We have a right to know

The cases of stolen babies and illegal adoptions must not be lost in the judicial labyrinth

The government and parliament are showing certain signs of interest in promoting the investigations into the cases of newborn babies stolen from their mothers and then used for illegal adoptions — a practice that appears to have flourished in Spain in the postwar period under Franco’s dictatorship, and lasted until 1987, a decade after democracy had been restored.

It is important that this interest does not take the form of mere lip service, given the disappointing, tardy results often achieved by the judicial system. There are now 1,414 proceedings underway, according to a report by the ombudsman; but so far, only one person’s name has been formally mentioned in court in connection with these kidnappings — that of a nun in Madrid.

A year ago, the Attorney General’s Office curbed the tendency to consider that these crimes, having happened too long ago, come under a statute of limitations. The great majority of stolen-baby proceedings are necessarily initiated long after the fact, which makes things very difficult for those who seek recourse in the courts in search of lost children or siblings. It effectively reduces the ambit of judicial recourse to those who have only recently learned that they were adopted children, because in this case the statute-of-limitations period is counted from the time they turned 18.

It is true that the passage of time greatly complicates the procurement of conclusive proof; but the recent, ever-more-frequent discoveries of empty graves, in which the bodies of “stillborn” babies were supposed to have been interred, give firm grounds to the long-standing suspicions of illegal trafficking in newborn babies.

The Supreme Court has raised a further obstacle, closing the door on “truth trials.” There can be no judicial investigation into the whereabouts of missing persons, or any satisfaction given to the victims, unless a living person formally accused of the crime exists; and, even then, provided that the crime has not prescribed under the statute of limitations — all this, according to the doctrine established in the ruling on Baltasar Garzón and his investigation into the deaths of missing persons under the Franco regime.

This is why the judicial proceedings now underway are only isolated cases. We are looking at an outrageous web of hypocrisy and moral fundamentalism, and of persons in the know who abetted these goings-on with their silence. It went on for decades, and affects thousands of people.

The courage of the victims’ associations has to be matched by a serious drive on the part of the government — several ministers have appointments pending with victims groups — and Congress ought to be paying more attention to the issue. It would be intolerable to see these cases peter out in the judicial labyrinth, and the sidelining of a matter in which official investigation has so far been limited and characterized by foot-dragging.