Argentina's inquiry into Franco-era crimes in Spain gains momentum

Madrid tells Buenos Aires court that matter has already been investigated

Spanish Civil War victims and their families living in Argentina on Tuesday asked the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires to speed up a federal judge's petition for information on leading members of the Francisco Franco dictatorship who are still living, as a court inquiry into human rights crimes committed in Spain between 1936 and 1977 begins to take shape in the Southern Cone nation.

Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría on Monday asked the Spanish government for the names and addresses of ministers and the heads of security forces who served between July 17, 1936 and June 15, 1977 after accepting a complaint filed by victims who are now living in Argentina and the families of those shot or disappeared.

Servini de Cubría also asked Spain for information on companies that profited from the Franco regime, the number of people who disappeared during the dictatorship, the names of members of the rightwing Falange at the time, and the list of babies who were reportedly stolen from disfavored families and sold during this period. For suspects who are dead, the judge says she wants to see death certificates.

"We are asking the Argentinean Foreign Ministry to speed up the request for the judicial order, which we believe will take about 20 days before it is presented in Spain," Ricardo Huñis, one of the lawyers of the plaintiffs in the case, told Efe news agency.

The original complaint was filed on April 14, 2010 by noted Argentinean human rights lawyer Carlos Slepoy based on the concept of universal justice, a doctrine that preaches that courts can investigate crimes against humanity occurring in third countries.

Among the plaintiffs in the case are Darío Rivas, a 91-year-old Argentinean (whose father, the Socialist mayor of a small town Castro de Rei in Galicia, was shot by Falangists in 1936 and buried in a common grave) and Silvia Carter, the widow of Luis Sánchez Bravo (one of the last five people executed by the Franco regime at the age of 21 on September 27, 1975).

According to some estimates, some 30,000 people went missing in Spain between 1936 and 1977.

In the last filing on November 25, the lawyers asked the judge to authorize the Argentinean Embassy in Madrid to receive more testimonies and complaints from victims.

In its initial response, Spain's Attorney General's Office explained to Servini de Cubría that judicial authorities "had opened and would continue judicial proceedings" in this matter, said Máximo Castex, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview with the Argentinean daily Página 12. "These cases were automatically dropped because the statute of limitations has run out or because of lack of judicial jurisdiction," Castex said.

In September, the Buenos Aires Federal Court of Appeals ordered Servini de Cubría to reopen the case after the plaintiffs appealed her decision not to proceed because Spanish authorities were dealing with the matter.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón is currently under Supreme Court investigation for allegedly over-stepping his judicial authority for trying to open his own inquiry into Franco-era crimes in 2008. He has been suspended from the High Court until the investigation is completed. The obscure rightwing union Manos Limpias filed the complaint against Garzón arguing that the 1977 amnesty law passed during the Transition prevented him from opening the inquiry. Manos Limpias was later joined in the complaint by the fascist Falange Española de las JONS party and a conservative group, Liberty and Identity.

"We are happy with the petition made by Servini de Cubría, but we are also asking her to go to Spain so she can take testimony there," explained plaintiff lawyer Huñis. For Rivas, who found his father in 2005 buried in a common grave, justice may finally arrive. "There are many of us who have waited a long time for this," he said.

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