Will Franco’s Ghosts Stir Mexican Officials?
Anais Huerta says she would really like to know what happened to her great uncle. Felix Llorente Gutierrez was 27 years old when he was detained by followers of General Francisco Franco in Medina del Campo, Spain, on July 28, 1936. Less than one month later, on August 15, Llorente vanished.
Huerta considers the railway union man but one victim in the “systematic elimination of all the people of the left” during the first months of the successful fascist uprising launched by Franco against the Spanish Republic.
Although nearly eight decades have passed since her relative’s disappearance, Huerta is pressing for answers to an event that has haunted her family ever since. Now a resident of Mexico, Huerta has turned to international law to clarify Llorente’s forced disappearance.
Alleging crimes against humanity and war crimes, three organizations backing Huerta filed a legal complaint this week against the Spanish government with Mexico’s Office of the Federal Attorney General (PGR). The petition requests that Mexican authorities investigate Llorente’s disappearance.
The complaint was filed by Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization based in Mexico City.
The three human rights groups also demanded that the Spanish government adhere to international legal standards regarding the non-expiration of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“The victims are dying, and we can’t let these crimes against humanity go unpunished,” said Ignacio Jovitis, researcher for Amnesty International.
Huerta told Proceso newsweekly that Eber Betanzos, PGR deputy prosecutor for human rights, promised to analyze her case. In an interview with CNN’s Carmen Aristegui, Huerta and Esteban Beltran, executive director of Amnesty International Spain, laid out their legal and political rationales for seeking justice for Felix Llorente in Mexico.
The world has changed, Beltran insisted, affirming that “human rights are universal” and that citizens in one country “can’t resign themselves to (human rights violations) in another country.”
In separate comments, Perseo Quiroz, executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, added that Mexican law stipulates that if a crime is committed abroad but impacts in Mexico, Mexican authorities have an obligation to investigate.
Forced disappearance without a resolution, Quiroz argued, is an ongoing event that “continues having its effects since Anais is in Mexico and continues being affected by Felix’s disappearance.”
Beltran told journalist Aristegui that attempts to achieve justice in Spain for the forcibly disappeared persons of the Franco dictatorship (1936-1975) have been systematically blocked or ignored since Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon attempted to tackle the issue in the late 1990s.
In late 2006 victims’ relatives filed a complaint with the Spanish court system alleging 114,266 cases of forced disappearance and other human rights violations committed by Franco’s forces solely in the period between July 1936 and 1951.
Four years later, however, the case was dismissed by the courts based on the premises that crimes had passed the statute of limitations, and that the victimizers were dead.
According to Huerta and Beltran, a previous case against the Spanish government for human rights violations was successfully heard in Argentina’s judicial system but derailed after Spain declined the court’s request to extradite torturers.
Five years ago Huerta and her father began literally digging deeper into the forced disappearance of Lllorente, discovering a clandestine burial ground believed to contain the remains of 200 victims- possibly including her great-uncle’s-in Medina del Campo.
The family investigator discovered that people are still afraid to talk about the Franco years, and as is true with her own family, do not even have a photo of the victim because during the repression of decades past one person’s familial link to a forcibly disappeared indiviudal would draw the wrath of the fascist government and mean that another disappearance could easily take place.
Yet for Huerta, the story of Felix Llorente and the disappeared of the Franco dictatorship is far more than just a horrific Spanish lullaby. She said her complaint could have positive outcomes in Mexico by encouraging officials to reflect about their own country by looking into the Spanish mirror.
“The State is the key. If the Mexican State obligates the Spanish State to comply with its obligation, the (Mexican) State will probably understand what is its responsibility with respect to its own disappeared,” Huerta said.
Clarifying the fates of Franco’s victims like her great-uncle, she contended, would also bring Mexico’s historical relationship to the Spanish Civil War full circle. Huerta credited Mexico for saving the lives of 30,000 Spanairds when the government of President Lazaro Cardenas rescued them and provided refuge in 1939.
The case of Felix Llorente was filed with the PGR during a week when the issue of forced disappearance once again assumed a high profile in Mexico’s news cycle.
In addition to stories about the renewed protests by relatives and supporters of the 43 male Ayotzinapa college students forcibly disappeared by Mexican security forces in the state of Guerrero in September 2014, extensive coverage was devoted to the forced disappearance of five young people, four men and a 16-year-old girl, at the hands of Veracruz state police earlier this month.
Like the Ayotzinapa episode, the missing young people were allegedly turned over to organized crime elements after being detained by police.
Mexico’s federal government regards about 27,000 people as being disappeared in the country, but estimates by independent experts, relatives’ associations and other observers run higher.
In different reports and statements this week, Human Rights Watch and the official Mexican National Human Rights Commission criticized government responses to forced disappearance in Mexico. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, asserted that “truly alarming” indices of impunity prevail.
“The case of the 43 students is, I believe, an example of the gravity of the situation that affects Mexico, and most of all the lack of competence on the part of internal authorities in guaranteeing serious and professional investigations.”
Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez, president of Mexico’s official National Human Rights Commission, told the Mexican Congress the recent case of the Veracruz Five demonstrated that the lessons of Ayotzinapa were not absorbed, and that the overall situation demanded “urgent actions.”
Amnesty International Mexico’s Perseo Quiroz held that the Llorente case gives the Mexican government another opportunity to rectify and act on the issue of forced disappearance.
“What happened (in Spain) 80 years ago could be the exact history of what is happening in Mexico today,” Quiroz said. “And if we don’t do something now, in 80 years we are going to suffer the same as Spain.”
Additional sources: El Sur/Agencia Reforma/Proceso, January 28, 2016. La Jornada, January 28, 2016. Article by Jose A. Roman and Alma F. Munoz. Aristegui/CNN en Espanol, January 27, 2016. Proceso, January 27. 2016. Article by Gloria Leticia Diaz.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
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