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).