From Sun Aug 14 09:31:42 2005
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2005 16:52:23 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: [NYTr] Spanish Graves Hold Secrets of Franco's Atrocities
Article: 219258
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Confronting Spain's Fascist Past

Reuters, Navhind Times, (Goa, India), 10 August 2005

Spain graves hold secrets of Gen Franco's atrocities

Reuters Ucles (Spain) Aug 9—In the shadow of a 16th-century monastery, surrounded by fields of sunflowers, archaeologists dig for human remains, uncovering long-hidden evidence of the killing that followed Spain's Civil War. It is one of a number of excavations around Spain by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a group of volunteers dedicated to identifying the victims of political violence in Spain during the 1936-39 Civil War and the ensuing Right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Atrocities were committed by both sides during the Spanish Civil War, which pitted Gen Franco's Nationalist rebels against Republicans. As they advanced during the war, Francoist forces executed thousands suspected of leftist sympathies.

As Spain re-established democracy in the decades since Gen Franco's death in 1975, there was a tacit agreement among most Spaniards not to dwell on the past or seek to punish those guilty of abuses.

But in this 30th anniversary year of Gen Franco's death, pressure is growing for Spain to confront its past.

More than 300 people died in Ucles, a white-washed central Spanish village, from 1940 to 1943 when Gen Franco's soldiers used the monastery as a jail for political prisoners, according to the Cuenca branch of ARHM.

Piecing together local memories and military archives, the group says soldiers shot 156 prisoners, while others died of torture and illnesses.

“All this has been covered up,” says Mr Agustin Elviva Romero, who was six years old when soldiers shot his father at the monastery in 1942, leaving a wife and two young children.

“Most young Spaniards don’t have the faintest idea what happened.”

Nearby, archaeologists used small brushes to clean a rib cage, lying in a trench dug in the dry soil.

ARHM's goal is to identify the remains in unmarked mass graves and return them to their families for a proper burial.

The group says there can be no reconciliation in Spanish society when victims of an earlier time lie in unmarked graves.

“It's a bit of a contradiction how our democracy can continue when we have the country filled with mass graves,” says Mr Maximo Molina, president of ARHM Cuenca, which unites archaeologists, anthropologists and doctors from Spanish and European universities to work on the Ucles project.

Pressure for Spain to address its past has come from human rights group Amnesty International, which recently called for justice for the thousands of victims of the Civil War and Gen Franco's dictatorship.

Mr Baltasar Garzon, the high-profile Spanish judge whose probes have targeted Al-Qaeda and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, called earlier this year for a “truth commission” to investigate crimes against humanity committed during Gen Franco's dictatorship.

The panel would be similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the former South African president, Mr Nelson Mandela in 1996 to probe apartheid-era atrocities.

Around 30,000 people disappeared during Spain's Civil War and Gen Franco's rule, the Amnesty report said. Many victims were buried in mass graves, leaving families to uncover and identify the bodies themselves without help from the state.

“An extremely significant percentage of the civilian population were victims of abuse, executions and torture,” says Mr Giulia Tamayo, the head of the department of campaigns and investigations at Amnesty International, Spain.

Spain's Socialist government, elected last year, has tackled sensitive issues from the Franco years and angered conservatives by removing the last statue of the dictator in Madrid.

The Civil War firmly marked Spain's idealistic Prime Minister, Mr Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has said he was influenced by his grandfather, a Republican shot during the Civil War who wrote a note hours before his death which said: “I die innocent, and I forgive.”

But the government has so far shown no appetite for probing atrocities of the Franco years, something that would be enormously divisive in Spain.

Last year, Spain's Congress passed a motion urging the government to compile a full report on the effects of Gen Franco's dictatorship and possible measures to redress them.

But the Amnesty report questioned whether the government was prepared to compensate families of victims.

Son of murdered prisoner Agustin Elviva Romero does not want any money from the state for what he suffered.

“What's done is done,” he says. “If now they give me some money… for what?… my father died when I most needed him.”

Today, the tranquil, picturesque scene at the monastery gives no hint of the killing that took place here more than 60 years ago.

One archaeologist working at the site hopes the painstaking process of identifying the bones will provide concrete evidence to support people's memories of what happened here.

“People say one thing or another, but the dead are absolute,” says Mr Jose Maria Navarro Gomez.