The Law of Amnesty and the "Pact of Forgetting"

Autumn-Winter 1977

This ninth article in my series on Spain's Transition to Democracy covers the Law of Amnesty, whe key piece of legislation to be passed by Spain's first democratic government under Adolfo Suárez.

With hindsight the downside of the agreement to pass the law was that it also included a "pact of forgetting" that allowed former Francoists to go unpunished.

The same year government and opposition signed the Moncloa Agreement, which introduced a number of economic measures to deal with the crisis along with various social reforms.


The First Democratic Government

The first democratic elections of June 1977 were narrowly won by Adolf Suárez and his UCD, who decided to govern in minority, given that he couldn't form a coalition with Alianza Popular because of the party's Francoist connections. He hoped to come to occasional agreements with other political formations, and this was how the idea of consensus, would become a key word in the political vocabulary used to describe Spain's transition to democracy, was born.

Suárez didn't wait for the opening of the Cortes to form his first democratically elected government, which was made up of the different groups that comprised UCD. Joaquín Garrigues Walker and Ignacio Camuñas represented the liberals, Landelino Lavilla, Marcelino Oreja, José Manuel Otero Novas and Íñigo Cavero for the Christian, Francisco Fernández Ordóñez and Juan Antonio García Díez and the independent economist Enrique Fuentes Quintana for the social democrats. The key positions, though, were for his inner circle of Fernando Abril Martorell, Rodolfo Martin Villa, and General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, who became the new Minister of Defence, unifying Franco's three military ministries and made him the only military representative on government.

The Law of Amnesty and the "Pact of Forgetting"

The most important measure for the new government to through the Cortes a complete law of amnesty, which would allow the release prisoners who were still in jail for "politically motivated" crimes, including violent ones. However, the law didn't have the support of the sociological Francoism represented by Alianza Popular, who finally abstained following the parliamentary debate.

The law of amnesty was designed to put an end to the long-standing vindication of the anti-Francoist opposition, but the problem it created was that the amnesty would also include people who had committed crimes during the Francoist repression. This meant that it wouldn't be possible to process Franco's former henchmen for human rights violations committed under the dictatorship.

However, the left favoured the so-called "pacto del olvido" or "pact of forgetting" rather than collective amnesia and the project for the Law of Amnesty was presented together by the Spanish centre, socialist and communist parties as well as by the Basque and Catalan parliamentary groups.

The communist deputy Marcelino Camacho explained it like this: "(...) the first proposal presented to this House has been precisely by the parliamentary minority of the Communist Party and the PSUC on July 14th and was oriented precisely towards this amnesty. It wasn't a chance phenomenon, ladies and gentlemen deputies, it is the result of coherent and consequent policies that begin with our party's policy of national reconciliation (...) We considered that the key piece of this policy of national reconciliation had to be an amnesty. How could we reconcile those of us who have been killing each other unless we rub out this past forever?"

Xabier Arzalluz in the name of PNV emphasised the Basque people's fight for amnesty and added that "reconciliation should allow any protagonism". It was clear that the amnesty had been an objective of the Francoist opposition long before the start of the Transition as they had not only been victims of Francoism but also the defeated of the Civil War.

On December 21st 1977, the UCD government abolished the July 18th holiday, which commemorated the start of the Spanish Civil War, and from then on, many were certain that Franco and Francoism had been consigned to the history books.

The Moncloa Agreement

The atmosphere of agreement also allowed government and opposition to work together to face with problems created by the economic crisis, which had begun in 1974 and hadn't been dealt with due to the priority it gave to the political transition. The new Minister of the Economy, Fuentes Quintana, proposed the signing of a great "social pact" that would compensate economic measures with social improvements and some legal and political reforms.

The reforms included the decriminalisation of adultery and contraceptives and the establishment of norms for increasing salaries would be agreed depending on predicted inflation, not previous inflation as had happened until then. The agreement proposal also had a political component because it was designed to ensure enough social peace to discuss the new Constitution, which was another of the main priorities for the Suárez government.

The proposal was well accepted by the opposition parties, especially the PCE, which favoured the formation of a national government, and all parties including the UCD ended up signing the Moncloa Agreements on October 27th 1977. Signed at the Palace of Moncloa, which had recently been designated the seat of government in Madrid, neither the business community nor workers' representatives were consulted.

The result of the agreements was to stabilise the economy and control inflation, which dropped from 26.7% in 1977 to 16.5% in 1978. The government also approved a tax reform, and public spending on unemployment benefit, pensions, health and education was increased.

As a result of being left out of the Moncloa negotiations, the business community began to organise itself and the Círculo de Empresarios was founded in March 1977 followed by the the CEOE in June the same year. However, labour disputes didn't diminish and the number of strikes continued increasing, reaching a maximum in 1979. The situation turned around after the signing of the Acuerdo Marco Interconfederal between the recently created CEOE and the UGT, although Comisiones Obreras opposed the agreement.

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