Minister fights Spanish military secrecy

Spain's Defence Minister, Carme Chacon, continues to cut a swathe through Spain's stiff-necked military establishment, with a pioneering proposal made public yesterday to declassify secret documents held in military archives.

In a nation that endured three years of civil war and 40 years of dictatorship, this is a revolutionary move comparable to Germany opening up the Stasi secret police files. Ms Chacon's motive is similar: to provide public access for historians and those who suffered for decades because of the arbitrary decisions taken by a military regime against which no appeal was possible.

"We will take measures to declassify Defence Ministry documents that will permit free access to documentation inaccessible up to now, and which has a high scientific and also, of course, sentimental value for many people," Ms Chacon said.

Spain never declassifies official documents, even decades after the events to which they refer. There is nothing comparable to Britain's 30-year rule and there is no freedom of information act entitling interested parties to obtain details of past military or intelligence operations.

Millions of documents which record the fate of generations of Spaniards during the 1936-39 conflict and General Franco's subsequent dictatorship, remain hermetically sealed unless opened individually by judicial order.

Ms Chacon's initiative forms part of the Socialist government's plan to restore justice to Franco's victims, in accordance with a historic memory law passed last year. What is the point, Ms Chacon asks, of digging up the bones of those thrown anonymously into mass graves after being shot at dawn, when all the documentation is locked up in army files?

The problem is to find a way round the Official Secrets Law of 1968, passed at the height of Franco's dictatorship to prevent thousands of victims or their families from questioning the dubious legality of their jail terms or execution orders. The law was modified in 1978 – after Franco's death, but before Spain's democratic constitution was approved – making it impossible for anybody other than the armed forces or cabinet ministers to authorise the opening of individual secret files. "Many of these documents are in the defence archives, but we are not the only ones competent to decide what should be declassified or not," Ms Chacon told El Pais. "We know the solution will be complex and not particularly rapid. But we are clear that we want to open up a new phase, and achieve declassification for scientific, historical and emotional reasons."

Partial access to defence files was achieved for the first time in 1998, but a military archives regulation explicitly excluded classified documents, "which would be governed by specific legislation". All efforts to abolish the Official Secrets Law have failed so far, apparently out of fear of what the press may do with the findings. Historians and others seeking to consult specific files have to rely on the goodwill of archivists.

The government reportedly seeks to apply a formula that already applies to non-secret documents that might affect individual privacy. This ruling grants access only to those who have the consent of those directly affected, or 25 years after the death of the person affected, or 50 years after the date of the document.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government is uneasy with Ms Chacon's bold plan, as it was when she unilaterally replaced all her chiefs of staff within weeks of taking office.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Team Leader

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an innovative a...

Recruitment Genius: Production Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Production Technician is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower