long history off generals-as-presidents, a military coup is never far behind, and in 1976, it finally happened. The fragile Argentine democracy crumbled even as an equally fragile and uncertain so-called democracy emerged from the dictator’s death in Spain. It was like the two countries sat at either end of a see-saw: as one went up, the other went down.
But even as the public balance was shifting, something covert was going on, something that would assure the continuation of fascism, its migration between one Spanish-speaking land and another. Spanish and Argentine military officers were involved in an exchange program, and specifically one dealing in so-called “counterinsurgency” methods. In plain English: Terrorism, murder, torture, abduction, permanent disappearance of victims, and erasure of their very names from the records. Officers from one country went to train in the other, and vice versa. The new Spanish democracy was a sham, as much as the former Argentine one had been. In truth, fascism would continue unabated, hidden. Just as the Argentines had their secret prisons in places the public never suspected, so did the Spaniards harbor their torturers in plain sight. And this even with Franco in his grave, and a two-party electoral system supposedly now in place. Officers and torturers of both régimes enjoyed total impunity, and some still do to this day.
It’s getting late, and yet there is so much still to be done to bring real democracy to Spain and Argentina. As long as the victims live, the torturers’ crimes can still come to light…even after 40 years or more.