In Spain, the long struggle of Francoism’s “stolen babies”.

In Spain, the long struggle of Francoism’s “stolen babies”.

The exhumation of his later twin brother has dispelled his last doubts. The DNAs don’t match and Maria José Picó Robles is then sure that this sister she is still looking for is one of the many “stolen babies” of the Franco regime in Spain.

“It was there,” said this 60-year-old paramedic with tears in her eyes and a spasm in her throat, pointing to the mass grave in Alicante Cemetery (south-east), where her sister is said to have been officially buried.

“My mother was told that my sister died two days after birth (1962). She wasn’t allowed to see the body and we didn’t let her attend the funeral,” Maria Jose tells AFP.

About ten years ago, when the first cases of “stolen babies” appeared in the country, Maria José and her parents, gripped by “doubts” and “fear”, wondered if they were not also victims of this scandal.

They then begin collecting documents riddled with irregularities before taking legal action ordering the bones to be exhumed in 2013.

Since then, the sixty-year-old, president of an association that takes care of stolen babies, has tirelessly researched.

She left her DNA in several gene banks and hopes her sister, gripped by doubts about her origins, could have done the same. “DNA is our hope,” she explains, praying to “one day get a call” from a lab.

– “Gene of Marxism” –

A flagship text from the left-wing government, finally passed by the Senate on Wednesday, recognizes for the first time babies snatched from their families during the civil war (1936-1939) and dictatorship (1939-1975) as victims of Francoism.

During post-conflict repression, this institutionalized theft was intended to deprive Republican women of children who were accused of inheriting the “gene” of Marxism.

But then, from the 1950s, it affected children who were born out of wedlock or into poor or large families.

Often, thanks to the complicity of the Church, they were pronounced dead after birth without providing evidence to the parents, then adopted by couples who could not have children and were generally close to the “national” regime. -Catholic” by Franco.

After Franco’s death in 1975, the baby trade continued, largely for financial reasons, until 1987 and the passage of a law to strengthen adoption controls.

Similar thefts also took place under the military dictatorship in Argentina or under the Pinochets in Chile. In Argentina, the Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers organization estimates that nearly 500 babies were born in captivity and illegally given to others.

In Spain there is no official estimate of the number of babies stolen, but victims’ associations say several thousand children were involved.

Justice had estimated in 2008 that between 1944 and 1954 alone, more than 30,000 children of Republicans who died or were captured during the Civil War, some of whom may have been “stolen,” were placed under guardianship by the Franco state.

– Sold for 725 euros –

Between 2011 and 2019, 2,136 complaints on the subject were registered in Spain, but none were successful, mainly due to the misrepresentation of the facts.

When justice is down, some rare Spaniards like Mario Vidal have still managed to miraculously find traces of their loved ones.

“My adoptive father told me that they paid 125,000 pesetas (725 euros) to adopt me,” explains the 57-year-old technician-architect from Denia (south-east), who began searching for his biological parents in 2011.

He then delved for three years into the archives of the Madrid region, where he was born, and managed to identify his mother, who had died 16 years earlier.

“It was one of the hardest days of my life,” he says, confident that he was torn between “the satisfaction of knowing where he came from and the devastating blow” of learning of his death.

Coming from a very conservative family, his mother had divorced him at the age of 23. If an official document mentions abandonment, a relative will tell her that she tried several times to retrieve it from the orphanage, but was prevented from doing so and was even imprisoned for it.

Mario will then manage to find his half-brother who will die three years later but without knowing who his biological father is. “We are the children of a time when those in power exercised them as they saw fit,” he says.


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