Spain disinters its Franco past with grave excavations


SPAIN: SPAIN'S HIGH-PROFILE judge Baltasar Garzon has ordered an investigation into hundreds of unmarked graves believed to hold the remains of thousands of victims of the 1936-1939 Civil War and the bloody reprisals which followed.

He has asked the ministries of justice and culture, the Church, parish councils and the local and regional governments of Madrid, Seville, Granada and Cordoba to compile lists of the missing dead and, where possible, their resting places. He has given them 15 days to draw up preliminary lists to determine whether there is a legal case to answer.

Some 17 associations of families and historical groups have been demanding details of events during the Franco dictatorship, when tens of thousands of people disappeared or died in firing squads conducted by the victorious fascist forces.

During the 40 years of Gen Francisco Franco's rule, information and details of those grim years was hidden from the people.

It was only after his death in 1975 and the subsequent restoration of democracy in Spain that the calls for information gathered strength.

Groups of historians, forensic scientists and archeologists have spent many hours excavating sites of unmarked graves in many parts of the country.

In many cases, families have been rewarded with the return of remains.

They were usually acting on information received from witnesses who were alive in the 1930s and remember the scenes of massacre. As the years pass, the number of these surviving witnesses are fewer and fewer.

Last weekend, two unmarked graves were excavated in villages near Aranda Duero, north of Madrid. In one was found the remains of four men including the village mayor and three other locals; and in the second grave, a grandmother, her son and 20-year-old grandson were among seven bodies uncovered. They were known to have been shot by Falangist forces punishing Republican supporters.

In July, there were similar findings near the city of Leon, allowing a dozen families to provide a proper burial to their relatives.

In many cases, it has been impossible to identify the remains, either because their relatives have died or are no longer in the region, or because their families never knew what happened to the tens of thousands of civil war dead or "disappeared".

Some families have given DNA samples to try to identify their relatives from the bones in unmarked graves.

But not all the families favour this search for victims. There have been demands for an excavation of the site near Granada where the poet Garcia Lorca was shot and thrown over a cliff along with three other men.

Three of the families want to search for the bodies of their grandfathers for a proper burial, but the Lorca family, who at first said they would not oppose the excavation, now say they prefer him to be left in peace.

Last year, the parliament approved the Law of Historic Memory which aimed to produce a map of known burial sites. But, so far, there has been little progress.

The Historic Memory Association estimates the number of dead and missing as being as high as 94,000.