"Francoism isn't over in Spain"
At 91, Darío Rivas still campaigns for justice from his home in Argentina
He is 91 years old and just endured a 13-hour flight, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him, as he stands stoically in a suit and tie in the crushing heat of Madrid's Puerta del Sol. Darío Rivas is a Galician-born émigré to Argentina who filed a suit aimed at getting Franco's crimes tried in Buenos Aires, after the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón was controversially suspended from his duties at the High Court last year for attempting to do just that in Spain.
Now, Rivas has crossed the Atlantic Ocean to remind everyone that the government of Spain has yet to send a formal reply to the Argentinean judge who, eight months ago, sent a letter rogatory with an apparently simple question: "Have the crimes perpetrated during the Civil War and dictatorship been tried in Spain?"
"What's taking them so long? The answer is no! I want people to know what is going on, that's why I came. But what can you expect from a country that does not even dare say that Franco was a dictator?" he asks, in reference to the recent controversy over a biographical dictionary published by the Royal Academy of History that coyly referred to Franco as "head of state."
"Francoism is not over, and the best proof of it is the maneuvering against Garzón," says Rivas about the way the judge was deemed to have deliberately overstepped his jurisdiction in attempting to try Francoist crimes. Rivas was born in 1920 in the village of Castro de Rei, in Lugo province. He lost his mother at the age of five ("I always knew she died from overwork"), at age nine he emigrated to Argentina, and at 16 he received the worst news in his life: "The Falangists have killed Papa."
"My brothers knew where he was buried, but they took the secret to their graves. They were afraid I would go find him on my own, before Franco's death, and would get myself killed as well."
Rivas did not return to Spain until 1951, and then only because his wife, Clotilde, wanted to visit some relatives. More visits followed. "In the summer of 2004, inside a gift shop in Portomarín, the village where my father was killed, the owner told me that she had a vivid childhood memory of a man who was assassinated and his body left on the curb in August 1936. She was forbidden to go near there, but curiosity proved too strong, and she saw a body covered with an overcoat. It was the same one my sister had sent him from Argentina. Four Falangists had shot him five times, some in the back. It looks like my father [...] tried to escape."
In the summer of 2005, Severino Rivas - who had been mayor of Castro de Rei when the war broke out - became the first victim of Civil War executions to be exhumed in Galicia. His son Darío had the body buried next to his mother's. But that was not enough. "The main thing is not to seek punishment for the guilty parties. I have no intention of putting [former Francoist minister Manuel] Fraga in the dock, not at his age, but I do want the guilty to be portrayed as guilty and the executed to be portrayed as heroes. Because heroes they were: good men and women who did not deserve to be shot in the back."