Spain is one of the countries with the most forced disappearances in the world. The fascist coup of 1936, and the subsequent dictatorship of Francisco Franco, left the nation strewn with illegal graves. And most remain unopened. An anomaly that the Government intends to resolve with a state exhumation plan activated in line with the new Memory Law that Tuesday arrives to the Council of Ministers.
Only four autonomous communities have a DNA bank of victims of the Franco regime and the state project is in danger
Our country, so far, has only done part of the work. An investigation puts figures on the reality of the mass graves of the Franco regime: 9,009 victims recovered in 743 exhumations between 2000 and 2018. The result is the result of the doctoral thesis entitled ‘Archeology of Memory: the archaeological method applied to recent history ‘by Lourdes Herrasti, PhD in History from the University of the Basque Country.
With the next legislation – which will replace the memorial law of 2007 – the State automatically assumes the opening of graves with a state plan for exhumations. The Government intends to lead the search for the forced disappeared, from the location of graves to the rescue of skeletal remains and genetic identification. Other institutions and the victims’ families themselves may request these processes.
The State will also participate actively in the delivery of the remains to the descendants. The rule facilitates the temporary occupation of private land if the owner does not give permission to search for a possible grave. In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office will be informed about the “signs” of crime that appear in the graves and there will be an update of the state’s Map of Graves, as Infolibre has advanced.
Lourdes Herrasti’s study leaves an X-ray: 89% of the bodies recovered in the graves are of the civilian population that did not participate in any war. And most were field workers. Keys that reveal the pedagogy of terror of the coup plotters, exercised as “class and political repression”, in the words of Herrasti.
Decades of delay in historical memory they condemn most families to never recover their dead. Spain is in a position to recover from the gutters barely a quarter of the victims of Franco’s terror. And a maximum of 7,000 people would be identified, according to a report from the Ministry of Justice to which elDiario.es has had access. In five years, the problem of the disappeared could be solved by setting up various archaeological teams, according to the study.
“Far” from the missing numbers
Lourdes Herrasti’s research covers from 2000 to 2018. It begins with the first intervention carried out with archaeological criteria, known as the Trench of 13 in Priaranza del Bierzo, in León. “From there, more than 700 graves have been excavated among all the equipment and more than 9,000 people have been recovered,” he says in conversation with elDiario.es.
But the data is “very far” from reaching the real dimension of enforced disappearances in Spain. “If we only take the order of judge Baltasar Garzón, it refers to more than 114,000 victims of the repression,” he alludes. And now, in 2020, “we will be over the 9,500 victims” rescued from earth.
A problem that drags the country is the “uneven diachronic evolution” in the search for the disappeared. “The Historical Memory Law of 2007 and the financing of that moment, when there were a greater number of exhumations, had a great influence,” he explains.
Then everything “declined in 2011 after the triumph of the PP” and the repeated mantra assumed by former president Mariano Rajoy of ‘zero euros’ to victims of the Franco regime. The rhythm “started again in 2013, especially through the autonomous communities that since then have led the interventions in graves ”, he refers. Plus the processes led, and financed in cases, by civil society itself, memorialist associations and the families of the reprisals.
Never, in any case, will all the victims thrown into pits and gutters be recovered. “That is an unquestionable fact,” he confirms. “We have started late and we are all aware of the distance that separates us from the facts and from the people who might know … Many graves we will not know where they were and others were destroyed, especially in cemeteries, but also with the growth of the towns” Herrasti says.
“Being so late limits us a lot,” he laments. “I don’t know if we will ever be able to recover 15,000 victims, or 20,000… it is impossible to know for now,” he says. What the researcher is clear about “is that what has been done and what remains can be used as an example of what happened, that it was true,” and the open graves are witness to crimes against humanity.
The civilian population as a victim
“The large volume of victims corresponded to the civilian population,” of murders that occur “especially in the first six months of the war, which is the peak of the repression,” says Lourdes Herrasti. This tactic of extreme violence serves “as an example”, as the usual scenario that certifies her thesis: the majority are “rearguard graves”.
Almost 9 out of 10 executed “were not in a context of war,” he says. “There are some graves that belong to combatants but even in these cases many were killed in the rear,” he completes. Hence “it can be deduced that 89% of those killed are civilians.”
And of the professions they exercised. “The majority were peasants, day laborers, seasonal workers … different ways of working and almost all related to the field,” says the doctor in History.
The work they performed also “is evident in the objects that they carried ”at the time of death and that are stored on earth. The personal elements “reveal that they were people of humble condition.”
The “recovered inventory” of the illegal graves of the Franco regime thus describes the “class repression” directed “against all those who voted for the Popular Front and belonged to parties and unions.”
Coup violence against the social adversary, undressed by a thesis. “Many wear as footwear only a pair of shoes with a rubber floor or made using a piece of tire from a wheel”, sums up Lourdes Herrasti.