I INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS “LA DESBANDÁ”. A CENTURY OF POPULAR ANTIFASCIST STRUGGLES.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS PERSPECTIVE. WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN LA DESBANDÁ. MEMORY OF TERROR ON THE CIVILIAN POPULATION. TESTIMONIES, PRIMARY SOURCES AND ARQUEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE.
It is a habitual practice for the account of the history of a community to be designed from the officialdom of the dominant system. This is even more the case in a state with a dictatorial regime, where the persistence of the system is sustained through absolute control over all aspects of life.
Arbitrary practices and oppression sustained the Francoist regime during the Spanish war of 1936-1939 and the subsequent dictatorship of almost 40 years that followed the end of the fighting. Apart from subjecting the existence of the population to its dictates in that dark and autocratic Spain, not only did the victors of such an ill-fated war decide what events, facts, occurrences… could be divulged, they also exercised a terror that was so unbearable and cruel on the defeated that the relatives of the victims lived with their grief in the most absolute discretion as a form of resistance and survival. In those households where immediate family members were killed, disappeared or imprisoned by the coup instigator general Franco, silence was implicitly imposed as a way of survival, and secrecy as a way of confronting the established order. All with the hope, why not, of getting some kind of compensation in the future.
Among the many crimes committed by the Franco dictatorship, particular mention should be made of those during the episode known as “La Desbandá” (“scattering” or “dispersal”), when German and Italian Nazi-Fascist armies and a part of the Spanish army that rebelled against the legitimate government of the II Republic relentlessly pursued, bombed and machine-gunned hundreds of thousands of Andalusian men and women, the large majority civilians, who were fleeing from Málaga towards Almería along the N-340 road following the entry of Francoist troops into the former in February 1937. Once in Almeria the recent arrivals faced a number of situations. The majority were mainly taken in by republican Catalonia, whose institutions efficiently provided accommodation, care and assistance thanks to highly equipped and organised health and social care systems. Two years later, in the winter of 1939, for the same reasons and under the same circumstances as in February 1937, those who had found refuge in Catalonia, together with a further half a million Spanish republicans, and in the face of relentless pursuit on the part of the Francoist troops, were forced to cross the border into exile. This is what is known as “the great retreat of 1939”. On crossing the border, after finding themselves in the French internment camps, many continued the fight against fascism in the 2nd World War, either joining the French resistance or enlisting in the allied armies, which for a number of them, upon being captured by the Nazis, would mean ending up in Hitler’s extermination camps. For some, that which began in Málaga and continued in Almería and Catalonia, ended in Mauthausen.
With the dictator Franco dead, it was the responsibility of the new democratic system to specify the expectations held over decades by a large part of society in general and the victims and their relatives in particular, making the historical facts public and condemning them, recognising and repairing the damage caused to the victims, doing justice and punishing the alleged executioners. But far from fulfilling those legitimate aspirations that a large part of Spanish public opinion had internalised, the institutions of the recently debuted democracy, aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of laws envisaged in international criminal law and International Military Court Statutes, further increased the pain among the victims with the passing of the Amnesty Law of 15 October 1977, via which the Francoist authorities would be exempt from any political, civil or criminal responsibility that they may have had against the rights of people during their rule or the exercise of their power. This Amnesty Law meant that the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Franco dictatorship would be erased from Spanish legal history.
But this attempt at imposing official omission with the Amnesty Law of 1977 awoke the self-imposed silence that had built up over decades and, still with the uncertainty of reprisals, those painful experiences of a family member who had been murdered, disappeared, executed, tortured or raped were made known, in the home, with the greatest possible discretion, to subsequent descendants of the victims. The appreciation and awareness of the events; the resignation and stoicism with which the first generation relatives had to bury away their pain; the abstraction of the unmerited suffering of the victims; the idea of the torment to which they were subject; the hardship and rigour of the family existence during the dictatorship; the hostility and rejection by part of the community they had to face… all of which provoked in the generation of the grandchildren the urgency of repairing the enormous damage caused to their more immediate forbears in the face of the inaction of the institutions of the nascent Spanish democracy. Therefore, the alternative narratives of these painful experiences; the remembered accounts and oral histories of direct witnesses that the defeated transmitted from generation to generation; the moral need and obligation of part of the general public to demand that the institutions clarify those awful events; the actions of dissemination of the collective memory; the vindication of a history incompatible with the official version…all caused the song and the story to start being translated into political action.
Take, by way of example, the extremely valuable oral accounts of the family of the doctor Cayetano Roldán executed in San Fernando; of the two relatives of Andrés Barreno (exhumed at Cortijo El Marrufo, Jerez de la Frontera); of the descendants of José Bazán Viruez (executed in August 1936 in Ubrique), who survived the long Francoist dictatorship with the consequences of resistance and of the statements of hundreds of victims, a number still alive, who survived La Desbandá, in order that history may start to be written in terms of Truth, Justice and Reparation. Only in this way shall all of the victims recover their dignity, the killers pointed out and the fulfilment of the Human Rights specified may be verified, as indispensable conditions for guaranteeing that crimes against humanity will not be repeated. It is an obligation on the part of States to promote and afford protection to Human Rights to end impunity, in a way that the full weight of the internal justice of each country falls on the perpetrators, instigators or conspirators of any type of crime, and amnesty laws or peace agreements that decree as pardoned those who have committed crimes against people, especially those against women regarding sexual abuse of any kind, must be considered as reproachable. International justice is and must be subsidiary as regards internal processes and mechanisms for safeguarding the rights of victims.