Galindo: COVID-19 unearths ghosts of Spain’s ‘dirty war’

16.02.2021 - Global Voices Online

Galindo: COVID-19 unearths ghosts of Spain’s ‘dirty war’
Enrique Rodríguez Galindo. Screen capture of TV channel LaSexta's video on YouTube

Enrique Rodríguez Galindo died on February 13, 2021, with COVID-19, at 82 years of age.

The former general of Spain’s gendarmerie force, the Guardia Civil, Rodríguez Galindo headed the garrison of Intxaurrondo in the Basque city of Donostia-San Sebastián in the 1980s and 90s. At that time, police officers were frequently targeted by ETA, the Basque pro-independence armed group that extorted and threatened thousands of people, killing 850 over half a century until it was forced to put an end to its violence in 2011. Lack of popular support and effective police action were important factors for why ETA came to an end.

Rodríguez Galindo was in charge of anti-terrorism action in very difficult circumstances. Yet, he was also a kidnapper and a murderer himself.

This is what Spain’s High Court concluded in 2000, and it was confirmed a year later by the Supreme Court. Rodríguez Galindo was sentenced to 75 years in prison for ordering the kidnapping and killing of José Antonio Lasa and José Ignacio Zabala. They were tortured and executed in 1983 by death squads known as GAL, the “Antiterrorist Liberation Groups.” They were buried with quicklime in the mistaken expectation that the chemistry would make the remains disappear for good. The bodies were found in 1985, and medical examiners could identify them only in 1995.

Out of 75 years, Rodríguez Galindo only spent five in prison. He was granted a partial release in 2005 and parole in 2013.

In 2021, Rodríguez Galindo’s death awoke Spain’s ghosts of the past.

Secretly funded by the Spanish Government, GAL was responsible for no fewer than 27 extrajudicial executions between 1983 and 1987 in what is known as the “dirty war”. Some victims were alleged ETA members, such as Lasa and Zabala, others simply bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1998, Spain’s Home Secretary José Barrionuevo and his deputy Rafael Vera were imprisoned for their responsibility in GAL; Felipe González, Prime Minister at the time, was photographed hugging them goodbye at the jail’s gate. In an interview in 2010, González declared cryptically: “I had to decide whether to blow up the leaders of ETA. I said no. And I don’t know if I made a mistake. Much has been speculated about González’s involvement in GAL, but so far nothing sufficiently definitive has been proven.

As pointed out by the scholar Omar Encarnación, GAL was “a continuation rather than a departure of the State’s counter-terrorism strategies” after Franco’s dictatorship, which ended in 1975. GAL was the result of a less than perfect transition to democracy, where institutions were not cleaned up, resulting in the lack of democratic control over the police, the militarized Guardia Civil, and the military intelligence. GAL’s existence also emboldened ETA, giving them discursive ammunition to dispute the democratic character of Spain, and offering them the chance to present themselves as victims of state-sponsored repression.

Some of the reactions to Rodríguez Galindo’s death are proof that segments of Spanish society have a lot of work to do to face their demons.

In its obituary, the widely sold newspaper El País spoke of the General’s “dazzling record of service,” tainted only by the “shadow” of “supposedly being part of the so-called dirty war.” One would think that the word “supposedly would no longer be necessary considering Galindo’s court sentence.

Macarena Olona, Member of Parliament of the far-right Vox, the third-largest party in Spain, wrote on Twitter: “May the earth rest lightly on you, my general.”

Categories: Europe, Opinions, Politics
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