When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Félix Llorente lived and worked on the railways in the Castilian town of Medina del Campo. His great-niece, Anaïs Huerta, is a filmmaker who now lives in Mexico.
On 28 July 1936, Félix was detained by the authorities and brought to Medina del Campo jail, “for his record and activities”. On 15 August that year he was taken out of the jail, supposedly to be transferred to another prison, and disappeared.
This week, on 27 January 2016, his great-niece, along with Amnesty International, filed a lawsuit in Mexico to have Félix’s case investigated as an enforced disappearance, an ongoing crime that increases in cruelty over time. In this case, almost 80 years.
Why would a woman decide to bring a lawsuit on behalf of someone she never met, 10,000 km from where the events took place?Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain
Why would a woman decide to bring a lawsuit on behalf of someone she never met, 10,000 km from where the events took place? The same reasons that led dozens of victims of serious violations of human rights in Spain to knock on the doors of justice in Argentina: generations of hurt for the family, not knowing what happened, and the impossibility of doing so in Spain.
All three pillars of Spain’s government have refused to offer truth, justice and reparation to the victims of enforced disappearance and other crimes – some 114,000 cases between 17 July 1936 and December 1951. In violation of international law, they have closed the door to any judicial action that would pave the way for complying with international obligations and UN recommendations.
The lawsuit has all the necessary information for the investigation to go ahead if there is the will to do so. It includes the location of a mass grave where Félix’s body is probably buried along with some 200 others, in an abandoned winery in Medina del Campo. It also includes the names of those who, presumably, were responsible for his disappearance, as well as the Spanish State’s official and proud acknowledgement in 1941: “[Félix is ] a person of bad character and conduct appearing affiliated with the Communist Party, International Red Aid and the National Railway Workers’ Union… and that (sic) was arrested by the Authority entering prison on July 28 and later transferred to another prison, without further knowledge of his situation and whereabouts”.
Some readers may think that this was enough – the passage of time is inevitable, and instead of stirring up the past, it’s better to forget. But would we ask the same of the family members of Holocaust victims, or the victims of terrorist acts? Is it even possible to forget without knowing what happened? Is it feasible to turn the page without getting the State’s respect and support to obtain truth, justice and reparation?
Anaïs has international law on her side, but has had to seek justice 10,000 km away.Esteban Beltrán
Anaïs has international law on her side, but has had to seek justice 10,000 km away. It is ironic to note that many families of victims of torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, political, religious and racial persecution, arbitrary imprisonment, forced labour and theft of babies, have had to seek judicial truth elsewhere. In countries like Argentina and Mexico, where they took refuge at the end of the civil war, rather than in Spain, where the life-changing events actually happened.
Anaïs is young and she is determined – you can see it in her eyes. She will continue the search for her great-uncle until she finds out what happened. We hope that Mexico will agree to investigate the enforced disappearance of Félix, and do the work that the Spanish authorities refuse to do.
Many countries have already done it and they are better societies as a result. When it comes to our past in Spain, we’re nearly half a century behind, and still mired in silence.