Four former Spanish presidents have sent letters in support of former Franco minister Rodolfo Martín Villa to the Argentine judge investigating him for thirteen counts of aggravated homicide in the context of crimes against humanity. Felipe González, José María Aznar, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy are the only remaining former heads of the Spanish government still alive today, and between them represent the two main forces of post-Franco Spanish politics, the Socialists and the People’s Party.

Spain’s ‘Eldiario.es’ digital newspaper claims to have had access to some of the letters, publishing an excerpt where Zapatero writes that Martín Villa was “a central element of the Transition Pact” and that he defended with “conviction and effectiveness the birth of democracy” in Spain.

The former minister has also received support from former general secretaries of the UGT and CCOO trade unions (Nicolás Redondo, Cándido Méndez, Antonio Gutiérrez and José María Fidalgo) and two of the so-called “fathers” of the Constitution (Miguel Herrero y Rodríguez de Miñón and the Catalan Miquel Roca i Junyent). The support has caused considerable turmoil, specially in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

Five striking workers shot

Martín Villa is due to face an Argentine court hearing on Thursday, via a video link at the South American country’s embassy in Madrid. The trial relates to several events that took place during Spain’s transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, such as March 3, 1976, when five people died and 150 were injured after armed police opened fire on workers during a strike in the Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Martín Villa was Minister for Trade Union Relations at the time.

Catalan singer-songwriter Lluís Llach’s iconic song Campanades a Morts was famously written the very same night, following news of the tragic events.

Argentine judge María Servini has invoked the legal principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’, as Spain’s post-Franco ‘Pact of Forgetting’ makes it difficult for alleged crimes from the period to be investigated within the Spanish legal system.

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