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To right past wrongs, Spaniards seek present change

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It was painful for Ana Viéitez Gómez to read the file the Spanish dictatorship had kept on her father. In a single folder, she says, she saw "the destruction of a life."

There were letters from the mayor, the police, even the local priest, denouncing him as a communist, an anarchist, and a mason. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Ms. Viéitez's father, a schoolteacher, escaped Spain after several years in jail for exile in Mexico where, she says, he died at age 46, a broken man.

Viéitez's father was denounced in 1937 - while Spain was mired in civil war - but it wasn't until last year that his daughter finally saw his file. The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, to be followed by nearly 40 years of authoritarian rule by General Francisco Franco, during which his government imprisoned or executed hundreds of thousands for alleged political crimes.

"Franco kept signing death warrants until his last day," says Aida Lorenzo y Rosa, whose father was executed in Gerona in 1939 after an hour-long trial in which his lawyer, one of Franco's officers, failed to clear him of charges that he was a "danger to the new Spain."

For Viéitez, Lorenzo y Rosa, and others like them, the justice they seek for their family members has been deferred for more than a half a century, and they are willing to wait no more.

For nearly three decades after the dictator's death in 1975, his government's injustices were not mentioned in public, as virtually all political parties - in the name of a peaceful transition to democracy - embraced a "pact of silence."

But today, the silence has begun to erode, and the wish to address Spain's past is growing.

Public memory is being resurrected in a tide of recent books and documentary films about Spaniards' suffering under the dictatorship; volunteers have unearthed mass graves where Republican supporters, after swift execution, were buried; and last month the Socialist government voted to return to Catalonia - a Republican stronghold during the war - all documents that had been taken from the region by Franco's police forces.


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