Spain's most prominent investigative judge has opened the country's first criminal investigation into the executions and repression carried out by the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco. In a 68-page court document, Baltasar Garzón accepted a petition demanding an investigation into the forced disappearances of Republicans under the Franco regime. The petition was filed by 13 associations of the families of victims of Franco. Garzón has ordered the opening of 19 mass graves, including one believed to contain the remains of the poet Federico García Lorca.
Over the last month Garzón has sought information from local churches, city halls, and senior church authorities, in an attempt to establish a definitive list of victims between 1936 and 1951. According to the court document, he has compiled a list of 114,266 names.
No region was untouched, from the 262 victims identified in the Canary Islands to the roughly 10,000 victims each in Aragón, the Basque Country, and Extremadura. The document has identified 32,289 victims in Andalucia, 7,797 of them in the province of Malaga alone. Malaga's San Rafael cemetery is believed to contain the remains of 4,300 of these victims of fascism, making it the largest mass grave in Spain. Exhumations began there two years ago and some 2,300 bodies have already been recovered.
The mass graves, although kept unmarked by the fascists, were remembered locally and privately. Some sites have also been turned up by recent building work, like the installation of wind-powered electricity generators in Tarragona that unearthed human remains from the Battle of Ebro (1938). Some 1,200 bodies were found by chance during the creation of a botanical garden in Mérida in Extremadura.
Garzón's investigation has created turmoil within the Spanish ruling class. After the end of the Franco dictatorship, a number of legal measures were taken to ensure that there could be no settling of scores with the fascists by the working class. An amnesty in 1977 enabled Franco's supporters to continue in office. Former ministers and advisers of Franco formed the current Popular Party (PP) opposition.
Right wing critics of Garzón have claimed the 1977 amnesty covers any repression from the Franco era. Spanish prosecutors have lodged an appeal to prevent the investigation on this basis. This appeal will take two months to be heard, but Garzón's investigations may continue in the meantime.
Even if the amnesty does not cover these crimes, opponents have claimed, under Spanish legal regulations most crimes are deemed to have lapsed after a 20-year period, and the investigation is thus invalid. Garzón has rejected this argument, stating that Franco conducted a systematic campaign to eliminate opponents and hide their bodies. As the bodies are still missing, the crime of kidnapping effectively continues today.
Garzón also argues that the policy of "illegal, permanent detention without disclosing [victims'] whereabouts" constitutes grounds for a case of crimes against humanity. These have no statute of limitation and would take priority over the amnesty: "Any amnesty law which aims at erasing crimes against humanity that cannot be described as political crimes, is null," he has stated.