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Franco’s victims

October 13, 2015
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Arturo Peinado, #Baltasar Garzón, #Foro Por La Memoria, #Franco, #Madrid, #the Spanish Civil War, #Valley of the fallen
located:Spain, Portugal, France
by:Maria João Morais
Arrested soon after the ending of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Arturo Peinado's grandfather was executed by firing squad. Accused of opposing the military coup lead by General Francisco Franco, his family knows the real reason was another one. Now, 40 years after Franco’s death, the victims still wait for justice.

Due to their grandfather's death, the children in the Peinado family had to start working at an early age, the girls doing housework and the boys working in agriculture and carpentry. Apart from the hunger and poverty that the family had to face, “fear was also constant”, recalls Arturo, historian and, since February, President of Foro Por La Memoria, an organization that brings together families of victims killed during Francoist Spain.

The trial that brutally ended Arturo's grandfather´s life was based within the repressive Franco legislation and lacked guarantees, such as the right for defense and appeal to an independent higher justice. Arturo Peinado's grandfather was accused of opposing the military coup, but Arturo’s family is certain he was punished for being a member of the Republican Left party as well as the General Union of Workers.

Today the sentence, as with all of those emanating from dictatorial laws, is still considered legal. After 37 years of democracy, none of the executors or torturers were tried or convicted and no Spanish Government has since taken the responsibility to locate and identify the 114,000 victims who still remain missing in clandestine graves. Regarding the attitude of Spain, Arturo believes it is “a total anomaly within the whole of Western Europe and of democratic countries".

That’s why the United Nations has urged Spain to investigate human rights violations committed in the past. The organization’s experts have also strongly criticized the Spanish state for not fulfilling its responsibilities regarding compensation for victims from the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. In addition, due to a lack of action in restoring justice, Arturo claims that “successive governments have, over decades, developed authentic oblivion and silence policies".

Pressure exerted by grassroots campaigns and volunteer associations like Foro Por La Memoria has brought the issue of impunity to the forefront of national discussion in a country with ongoing disruptive divisions. Recently instigated by the generation of victims’ grandchildren, this new movement for memory has resurfaced in force since 2000.

The movement was a core factor in the 2007 passing of the Historical Memory Law by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero that, among other measures, gave economic aid to the location and exhumation of mass graves, and granted Spanish nationality to the children of exiles and International Brigades. However, many associations criticized the law for not going far enough and avoiding the annulment of the sentences issued by Franco’s regime.

The law also required the removal of Francoist symbols, but many still scatter the streets and plazas around Spain. The Valley of the Fallen, a memorial located near Madrid where the former dictator is buried, remains as a monument dedicated to General Franco’s rule and causes huge controversy.

In 2008, judge Baltasar Garzón began investigating the disappearance of tens of thousands of Franco’s victims, but was forced to drop the case after the Spanish Supreme Court concluded that he was not entitled to conduct such an investigation. This was because he, as argued by the Court, ignored the 1977 Amnesty Law, which shields any crime from the dictatorship being put on trial.

At present, the only open case against Francoist crimes can be found in Argentina, where judge María Servini is investigating crimes against humanity committed throughout the regime. Under the international legal principle of universal justice, the Argentinian judge issued arrest warrants for four former Spanish officials.

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Spain (the first under democracy), Rodolfo Martín Villa, is one of them, accused of giving order to five workers' executions during a labor strike in 1976, during the ‘Transition to Democracy’. Although the Spanish Justice System has refused to cooperate, rejecting the extraditions, the request alone has had “an important symbolic effect, due to the international scandal it generated”, believes Arturo Peinado.

Many of the complainants in the case opened in Argentina also participate in the demonstration that has been taking place every Thursday in the center of Madrid for the last five years. In front of the former detention and torture center that used to be located in Plaza Puerta del Sol, relatives of victims of the dictatorship hold a weekly protest to denounce impunity. From Zamora, Colomán Pascual Hidalgo is one of them. At age 80, he still has hope that the victims can obtain justice.

Article written by:
Maria João Morais
Maria João Morais
Author, Contributing Editor
Spain Portugal France
Arturo Peinado, President of Foro Por La Memoria
© Maria João Morais
Arturo Peinado, President of Foro Por La Memoria
© Maria João Morais
Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), located in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, is both a memorial and basilica conceived by Franco, who is buried within the mountain.
© Godot13 - CC BY-SA 4.0
Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), located in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain, is both a memorial and basilica conceived by Franco, who is buried within the mountain.
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