1977 Massacre of Atocha
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The 1977 Massacre of Atocha was a neo-fascist attack during the Spanish transition to democracy after the death of Franco in 1975, killing five and injuring four. It was committed on January 24, 1977, in an office located on 55 Atocha Street near the Atocha railway station in Madrid, where specialists in labor law, members of the Workers' Commissions trade union (CCOO), and of the then-clandestine Communist Party of Spain (PCE), had gathered. The next day, the massacre was defended by a group calling itself Alianza Apostólica Anticomunista (literally The Apostolic Anticommunist Alliance, abbreviated Triple A or AAA). The suspects arrested were close to Blas Piñar's Fuerza Nueva far-right party, the Falange-JONS and the Franco Guard. The indignation brought about by the killings accelerated the legalisation of the Communist party, which took place in Easter 1977. On March 24, 1984, the Italian daily Il Messaggero stated that, possibly, Italian neo-fascists had taken part in the shootings, pointing toward some kind of "Black International".
Armed with Ingram M-10 sub-machine guns, the assassins were looking for Communist leader Joaquín Navarro, head of the CCOO's Transport Syndicate, which had recently called for a strike against the "Franquist transport mafia ", denouncing the Sindicato Vertical official trade union. Failing to find him, the assassins decided to open fire on those present, killing five and injuring four. They first ran into Ángel Rodríguez Leál, who had returned from a nearby bar to retrieve some papers he had left in the office. After shooting him, the attackers searched the rest of the floor and discovered eight lawyers in one of the offices. They lined them up against the wall and shot all eight. Two, Luis Javier Benavides and Enrique Valdevira, were killed instantly, and two more, Serafín Holgado and Francisco Javier Sauquillo, died shortly after being taken to hospital. The remaining four, Dolores González Ruíz (the wife of Sauquillo, who was pregnant at the time), Miguel Sarabia, Alejandro Ruíz Huertas and Luis Ramos Pardo were gravely injured but survived. The same night, unidentified persons attacked an empty office of the UGT trade union, affiliated with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). Two days earlier, two left-wing activists had been murdered, one by the Triple A (Alianza Apostólica Anticomunista or AAA) and the other by the police, during a protest over the former's death. Due to these events, there were fears of a violent reaction against the fragile political transition.
More than 100,000 people attended the funerals of the victims of the Atocha massacre, which made them the first large left-wing gatherings to take place after the 1975 death of General Franco. Important strikes and a general strike on the day following the attack took place as signs of support for the victims. The PCE was legalised a short time after the attack, the government taking advantage of the Easter holiday to avoid protests from conservative sectors of Spanish society. The lack of riots among the funeral attendance was an argument for accepting the PCE as a trustworthy democratic party.
Trusting in political protection, the attackers had not even bothered to flee Madrid. The three men who had carried out the attack, Carlos García Juliá, José Fernandez Cerrá y Fernando and Lerdo de Tejada (nephew of the personal secretary of far-right party Fuerza Nueva's leader Blas Piñar) were soon arrested by the national police, while Francisco Albadalejo Corredera, provincial secretary of the official transport Sindicato vertical, was arrested as the mastermind of the attack. Far right figures such as Blas Piñar and Mariano Sánchez Covisa were called to testify during the trials. Beside Fuerza Nueva, other far right groups such as the aforementioned Triple A were involved with the attack.
The Audiencia Nacional, a Spanish high court, condemned the convicted to a total of 464 years of prison. José Fernández Cerdá and Carlos García Juliá each received sentences of 196 years, while Albadalejo Corredera received 63 years for orchestrating the attack (he died in prison in 1985). However, the escape of Lerdo de Tejada, while freed on bail in 1979, reinforced the victims' lawyers' convictions that the attackers had received aid from well-connected sources. Lerdo de Tejada escaped to France, then Chile and Brazil — the period of prescription for his crime expired in 1997. Jaime Sartorius, lawyer for the plaintiffs, believes the people behind the attack have never been brought to justice: "...They did not let us investigate. For us, the investigations were pointing towards the secret services, but only pointing towards them. By this I do not want to imply anything." Another of the convicted men, García Juliá, escaped 14 years later, profiting from his conditional release although he still had 10 more years to serve. He was arrested two years after his escape by Bolivian authorities on a charge of drug-traffiking — the funds obtained from it may have been used to support far-right organisations. Fernández Cerrá served 15 years and was released on parole in 1992.
Following the revelations of Italian Prime minister Giulio Andreotti in October 1990 concerning the existence of Gladio, a secret stay-behind NATO anti-communist network during the Cold War, a report from the Italian CESIS (Executive Committee for Intelligence and Security Services) stated that Carlo Cicuttini, an Italian neofascist related to Gladio, who had participated to the 1972 Peteano bombing alongside Vincenzo Vinciguerra, took part in the Atocha massacre. After Peteano, Cicuttini exiled himself to Spain the same year and had been naturalized Spanish.
On January 11, 2002, the Council of Ministers granted the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Raymond of Peñafort (Orden de San Raimundo de Peñafort) to the four lawyers who were murdered, while the Cross of the Order was given to Ángel Rodríguez Leal.
- Un neofascista italiano disparó contra los abogados de la calle de Atocha, según un arrepentido, El País, March 25, 1984 (Spanish)
- 25 AÑOS DE LA 'MATANZA DE ATOCHA', EL CRIMEN QUE MARCÓ LA TRANSICIÓN DEMOCRÁTICA, Terra, January 24, 2002 (Spanish)
- ¿Qué fue de los asesinos de Atocha?, El Mundo, January 20, 2002 — URL accessed on January 4, 2007 (Spanish)
- Un informe oficial italiano implica en el crimen de Atocha al 'ultra' Cicuttini, relacionado con Gladio, El País, December 2, 1990 (Spanish)
- 25 años desde la Matanza de Atocha: 1977-2002, A un paso de la revolución by Jesús María Pérez, in the marxist newspaper Nuevo Claridad number 37 (February 2002)