Spanish dictator Franco’s stolen babies fight for justice

Spanish ex-stolen baby Inés Madrigal and other demonstrators at the Madrid court. EPA photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Dictator Franco’s stolen babies fight for justice

Today, 19:26

In Spain, a lawsuit has been initiated against an 85-year-old doctor suspected of involvement in the “stolen baby’s scandal”. In the last century, according to various estimates, some 300,000 babies disappeared in the country just after they were born. Doctors told the new parents that the children had died, but in reality they were stolen to give to other couples.

Thousands of families and dozens of doctors are said to be involved in that scandal. Doctor Eduardo Vela is the first to stand trial. Vela has been accused by Inés Madrigal, who suspects that she is such a stolen baby.

Madrigal’s mother Inés Pérez got a newborn child in 1969, wrapped in cloths, in her hands from Dr Vela. “A surprise”, according to the doctor. At the time, 46-year-old Pérez was childless and had helped Vela care for another boy. Baby Inés was a kind of thank you.

When Madrigal turned 18, Pérez told her that she was not her biological mother. She had the forged birth certificate, the signature of Dr. Vela was below it. But then they did not realize yet how often this kind of practice had taken place.

Around 2010, more and more comparable stories came out. Parents recognized themselves in messages on Spanish internet forums that told about missing babies. Usually the story was that the new mother of the baby had died immediately, or just after the birth, after which the parents did not see the baby anymore. Further questions to the doctors were answered evasively and with that all was finished, for the doctors at least.

An illegal baby trade system

The scandal goes back to the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which was won by General Franco. After the bloody conflict the prisons were full of political opponents, including women and children. These children had to be brought up in ‘better circumstances’ and were therefore placed in other, pro-government families.

In the decades of Franco’s regime, these practices continued and even expanded. Newborn children of non-government-minded families were taken away from the parents. Later the same happened with babies from poor families and single or unmarried mothers. According to the dictatorial regime, it was better for such a child to grow up in a Catholic and conservative family.

But the death of the dictator in 1975 did not mean that the stealing of babies stopped. The illegal baby-trading system was maintained by the numerous doctors and nuns involved. Only in 1987 did the system come to an end with a new, stricter adoption law.

‘Cases without proof’

The case is very much alive in Spain, the attention in the media is big. Some fifty demonstrators gathered outside the court this morning. They were carrying signs with texts such as “justice” and “human rights for stolen babies”.

At the Spanish courts there are still about 2000 complaints that might seem like similar cases. But, although there are enough irregularities in the books – such as people who are twice in the birth register, or who died before they were born – it is difficult to prove the complaints beyond any doubt, says Guillermo Peña, lawyer for the organization SOS Stolen Babies Madrid. “Without hospital data nothing can be checked and then you have a case without proof.” Also the statute of limitations is often a problem.

Earlier, a lawsuit was filed against an employee of Vela’s clinic, the nun Maria Gomez. In 2012 she had to appear before a Spanish court. But before the verdict could come, she died. Gomez has always denied knowing anything about the illegal adoption of 1982 with which she was associated.

Vela has admitted that the signature on Madrigal’s birth certificate is his. He is charged with abduction and forgery of official documents. The public prosecutor has claimed eleven years of prison against him.

Madrigal does not expect Eduardo Vela to tell her the truth, or to say who her real mother is. “But I hope that a ruling will lead to more possibilities for similar cases.”

A DOCTOR who stole a newborn baby nearly 50 years ago will escape punishment because the statute of limitations for the crime has expired, a Spanish court ruled today. Eduardo Vela, 85, abducted Ines Madrigal on her birth in 1969, faking documents to imply she was the child of the couple who raised her. The verdict that he did indeed abduct Ms Madrigal, now a railway worker, is the first in relation to the theft of tens of thousands of children from their real parents under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Mothers were often told a child had died at birth or shortly after: here.

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