VALENCIA The long, sad saga of Spain's stolen babies stumbles on, sometimes quietly, usually frustratingly and sometimes joyfully. Marie-José, a French teacher of a Spanish father, discovered recently that she is grandmother to her 44 year old birth son's eight year old son. 'I'm living a fairy tale,' says Marie-José full of emotion. 'It's incredible, I'm euphoric. I wake up and say to myself that he's there, he exists. Then I'm terrified to lose him again.' Hers is a story that is part of a national scandal known as 'the stolen babies of the Franco era' that exploded into the national and international consciousness in 2010, when the first official denuncias began to find their way in the notoriously slow Spanish court system. According to several organizations, the scandal could impact on some 300,000 people. A decree issued by the Franco regime (1939-1975) in 1940 allowed for children to be taken away>>>from their mothers and place them under the tuitelage of the regime, if the mothers ran the risk of endangering their "moral education". In practice the stolen babies came from Leftist militants or unmarried mothers.
Baby trafficking continued into the 1990s
However, many of the victims' organizations state that the baby traffic continued long after Franco died in 1975 and even into the 1990s.
Evidence has been coming out very slowly that a large number of babies, indeterminate as yet, were taken from their parents at clinics often run by Catholic nuns as charities. The parents were apparently dupen into believing that the child had died shortly after birth. The clinics, or the staff, often organised and paid for funeral arrangements.
In one case last year, a court ordered the exhumation of one baby. When the coffin was opened it was found to contain a handful of stones, presumably to add weight at the funeral. There were no bones.
The victims, that is the parents, often came from rural, illiterate families, unaccustomed to arguing with authority under a brutal dictatorship. The babies usually found their way to middle class families unable to have children or wanting to add to the existing members. It was not until 1985 that a law regulating adoption came into being.
Marie-José, whose mother was French and her father Spanish, was a 22 year old unmarried student when she became pregnant. Her father took her to the Santo Celo convent in Valencia to give birth. (Many cities, towns and even villages contained convents speciliasing in this trade.)
'It was a nightmare,' remembers Marie-José, who is still traumatised by 'the evil of the Mother Superior'.
Her father had promised she could keep the child, but at the last moment he gave the boy to the nuns.
'I never spoke to my father again,' she says, but never stopped searching for him, even after marrying and having another son, now 30.
Marie-José son, Juan, knew at 14 that he had been adopted, but his adoptive parents told him his biological parents had died in an accident.
When his adoptive mother died in 2011, in the middle of the eruption of the stolen babies scandal, Juan noticed that his birth certificate said his adoptive parents were down as his biological ones. He decided to find the truth.
Finally, an older cousin came out with the full picture. Juan was told that he had been sold by the nuns, as often happened in those days.
This was just a couple of months ago.
This according to Marie-José, who tells her son's story alluding to the complicity of nurses and doctors, church members and the administrations who made up 'really false papers'.
Juan soon contacted the victims' organizations in Valencia, who quickly made the connection with Marie-José, whom they knew well from her own enquiries. DNA tests did the rest.
'We call each other every day since then,' she says.
Not many happy endings
For the time being, not many people have been able to trace their biological families.
Courts all over the country, while slow as always, often disagree on procedure and even law. Of some 3,000 cases in court, only 900 are being followed through, much of the remainder having been closed because the crime has prescribed.
An example of the attitude of many judges is in Castellón, close to Valencia, where cases are closed every day. Some 90% of those presented for acceptance have been closed.
No cooperation from the government
One spokeswoman for Coordinadora X24, which brings together most of the smaller victims' organizations, says that the present government of Mriano Rajoy 'does not give us any information'. There is 'much darkness, obscurity, secrets - and we don't know why.'
It is likely that the reason behind such behaviour stems from the fact that the People's Party derives from political parties set up by admirers of Franco after he died. Several of his ministers ended up holding elected office under the PP early in its history, though they are mostly now dead, their skeletons never revealed.
One of these organizations recently appealed to Pope Francis to have Church files opened. They are waiting for a reply.
Not Marie-José though. She is happy to have found her Juan and his son.