The crimes of Franco’s fascist regime 3: Enrique Ruano and Atocha

During the 60s and 70s, General Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain responded to an increasing movement for basic human rights with horrific violence. Thousands were jailed, tortured, or assassinated, mostly for doing nothing more than being a member of an “illegal” organisation, such as the clandestine trade unions and political parties, handing out political leaflets, or going on a demonstration, all forms of which were illegal.

In other parts of the world, such as Argentina or Chile, the perpetrators of similar crimes have been brought to justice – but not in Spain.

Lola Gonzalez Ruiz


Last week in Madrid we met Lola Gonzalez Ruiz and Margot Ruano, activists in Spain’s student movement in the 60s. They explained that while the workers movement in Spain at the time was organising clandestinely for better wages and conditions, the student movement – also having to organise clandestinely under a fascist dictatorship – was growing too and becoming increasingly political. During 1967 and 1968 many demonstrations and actions were organised,for example over the United States involvement in the Vietnam war, and against the state-imposed student union. This resulted in the formation of clandestine student unions – in Madrid it was named the SDEUM (Democratic Students Union of the University of Madrid).

Margot Ruano


As Margot pointed out, this was a non-violent movement, using only words as weapons. But Franco’s dictatorship viewed these developments with increasing alarm.

Enrique Ruano, Margot’s brother and Lola’s partner at the time, was also a student activist. On January 16 1969, he and Lola were arrested in a cafe by La Brigada Politico-Social, Franco’s notorious secret police. They were held for 3 days in the interrogation centre, the DGS (Dirección General de Seguridad ).

On January 20 at 1pm, 3 police officers took Enrique in handcuffs to a flat where they thought there might be incriminating evidence of some sort. In this flat they tortured him. One of the police officers shot him, then all three carried him into the corridor and threw him seven floors onto the patio below. To this day no-one knows whether he was killed by the shot or the fall. Enrique was 21 years old.

The police announced that Enrique had committed suicide, producing a false psychiatrist’s report and even more disgustingly, tampering with Enrique’s body to hide the gunshot wound. The media just reported what the police announced, and Enrique’s neighbours were far too scared to say anything. Lola and Margot knew the police were lying, but would not find out the facts for 20 years, when the case was reopened in 1989.

Enrique Ruano (picture taken 5 days before he was assassinated)

Huge demonstrations in protest by both students and workers followed – and were met with further repression as the dictatorship raised the level of tension and fear. There were mass arrests and deportations, and for the first time police entered university campuses to violently break up demonstrations. But despite people’s fear, the movements continued to grow. When Franco died in 1975, the dictatorship was in ruins – and as the saying goes, “The dictator died in his bed, but the dictatorship died on the streets.”

However, the transitional period that followed was to be accompanied by more horrific violence, as armed fascist gangs appeared – protected by the police, and doing the dirty work of a government where the apparatus of the dictatorship still continued intact.

“Fascists out” – graffiti on University of Madrid wall

In 1977, Lola was now a lawyer working with the still-clandestine union CCOO. (The right to strike and the right to organise in unions would not become law until a couple of months later). On January 24, she was attending a meeting with 8 other lawyers specialising in labour and community law near Atocha railway station. One of the other lawyers was her husband, Javier Sauquillo.

Suddenly fascists armed with machine guns burst into the room and opened fire. Lola said the shooting went on for 2 or 3 minutes. 5 lawyers were killed – including Lola’s husband, Javier. Lola and the other three somehow survived, despite being seriously wounded.

Lola would face two years of operations. She had been shot through the neck and face and had to be fed through a drip. And although she found the strength to continue her career as a lawyer afterwards and later work as a civil servant in Madrid, losing a second loved one in such horrific circumstances (plus a number of good friends) is something that, as she says, “You never recover from.”

Monument to the Lawyers of Atocha

The assassins did receive prison sentences, but none of them served anywhere near the whole terms. One of them was even granted bail, at which point he disappeared before being able to be sentenced. As for Enrique’s assassins, all three ended up being decorated for outstanding service. When the truth came out in 1996 it was too late – the Amnesty Law passed in 1977 guaranteed blanket immunity from prosecution for those suspected of crimes against humanity during the Franco era.

Not surprisingly, Lola and Margot completely disagreed with this, and still do. Add to this the shocking revelation last week ( that a convicted fascist murderer has a senior position in the police, and it becomes clear why the battle for justice during the Franco era is still so important.

I came away from the interview feeling quite shaken at what Lola and Margot have had to face in their lives, and a bit ashamed that I knew so little of these events before – but it was a real honour to meet them. If the current generation of activists can find even a tenth of the strength and bravery shown by these women, then another world really is possible.

We will need to make trips to other parts of Spain in order to help in this crucial struggle for justice – but we need money to do it. Obviously there is no funding for a project of this sort in Spain, and with the brutal austerity measures, our fellow film makers in Madrid have no money either. If you can help, please click the donate button below.