MADRID (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Moves by Spain to finally exhume the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco have spurred growing demands for compensation by LGBT+ victims of oppression and torture under his 36-year regime.
Spain voted in September last year to disinter Franco’s remains from the vast underground basilica constructed outside the capital Madrid before his death in 1975.
Left-wing parties and human rights organizations claim the Valley of the Fallen, which is marked by a 152 meter (166 yard) mountainside cross, is an embarrassment and an insult to the estimated 140,000 killed or imprisoned during his rule of Spain.
“A democracy like the Spanish one cannot afford to have a Francoist monument,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez recently told eldiario.es, an influential online news site.
Yet, for many aging LGBT+ victims, there are more pressing concerns than the final resting place of the Spanish dictator.
Antoni Ruiz, now 60, was 17 when he was imprisoned in 1976 for three months under a law that deemed homosexuals a “social danger” until 1979.
“It was hell,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Madrid, describing his treatment by the authorities.
While in jail, Ruiz said he was raped by another prisoner on the instructions of a police officer.
In 2004, he founded the Association of Former Social Convicts, which campaigns for the right of gay and transgender victims of the Franco regime to compensation.
About 5,000 people, mostly gay and bisexual men and trans women, were convicted under the country’s then-homophobic laws, according to research by historian Arturo Arnalte.
In 2008, during the social democratic government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish parliament approved a budget allocation of 2 million euros ($2.27 million) to fund compensation for LGBT+ cases.
When the conservative Popular Party (PP) came to power in 2011, it set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 for applications. Eventually, 624,000 euros was given in compensation.
Ruiz said he received 4,000 euros.
Since then he has been trying to persuade the current government, which in opposition fought against marriage equality before same-sex weddings were legalised in 2005, to release the remainder of the funds to the 116 officially recognized victims.
A monthly stipend for people who faced stigma for their convictions and were often prevented from careers and pensions, “would allow them to live decently their last days”, Ruiz said.
A government spokeswoman declined to comment on specific plans to compensate LGBT+ victims under Franco.
The Association of Former Social Convicts said the government had yet to contact them.
Last year, the Directorate General for Historical Memory was established to look in more detail at past events, Francoism and justice.
However, due to opposition from the local church, the dictator’s family and numerous politicians, Franco’s remains are not expected to be exhumed until April at the earliest.
Many countries have grappled with retrospectively erasing criminal records as laws governing sexual orientation have evolved over the years.
In Britain, the mathematician and Second World War code breaker Alan Turing received a posthumous pardon in 2013, following a 1952 conviction for gross indecency.
Unlike in Canada or Germany, no Spanish government official has officially apologized to the LGBT+ community for historical persecution. The Spanish king, Felipe VI, has also remained silent on the issue.
In 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for the actions the government took against gay military and other officials in the Cold War era, calling the period in the country’s history a “collective shame”.
“We would really appreciate something like that happening (in Spain),” Ruiz said.
Mar Cambrolle, president of the Andalusian Association of Transsexuals (ATA), said Spain has been receptive to the issue of compensation, but “it obviously has not done enough”.
“Most of the money was not spent because many victims were already dead or did not want to dig up their past,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It was an unfair way to allocate the money.”
Cambrolle helped more than 20 transgender people targeted by the regime, which also did not recognize gender identity and expression as part of the broader ban on homosexual acts, by steering them through the legal process to gain compensation.
Transgender victims “probably suffered the worst forms of repression”, Cambrolle said. In her view, the dictatorship committed “crimes against humanity” toward sexual minorities.
Yet many of the LGBT+ victims of the Franco regime, even those who fought for their right to compensation, have grown tired of this seemingly endless battle.
And they have grown older, too.
“I have already talked enough,” a transgender woman from Seville told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on declining an interview.
Yet with the move to disinter Franco’s remains, divisive issues from the past stalk today’s political landscape.
Opposition parties Liberal Ciudadanos and the PP accuse Sanchez’s PSOE and its leftist partners of trying to reopen past wounds, while human rights organizations claim the exhumation is a democratic duty.
For those most affected under Franco’s regime, the moral dimension is more important.
Almost 43 years after his conviction, Ruiz believes the removal of the dictator’s remains from the monument “would be a great victory, not only for the victims, but also for democracy itself”.
Reporting by Enrique Anarte @enriqueanarte; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org