Establishing the truth

A commission is needed to determine exactly what happened in the stolen babies scandal

The death of the nun María Gómez Valbuena, the only person so far named in connection with the cases of babies being stolen to be given up for adoption, will lead to the shelving of the two cases in which she was the only person facing charges, unless fresh evidence points to other culprits.

The predictable shelving is just one example of the difficulties facing the judicial investigation of a drama that took place in clinics and hospitals throughout Spain, and went on from at least 1959 to 1987. Very few of the almost 2,000 police complaints filed so far have gone anywhere. EL PAÍS tells of yet another case, that of Carmen Díaz (see page 8), which highlights the difficulties families face in getting to the truth. Many of these cases, such as Díaz’s, have been shelved, while others languish due to the difficulties of probing events that took place so long ago.

Though the Justice Ministry has promised resources to ease the ordeal of the persons affected, such as a central DNA bank, the fact is that so far judicial procedures have yielded few results. We may hope that the circular issued by the State Prosecutor’s Office in December, unifying the criteria to be followed in these cases, will give a new boost to judicial action. The chief prosecutor pointed out that the statute of limitations does not apply until 10 years after the victim learns of his condition, and enjoined prosecutors to undertake an active search for proof. This is a measure that is not only just, but necessary to preserve the much-abused collective morale of our country, for there is nothing so corrosive as to have clear evidence that a terrible injustice has been committed, poisoning the lives of thousands of people, and that the courts are looking the other way.

The narratives of these cases so far obtained are so appalling that they cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Those who facilitated the theft of babies, and later mediated in their illegal adoptions, were actuated by a mixture of religious and ideological fanaticism, which particularly battened on single mothers. Economic motives also lay behind many of these robberies, because the adopting families sometimes paid considerable sums for possession of the newborn.

The courts must do their work with diligence. But due to the ubiquity of this practice, its prolongation in time and the indignation produced by the fact that many of these robberies took place under the umbrella of religious and healthcare institutions, the phenomenon is a blot on our recent history, which calls for an additional effort at clarification.

To this end, the possibility must be considered of creating a “truth commission,” independent and made up of prestigious personalities, which would sponsor the victims and determine what happened. A commission of this sort could receive protected testimony from many people who have so far remained silent, and have access to hidden documentation. There are precedents that offer inspiration, ranging from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presided by the writer Ernesto Sabato in Argentina, to the body of the same name in South Africa created by Nelson Mandela, and presided by Desmond Tutu.