88-year-old Spaniard seeks justice in Argentina for father's 1939 execution

Timoteo was condemned to death in wake of Civil War after being convicted of "aiding the rebellion"

Ascensión Mendieta holds a poster with a photo of her parents. Her father is still buried in a mass grave.
Ascensión Mendieta holds a poster with a photo of her parents. Her father is still buried in a mass grave.ULY MARTÍN

Ascensión Mendieta celebrated her 88th birthday on a plane to Buenos Aires. She had to make the 10,000-kilometer journey to a country in which she doesn't know anyone to ask for legal assistance to recover the remains of her father, who is buried much closer to her Madrid home: in a mass grave with 16 other men in Guadalajara.

"I am very happy," she told EL PAÍS on Monday, just after returning from the Argentinean capital. "I have come back with a lot of hope. Now, if I die, which I will soon, I know that I have done everything I could to recover the remains of my father. I told the judge that I want to at least take one of his bones with me to my grave. Then I can die in peace."

Not only is Mendieta happy, she is also proud of the effort she has made - as are the other 15 family members of the victims of the Franco regime who traveled with her to Buenos Aires to declare before the court investigating crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship.

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The long road to justice

Mendieta explains that she caught bronchitis as a result of the change in temperature, as it is summertime in Buenos Aires. Wrapped in a scarf, she was also running a fever when she recounted the events of November 16, 1939, the day that changed her life forever, to the Argentinean court. "My aunt sent a telegram to my mother: 'Come down to Guadalajara, urgent,' it said. She arrived at the prison and found out they had shot my father. 'We've already buried him,' they told her. And my mother came back home alone."

Mendieta was 13 when her father, Timoteo Mendieta, was executed after a summary hearing in which he was condemned to death for "aiding the rebellion." The local president of the UGT labor union, he had been reported by a neighbor and a soldier. He was 41.

Mendieta spent two hours recounting the facts to the court as a legal secretary took notes. "I'm sad that this could not have been done in Spain. It is shameful that they didn't pay us any attention. They pay tribute to ETA victims and have not done anything for those poor people, like my father, who gave their lives for freedom and democracy. And on top of that we have to listen to one man from the [ruling Popular Party], Rafael Hernando, saying we are doing this for money. That makes me angry. We are all paying out of our own pockets."

Mendieta is convinced her efforts have been worth it. The day after making her statement she met with the Argentinean judge investigating the case, María Servini de Cubría. "She covered her in kisses," recalls Mendieta's daughter, Chon Vargas, who accompanied her to Buenos Aires. "The judge listened to her and told us that she was very concerned about the issue of exhumations."

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