June 11, 2009

WHILE thousands of families wait anxiously for the chance to give a dignified burial to their loved ones, the drive to investigate Spain’s thousands of mass graves has bogged down in a legal quagmire.
Seventy years have passed since the end of the country’s civil war and 34 since Franco died, but Spain still finds it painful to come to terms with its recent history.
Not everybody wants the victims of executions during the Franco era to be exhumed. Some claim that it will only open old wounds and that the dead should be allowed to rest in peace.
But the real problem is the lack of will on the part of politicians and judicial institutions to tackle the problem. Years of haggling and foot-dragging have delayed a full-scale investigation.
Associations formed by the families “para la recuperación de la memoria histórica” have been labouring to open some of the graves and have the remains identified via DNA tests. But they are often working in a legal limbo and receiving little official support.
They took their case to Spain’s High Court, furnishing details of 143,000 persons executed and tossed into mass graves during and after the Civil War.
Judge Baltasar Garzón, always ready to stick his neck out, gave the interminable legal process a sharp kick, ordering the opening of a case against the Franco regime of crimes against humanity and that 19 graves should be investigated.
But he ran into a brick wall when his fellow judges rejected the case and blocked the exhumations. Garzón reacted by retiring from the case and turning the matter over to courts in the districts where the graves are located.
However, the local courts are proving reluctant to act. Spain’s national government has asked regional governments to take responsibility but most have declined.
Meanwhile, many of the relatives of the victims are old and failing in health. Their hopes of at last seeing their fathers, uncles, mothers interred in properly identified graves fade by the day.