Mass graves in Spain unearthed in search of answers

GUADALAJARA, SPAIN – Carnation in hand, Julio Lopez del Campo, 94, has come decade after decade to mark where he believes the body of his brother, Mariano, was thrown. down the pit with other victims of Francisco Franco’s regime atrocities in Spain.

“They took him to the prison in Guadalajara and in 1940 he was shot,” Julio said at the excavation site next to a cemetery chapel. “I come here every year.

More than 70 years on, the mass grave in Guadalajara, a small city just east of the Spanish capital Madrid, has finally been dug up and 26 bodies have been found. Julio now hopes that genetic testing will confirm that Mariano’s remains are among them.

The excavation of Guadalajara was carried out by voluntary associations who, together with some regional governments of Spain, have been leading the fight to find the missing and return to them a portion of the dignity which they owe. they have been denied for more than half a century.

So far, there has been little or no help from Spain’s central government, and families have seen time dry as a generation rapidly fades away. But now there is some hope.

A bill is being passed through parliament that Spain’s left-wing coalition government says will fulfill its pledge to respond to the plight of families. The bill aims to improve the 2007 Memory of History Act, which experts and activists agree is unlikely to be cleared of hundreds of mass graves that remain untouched.

The bill encountered hurdles on both sides in parliament. The minority government needs the backing of smaller left-wing parties who want it to go further. Meanwhile, far-right parties are vowing to vote against it.

If it is passed, the legislation would recognize the families of the victims have a “right to tell the truth” and would make the central government responsible for the recovery and identification of the missing. To help do so, it established a national DNA bank as well as an office to support families.

Like tens of thousands of others, Mariano disappeared after returning home from fighting for Spain’s Second Republic that Franco’s right-wing military uprising destroyed during the 1936 Spanish Civil War. -39. He turned himself in to the police and, despite his promise that he would not be harmed, was never seen again. He is 23 years old.

Only 19,000 bodies of some 114,000 victims of the Franco regime during and after the war have been found in the four decades since the dictator’s death. The Spanish government calculates that it is likely that only 20,000 bodies are still in a state of being found.

The president of the association that carried out the excavation in Guadalajara and others across Spain are skeptical that the new law will achieve justice.

Emilio Silva, president of the Association for the Restoration of Historical Memory, told The Associated Press: “These are just words that will not lead to action.

The bill “talks about the truth, but it focuses on the victims and says nothing about the executioners; it talks about justice, but doesn’t force anyone to face trial; it talks about reparation.” compensation, but will not give anything back to the families of victims of the dictatorship,” said Silva, whose grandfather is also buried in a mass grave.

Over the past two years, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, leader of Spain’s Socialist Party, has earmarked 5 million euros ($5.6 million) to fund 300 excavations of mass graves and budgeted another 5.5 million euros for further excavations. year.

But for Silva, the law won’t stop what he calls “customer politics” that have hampered efforts to recover bodies, because it won’t force future governments to set aside funds. for excavation. The previous government of the conservative Popular Party, which currently leads the opposition, cut all central funds for excavations when in power from 2011-18.

The Popular Party has warned that it will replace the new law once it returns to power because, in the words of lawmaker Macarena Montesinos, it “seeks to destroy our legacy of harmony” that has crossed currents. ideology and transformed into Spain’s 1978 Constitution while democracy was still being restored.

One of the highlights of the bill is the creation of a new State Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights and Democratic Memory. The government department that oversees the defense of Spain’s Democratic Memory said in an email that the office would “guarantee the authority to investigate human rights violations during the Civil War and the Dictatorship (Spanish Civil War). Dental).”

Experts, including the National Commission on Coercive Disappearance, say this new number will be thwarted as long as Spain does not amend the Amnesty Law of 1977. That law has freed thousands of prisoners of the Franco regime but also prevented the prosecution of any politically motivated criminals prior to that date.

The act was an important part of Spain’s peaceful transition to democracy following Franco’s death in 1975. It is still championed by right-wing political parties and some centre-left socialists. defenders, who wanted to preserve the original foundations of Spain’s parliamentary monarchy, but others saw it. as a bar of justice for the families of the victims.

This week, a group of small-left separatist and regional parties presented an amendment to a new bill that would overturn the Amnesty Law as well as strip Felipe VI of his title of King of Spain. They argue that the monarchy is also a vestige of dictatorship since Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, was brought back to the throne by an elderly Franco.

The amendments have little chance of being passed, but socialists and junior members of their governing coalition feel enough pressure to adapt their own bill by adding language which they argued would allow prosecution of war crimes or acts of genocide perpetrated by Franco’s regime. without amending the Amnesty Law. Critics say that won’t be enough.

Sensitive negotiations in parliament are central to the debate in Spain over the role of the monarchy, which for many is seen as another important foundation for the return of democracy in the late 1970s. Franco had hoped to maintain his regime by restoring the throne to Juan Carlos. Instead, the king supported the country’s fragile steps toward democracy after Franco’s death, never more so when he was key in defuse a military coup. attempted by reactionaries in 1981.

Margalida Capella, Professor of International Public Law at the University of the Balearic Islands and an expert on historical memory, said that while the new law would be a big step forward, Spain would not be able to recalculate its past. until Juan Carlos his son Felipe and his prime minister took an important symbolic step.

“The repair will not be complete until the Head of State and Head of Government ask for forgiveness,” Capella said. “In a dictatorship, its victims are of course not treated like that, but in a democracy they (also) took a long time to get that recognition and what happened It was a disaster for their families. It was the original sin of Spain’s Democracy.”


Joseph Wilson reports from Barcelona.


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