Hate crime

Shock in Spain after man murdered for “wearing colors of Spanish flag”

Suspect is grandson of admiral under regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet

Friends of Víctor Laínez at the cemetary in Torrero (Zaragoza).
Friends of Víctor Laínez at the cemetary in Torrero (Zaragoza).Javier Cebollada / EFE

“We came out when we saw three police cars and an ambulance,” said the owner of a pub close to the El Tocadiscos bar, where 55-year-old Víctor Láinez was brutally beaten.

In this small bar in Zaragoza, Láinez got into an argument with a group of people who didn’t like the suspenders he was wearing; they bore the colors of the Spanish flag.

There has been criticism that the local government was too tolerant of the anti-establishment movement.

Witnesses said that the attacker and three other individuals called Laínez a “facha,” short for “fascist,” because of the red and yellow stripes on his suspenders. The fight escalated and when Laínez left the bar he was chased and beaten. He died Tuesday as a result of his injuries.

The murder has shocked Spain, leaving many alarmed by the violence of an attack presumably provoked by the suspenders.

“We had made fun of the suspenders,” said a friend of Laínez, who had been with him an hour before the attack. “He was also wearing a belt,” he adds. Other neighbors recall how Laínez, an avid motorbike rider and flamenco fan, had liked to dress up in Spain’s national colors and in military uniform. But he had never gotten into fights, they said.

“It was not the first time he was called facha and he was not the kind to keep quiet,” said a friend who had known Laínez for two decades. “He like the military, more for the look and it was normal to see him in those sorts of clothes.”

Laínez is remembered as the life of the party, who loved rockabilly music, riding his Harley Davidson and taking care of his little dog Boss. In the words of one of his friends: “He loved life and there was nothing stupid about him.”

Laínez is remembered as the life of the party, who loved rockabilly music, riding his Harley Davidson and taking care of his little dog Boss.

His alleged attacker is a 33-year-old member of the Barcelona squatter movement named Rodrigo Lanza Huidobro, who had already served a five-year sentence for assaulting a local police officer in the Catalan capital; that victim has been a quadriplegic since 2006.

According to sources close to the matter, back in 2006, Lanza’s well-to-do family in Chile had tried to pull strings in Chile and Madrid to save him from serving prison time for the crime. As the grandson of Sergio Huidobro, an admiral very close to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Lanza’s case allegedly attracted the attention of the recently-elected president Michelle Bachelet, who contacted a defense lawyer in Spain on his behalf, an account denied by Bachelet’s team.

But despite the efforts of Lanza’s family, the court found there was “no doubt” that he had thrown the rock at the police officer, an attack which left the officer permanently disabled. The young anti-establishment protester was sentenced to four and a half years in prison which was later increased to five by the Supreme Court.

Prison left a deep mark on Lanza: “It created an image of a tough guy that really wasn’t him. It’s true that since then he has lived with a lot of resentment,” sources close to him told EL PAÍS.

After being released, the Chilean-born activist moved to Zaragoza where he did odd jobs and became more involved with the city’s anti-establishment scene. In the wake of the brutal attack last week, there has been growing criticism that the local government was too tolerant of this movement.

In February 2015, the now-mayor of Zaragoza, Alberto Cubero attended a talk by Lanza on the so-called media gag law and repression. In January 2015, during a public event, the secretary general of Podemos in Aragón, Nacho Escartín, invited Lanza to describe his time in prison.

As details surrounding the incident continue to come to light, there are more questions about the motive of the violent beating – could wearing suspenders of the Spanish flag really be the cause of what has ended in such an unjustified and brutal attack?

An antique dealer who had a stall in the local San Bruno market, which sold Spanish flags from the Franco era, says that Lanza came past two or three weeks ago and asked why he sold those flags. The dealer replied because he wanted to and told him to leave.

Lanza’s family has released a public statement expressing thanks for the support they have received and explaining that they have not spoken to him since he was arrested on Monday: “we are waiting to hear from him to clarify the facts.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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