Lorca and ghosts of 'disappeared' haunt Spain

A documentary shown in Spain this week has broken decades of silence over the scandal of the Spanish civil war's anonymous victims, as difficulties mount over efforts to recover the body of Spain's most celebrated desaparecido , or "disappeared", the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

An olive tree stands outside the hamlet of Alfacar, north of Granada, near where the poet was shot in August 1936. Pines planted as camouflage in the Franco years have grown tall and lustrous, lending the area a spurious grandeur. Francisco Gonzalez lays a sprig of rosemary on a granite block. "We should find his body. Then we can write 'Here lies Lorca' on the stone," he says.

Mr Gonzalez, 59, was five when his father told him, while walking near Granada: "Beneath these stones lie thousands killed by Franco in the civil war." Mr Gonzalez says: "It was overwhelming. I've never stopped trying to find out what happened."

Mr Gonzalez is active in the Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory, which aims to recover the bodies of Franco's opponents that were dumped in mass graves throughout Spain.

Inspired by the campaign, a television documentary this week, The Forgotten Graves , examined for the first time the hidden slaughter now surfacing through mounting efforts to discover the truth.

The director of the documentary, Alfonso Domingo, said: "About 800 mass graves containing more than 30,000 people are spread all over Spain.Relatives are opening ditches and roadside graves to give their loved ones a decent burial."

A decent burial is what Mr Gonzalez wants for Lorca, who was seized when he returned home shortly after Franco's uprising in July 1936. Fighting was particularly fierce around Granada, the home of the fascist Falange. Mr Gonzalez stands beside a gully at Viznar, near Alfacar, where he describes how the civil guard would position their victims before shooting them, so that the bodies fell backwards into the ditch. And he quotes a poem by Lorca about civil guardsmen who have skulls of lead, "so they don't cry".

But Lorca's descendants do not want to dig for bones. Laura Garcia Lorca, 49, says: "We think there's no justification for exhumation. It's a violation of a place we consider a cemetery. There's enough evidence about his death and this cemetery is eloquent about the brutality of fascist repression in Granada." Lorca was not alone when he died. A schoolteacher and two anarchist bullfighters were shot with him and the four bodies were flung together into a shallow grave. Francisco Galadi, 55, is the grandson of one of the anarchists. He says: "All his life my father wanted to bury my grandfather with dignity and he died with his desire unfulfilled. Now I want to honour his memory with a tomb I can visit." He adds: "Why should those who died defending democracy be abandoned like carrion in a ditch?"

Nieves Galindo, the teacher's granddaughter, remembers her father telling how he watched his father being driven away to be executed. However, if she and Mr Galadi are allowed to excavate, they may dispel the mystery of Lorca's final hours.

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