Home » The Secret Life of Far-right Gunman José Ignacio Fernández, Killer of Left-wing Student Arturo Ruiz
Crime News Spain

The Secret Life of Far-right Gunman José Ignacio Fernández, Killer of Left-wing Student Arturo Ruiz

— Can you hear me, José Ignacio?

— I’m not called José Ignacio.

— You’re not José Ignacio Fernández?

— No.

— All the information we have tells us that you are.

— Well, ask whoever told you that ….

Speaking on the telephone, José Ignacio Fernández Guaza denies three times that he is who he is. He categorically denies being the right-wing extremist who fired the two shots at point-blank range that took the life of 19-year-old Arturo Ruiz García, a student from Granada in Spain, on January 23, 1977. The crime took place in downtown Madrid during a demonstration in favor of amnesty for political prisoners, the day before the massacre of five left-wing lawyers at the hands of fascist gunmen in the Atocha neighborhood of the capital. Spain was then facing a bloody week of high political voltage in which extreme right-wing militias were maneuvering to short-circuit the country’s Transition to democracy.

The flight overseas of the main suspect in Ruiz García’s murder to avoid trial and certain conviction, and his connections to the security services, contributed to the shadow of an enigma that has lasted 46 years.

At the insistence of the reporters, the man who denies being José Ignacio Fernández agrees to speak to EL PAÍS. The meeting takes place at the door of the train station in Ingeniero Maschwitz, a quiet, middle-class residential town of 15,000 inhabitants 28 miles from Buenos Aires.

A tall, burly guy with gray hair and a bushy white beard appears on his own. He wears a long beige jacket with colored shoulder pads, light linen pants and sneakers. He addresses the two journalists slowly and with unusual aplomb. He is 76.

“Stop! Take off your jackets and turn around!” he shouts. The man checks that his interlocutors are not armed and takes two pictures with his cellphone. He grabs his guests by the arms and leads them to a stone bench in an adjoining park.

After stating that he always carries a pistol and that a security deployment of four civilians and a police patrol is discreetly watching the meeting, he starts the confession. His story lasts two and a half hours, lacks repentance and reveals the life of a fugitive who is well-connected with armies, intelligence services and the Spanish authorities during the death throes of the Francisco Franco regime.

“I’m surprised that you found me. Something has gone wrong with my security. It is impossible for you to have found me because I have no ties to Spain. Someone has talked. How did you find me?”

No repentence

Fernández admits without hesitation, maintaining eye contact, being the man who shot Arturo Ruiz in January 1977 when a fascist squadron burst into the demonstration shouting “Long live Christ the King!”

“[Ruiz] threw a stone at me. I grabbed the gun and shot him in the heart. Regret? You’re talking to a person who has never regretted anything.”

Only Jorge Cesarsky, an Argentine linked to the Triple A far-right paramilitary organization, was convicted over Ruiz’s death. He was sentenced to six years in prison for terrorism and the illegal possession of firearms but only served one year.

Fernández never sat in the dock. He fled Spain after the crime and has enjoyed impunity for more than four decades. The Spanish Penal Code, unlike those of France or Italy, prevents prosecution in absentia. The case against Fernández, which lapsed in 2000 due to his whereabouts being unknown, includes several statements that point to the fugitive.

“If Cesarsky had not gone to the intelligence services, I would never have been discovered. The police thought that the culprit was Leocadio Jiménez Caravaca [a notorious far-right gunman who was later prosecuted for the massacre of the lawyers in Atocha].

Dusk falls. The cellphone rings on the bench in the quiet park in Ingeniero Maschwitz. It is the first of four calls that Fernández’s colleagues, the four civilians who walk silently like automatons in the background, make to check that he is safe. Or, in other words, that no one has traveled to Argentina to execute revenge. The septuagenarian reassures his escorts. “I don’t know how the talk is going to end. For now it’s going well…”

Flight from Spain

Fernández admits that he fled Spain in 1977. He traveled from Irun in the Basque Country to Paris and remained hidden in the French capital for a year in a small apartment on Rue Linné, in the 5th arrondissement near Boulevard Saint-Michel. He vanished from Madrid after journalists asked about him at his wife’s place of work.

“The Civil Guard told me to leave Spain. […] I chose Paris because I had friends there from the CRS [the French National Police force]. They belonged to the [intelligence] services. The police all over the world arrange things behind the scenes.”

From Paris, on his mother’s recommendation, he flew to Buenos Aires, initially residing in the Argentine capital. Later, he moved to the discreet municipality of Ingeniero Maschwitz, where he bought a house registered in the name of one of his three children, and where his wife lived until her recent death.

His villa, a one-story house with a garden and a small guest house, goes unnoticed. It is located on an unpaved, quiet, tree-lined street. Tinted windows allow for discreet observation of what is going on outside. Minutes before receiving the call from EL PAÍS, Fernández watched the reporters, standing motionless by a window, ignoring their request to come out and talk. An old German shepherd and three small poodles alerted him to the visit. He hardly ever leaves his sanctuary. When he does, it is always to drive his SUV to the store.

To evade international search and arrest warrants, in force for decades but now expired, the fugitive has assumed a false identity. He omits his fictitious name and states that the documentation of his current identity was provided by the “Spanish security services” after the death of Arturo Ruiz. The false passport allowed him to move freely around Latin America when he was on the radar of the authorities. And he did so unhindered, especially during the Argentine dictatorship of Jorge Videla (1976-1981) and the autocratic presidency of Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay (1954-1989).

As proof of his close ties to power, Fernández boasts of his family’s relationship with the machinery of the Franco regime and his contacts with officials such as Antonio González Pacheco, alias “Billy the Kid,” the Spanish policeman accused of torturing hundreds of opponents of the dictatorship and who died in 2020 of Covid-19.

“My father, a military man and a Falangist, was a close friend of [Luis] Carrero Blanco [the prime minister during the dictatorship who was assassinated by ETA in 1973].

With the safe-conduct of a false passport, Fernández, who claims to have had military training, managed to evade justice. The attempts of Ruiz’s family to have the case in Spain dusted off proved futile. Weeks ago, the High Court rejected reopening the case, with two votes in favor and one against, with the argument that the Historical Memory Law, which obliges investigations of Franco-era crimes, cannot be applied. The magistrates argue that, although the case was pursued for charges of terrorism and the illegal possession of weapons, it has not been accredited that Ruiz’s death was due to Franco’s dictatorship. The most recent attempt to locate Fernández led the police to unsuccessfully question the concierge and the residents of his last known address in Madrid. The judge then refused to tap the phones of his relatives.

Fernández maintains that the protective mantle that has allowed him to live quietly in Argentina was made possible by the Spanish authorities at the end of the 1970s. “I have had contact with people [from the intelligence services] in Spain. They knew I was in Argentina under a false name. I was part of the structure.”

He goes on to say that in 1979, a year after landing in Buenos Aires, he received a visit from Spanish officials with whom he had cooperated before leaving Madrid. “They were people from the government. They asked me if I was going to continue working and I told them: ‘No, this is over.’ We were having lunch at the Sheraton Hotel in Buenos Aires. I told them that they could no longer count on me for anything.”

Meeting with Interpol

Fernández claims that, while on the run, he had a meeting with agents of Interpol, the international organization that tracks down fugitives and includes police forces from 194 countries. The meeting, he recounts, took place more than three decades ago in Paraguay, a country that served as a refuge for international fascists during the Stroessner dictatorship and through which Spanish fugitives such as Emilio Hellín, sentenced in 1982 to 43 years for the murder of left-wing student Yolanda González, were in hiding.

“Interpol found me at the Paraguayan border when my arrest warrant was still active. I explained myself and reached an agreement. ‘You are not who you say you are,’ they said […] They also told me: ‘You know we have you on red alert. We need to have a chat. Well, if anything happens to you, let me know if there’s a problem.’

The fugitive also claims that he had a relationship with the totalitarian Paraguayan government through the former ambassador to Spain in the 1970s, Elpidio Acevedo, and that he had direct contact with the deputy to a counterintelligence chief. In Asunción, at the end of the 1970s, he coincided with the founder of the far-right Fuerza Nueva political party, Blas Piñar, the only extreme right-wing leader to occupy a seat in the Spanish Congress during the transition to democracy. Fernández had previously worked as Piñar’s bodyguard in Spain during the violence that marked the end of the Franco regime.

The Atocha and Montejurra massacres

Fernández admits that he participated in the darkest episodes of the ultra-right-wing plots after the death of Franco in 1975. He attended the Carlist pilgrimage of 1976 in Montejurra where two people were shot dead as a bodyguard for Prince Sixtus Henry of Bourbon-Parma, who is considered Spain’s regent by the ultra-Catholic movement, together with international fascists. He also maintained contacts with Italian neo-fascists such as the late Stefano Delle Chiaie, head of the Avanguardia Nazionale, which was linked to attacks in Spain and who was protected in Chile by Augusto Pinochet.

He also met José de las Heras Hurtado, mastermind of the extreme right-wing group Frente de la Juventud, a violent splinter of Fuerza Nueva whose members perpetrated murders, assaults and kidnappings and who was located in Brazil in 2015 by this newspaper.

Regarding the Atocha massacre of left-wing lawyers, Fernández suggests that the suspect of leading the plot, Fernando Lerdo de Tejada, circumvented justice after fleeing Spain with the same procedure as he did: a false identity.

On at least three occasions, Fernández avoids saying what he has been doing professionally over the last few years. He admits that he has always been obsessed with security and that he has an escape plan to avoid capture. Under the suspicion that the meeting with EL PAÍS might be a trap laid by the relatives of one of his victims, the ultra-right-winger said goodbye to his family: “They say they are journalists, but maybe they are something else,” he warned them.

“I have left everything arranged. There must be someone interested in killing me. Someone who thinks: ‘We’re not going to let this son of a bitch die in bed. He’s not going to die of a heart attack.’ I’m always armed. And when I run, I break [ties] with everything and you aren’t going to find me again. I walk out, get in the car, park it, take another car and disappear from the face of the earth.”

Darkness falls over the railway station in Ingeniero Maschwitz. Arturo Ruiz García’s killer walks home under imposing trees. His escorts discreetly leave with him.

Source: EL Pais