Tuesday, July 27, 2010


La Línea is the Spanish town that has grown up across the border from Gibraltar at the tip of southern Spain. Over the years Spaniards have flocked to the town to seek work in the dock and ship yards plus the other booming businesses of Gibraltar. This is relevant to what follows because it means the itinerant husbands and wives did not have their families to support them in the event of giving birth or a child’s death.

Last November Cristina Díaz Carrasco broke the astonishing tale of her brother’s possible disappearance from La Línea hospital in 1967 to the media. He was said to have died shortly after his birth. As her mother was from Irún in Northern Spain and had no family in the area his body was buried by the hospital. The family returned each summer and left flowers on what was presumed to be his grave. However after works at the cemetery in 1980 the grave could not be found and it was subsequently discovered that there were no records at the cemetery, the Civil Registry or the archives of his birth, death or interment.

It was an interesting story but I presumed a one off. Not so because since Cristina made her suspicions public at least five other families have come forward with a similar tale in La Línea.

One of the latest involves a woman named Carmen from the Canary Islands. She came to La Línea in 1968 with her husband to work. She arrived pregnant and fearing all was not well sought medical aid. On November 14, 1968 she gave birth at the private Inmaculada Clinic to a son who she was told soon died.

Neither Carmen nor her husband had any family in La Línea and the hospital told them not to worry it would take care of everything. It was when her daughter saw Cristina Díaz Carrasco on the Antena 3 TV programme ‘Espejo Público’ and they discussed it she found their situations had been very similar and just a year apart.

She had never visited La Línea cemetery to visit the grave of her son but now she decided to make the trip. Again no grave could be found nor did the cemetery have any records of such a baby having been buried there in November of 1968. She also visited the Archivo Histórico Municipal in La Línea which holds the records from that time. There is no record of his birth, death or burial.

One might argue that this were cases of poor record keeping except that in wider Spain during the Franco era it has been established that children were indeed taken from their parents without their knowledge and passed on to an adoptive family.

It is reported Judge Baltasar Garzón has estimated that during the post war period of the Franco dictatorship a staggering 30,000 babies were re-allocated in this way. Garzón has reached that conclusion by gleaning facts and figures from various studies. It has also been reported that 200,000 pesetas was the price of acquiring such a baby in the 1960s. In his book – Mala gente que camina – Benjamín Prado says that in Spain people think “such things only happened in Argentina or Chile which had much shorter dictatorships. The courts do not want to investigate in case the same thing happened here.”

In Madrid in the 1960s one of the standard jokes amongst children was to say to their parents “did you buy me in the Rastro?” However Prado points out that many did just that – bought them at the market - and hence many Spaniards do not know their true parentage or indeed who they are.

Now there are many web pages and social networks on this theme. The problem is that the Andalucía health system that runs the present hospital La Línea didn’t exist then and the birth and death records are in archives with those involved in recording them long since retired or deceased. However the thirst for the truth amongst the 40-year-olds is strong and they will not be silenced until the truth is uncovered.

As I wrote this article the prosecutor in Algeciras – the nearest major town to La Línea - has decided to open an investigation into these local disappearances. Chief prosecutor, Juan Cisneros, has accepted the official reports by six families that involve births at the then municipal hospital in La Línea as well as two private clinics in the town. Cisneros says these cases have to be investigated to find answers for the families involved and determine just what happened in the last century.

All the affected families have now joined an association called Anadir formed by Antonio Barroso. He was adopted and suspects he was stolen from his true parents. The lawyer Enrique Vila is taking all these cases to the High Court both in Cádiz and in Spain where there are dozens more. However it has to be recognised that because of the time that has passed any investigation will be difficult to pursue a fact that was recently stressed by the head prosecutor in the Cádiz court, Ángeles Ayuso.

(Photo: Cristina Díaz Carrasco's grandmother supposedly with the body of her brother in La Línea hospital's mortuary).

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star in July 2010 and parts have appeared in Panorama in May and June 2010).


Call me naive, call me a romantic, but my view of Socialist International was a brother and sisterhood of socialist parties united under the red flag. Well that has not been the experience of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party due to Spanish practices by PSOE.

I start this article in Gibraltar but not with the GSLP but rather the Liberal Party that has been its junior coalition partner in opposition since 2000 and if the opinion polls are correct could join it in government in 2011. The leader of the Liberals, Dr Joseph Garcia, was telling me the major role they play in Liberal International.

“Liberal International is the global federation of Liberal and Democratic political parties. There are Liberal parties from 50 countries that are full members and from 25 countries as observer members. The Liberal Party of Gibraltar is a full member in its own right. We have our own seat on the Executive Committee and our own voting rights independently of UK parties.”

It was later when I spoke to Fabian Picardo, a British trained lawyer, a GSLP MP, a possible future leader and Chief Minister that I was stunned to learn that not only was the party not a member of Socialist International but did not even have observer status.

Now if you ask Socialist International they will tell you that the GSLP has never applied for membership and hence the issue has not been discussed by the committee. Except they are unlikely to tell you anything at all. Joe Bossano, the founder of the GSLP, a former chief minister of Gibraltar and current leader confirmed they wrote to the Secretary General, Luis Ayala, around 1984/5 just prior to Spain joining the EU in 1986 and they have never had a reply despite many reminder letters. I contacted Socialist International three times without the courtesy of an answer either.

So let’s take a look at the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party. It is the oldest surviving active political party in Gibraltar. Its grass roots are deep in the British Trade Union Movement because founder and current leader Joe Bossano had lived in London’s East End where he was active in the Labour Party and union.

Indeed when he returned to Gibraltar he became the District Officer of the TGWU which during Bossano’s tenure was instrumental in achieving parity with the UK for all workers in Gibraltar. The GSLP fought its first election in 1978 and between 1988 and 1996 was the party of government.

Labour veteran Alf Lomas told me: “I have had a long association with Joe Bossano since I first went to speak in Gibraltar in the seventies to address the AGM of the TGWU. I was Political Secretary of the London Co-operative at that time and active in the union and the Labour Party. There was no GSLP in those days and Joe and I had long discussions about forming a Labour Party. I helped to draw up the constitution and was made No 1 Honorary Member of the Party on its formation.”

So what’s the Spanish take on all this. It is the opposition of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español - PSOE, which celebrated the 100 th anniversary of winning its first parliamentary seat in May that has kept the GSLP out of Socialist International.

I spoke to PSOE’s José Carracao who sits in Spain’s Senate – its upper house of parliament. He was a mayor of Jimena de la Frontera, president of the association of municipalities in the area across the border from the Rock and today has in the Senate special responsibility for Gibraltar – Spanish relations.

He said: “Gibraltar is a dependent territory of the UK and is represented internationally by the UK. The existence of “internationals” of political parties (Socialist International, Liberal International) is the consequence of national parties of the same politics coming together. From our point of view Gibraltar does not have an international presence and it represented in its external relations by the UK. The only parties that can have representation and international presence from an ideological point of view are the parties of the UK. The consequence for us is that is that Gibraltar can only have representation and an international presence by its integration or association with other parties of the same ideological point of view, with parties in the UK. This has been the position till now of PSOE and those responsible for its external relations in its various Federal Executives.”

Here are some points on José Carracao’s remarks:

Dr Joseph García said: “Spain’s Centro Democratico y Social introduced us to Liberal International and supported our membership. We have very good links with our Catalan friends and have hosted visits to Gibraltar by Catalan MPs and by the International Relations Secretary of Covergencia Democratica in the past.”

Glyn Ford, who had been the MEP for Gibraltar and is closely associated with the GSLP questioned: “How does he explain the separate SI membership of the SDLP from Northern Ireland, a British Colony!”

Whilst Alf Lomas, who was also an MEP till 1999 added: “I often clashed with the Spanish Socialist Party about Gibraltar particularly on occasions when Joe visited the Parliament as my guest. PSOE even opposed Joe coming into the EP Socialist Group Meetings.”

Although Franco died in 1975 many consider the socialist PSOE’s general election win in October 1982 as being the defining moment in Spain’s transition to democracy. Hence in 1985 Joe Bossano travelled to PSOE’s Madrid HQ to speak with Manuel Chaves – the then Minister of Labour - and Elena Flores, the International Secretary of PSOE.

At a personal level relations between PSOE and the GSLP are very cordial. They told Bossano that if Premier Felipe González had his photo taken with him at Socialist International it would cost PSOE one million votes. As Bossano did not want to harm his fellow socialists electoral chances in the 1986 election he agreed to delay an application.

I told Joe I could understand Spain’s opposition to Gibraltarian institutions but not Spanish socialists opposing Gibraltar’s socialists joining the international umbrella organization. “But Socialist International has influence,” he countered –and there we had it. Forget the PSOE mantra mouthed by José Carracao – the party is simply scared that Socialist International might follow the lead set by Liberal International and endorse Gibraltar’s right to self determination.
Surely this is the most fundamental of socialist democratic principles yet an anathema to PSOE and Spain at least where Gibraltar is concerned.

(Photo: Joe Bossano campaigning in Gibraltar in 1984)

(The above article appeared in the Morning Star and in Panorama in July 2010)