Retrieving bones, reviving memories: The practice of reconciliation in Spain and Latin America.

Author:Stockwell, Norman
Position:Travel narrative

It looked like an ordinary field you might see on a construction site--clay-tinged mud puddles, broken gravel, a rolling terrain on the road to Fuente Grande. But eighty years ago, it was a field where members of the Falangist militia mustered in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Today, archaeologist Javier Navarro Chueca and historical researcher Miguel Caballero Perez are looking for the remains of Spain's most famous poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca.


"The bodies should be right below us here," said Caballero as we walked across the wet field together one afternoon in March 2015. He and Navarro had combed this region using a radar-type device that probed the ground for changes in density. Caballero's research into the final hours of the poet's life, compiled in his 2011 book, Las Trece Ultimas Horas en la Vida de Garcia Lorca, led him to this field near the small town of Alfacar in Spain's Andalucia region. The spot is close to a different location, proposed by Lorca scholar Ian Gibson, which was unsuccessfully excavated in 2009.

Finding Lorca's bones is a passion for Caballero."The bones," he says, "will give us anthropological and forensic information of the last moments in the life of Lorca."

As of this writing, the bones of Garcia Lorca and the three others killed with him that day have not been found, but Caballero is convinced they will be. His goal in this quest is "to get as close as possible to the truth, which is difficult, after so many years."

Getting closer to this "truth" is part of an ongoing struggle in Spain, and throughout the world, to come to some reconciliation with a brutal past.

In July 1936, several generals, including Francisco Franco, staged a coup against Spain's democratically elected government. Lorca was killed by a firing squad on August 19 for his opposition to Franco and, many believe, his homosexuality. Even Spain's fascist forces knew that his death would reflect badly on their cause, so his murder was concealed.

"The fact of the matter is ... this writer died in Granada mixed up with the rebels," Franco told a Mexican newspaper in November 1937 (as quoted in Ian Gibson's 1973 book, The Death of Lorca), claiming "the Reds have used his name for propaganda purposes."

Such redirection of blame by agents of repression is a familiar pattern. The government told a similar story to the press when six Jesuit priests were murdered in a militarized section of El Salvador in...

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