Once the Spaniards looked through he Charco (the pond) for refuge. Now the traffic is expected to go the other way after Spain passed a law granting citizenship to the grandchildren of people exiled under Franco’s dictatorship.
Lawyers and consulates in Central and South America say they were swamped with inquiries after the Democratic Memory Law was passed, which aims to “settle Spain’s democracy’s debt to its past”. It is estimated that up to 700,000 people could be eligible for citizenship under the law, which was passed by the upper house of parliament on October 5 and came into force on October 21.
It goes much further than similar legislation in 2007, which offered citizenship to some descendants of Spanish exiles, with around 70,000 Latin Americans becoming Spanish citizens.
According to Mónica Fernández Álvarez, an Argentinian lawyer based in Madrid, the recently passed legislation gives any descendant of Spanish immigrants born before 1985 – the year Spain changed its nationality law – citizenship. Previously, children of exiles who had changed or renounced their Spanish nationality had no right to claim it.
The new law, called “the law of the grandchildren”, is based on the principle of jus sanguinisor lineages, said Fernández Álvarez, rather than place of birth.
The law also covers the descendants of women who lost their nationality by default by marrying non-Spaniards. According to Fernández Álvarez, even Argentines living illegally in Spain can apply. The process should take no longer than a year, compared to three years for residency-based citizenship applications.
Applicants will be required to present proof of parentage and will also be required to demonstrate that their ancestors fled political persecution.
The law offers a portmanteau definition of persecution, the victims of Francoism being defined as “any person who has suffered physical, moral or psychological harm, economic harm or loss of fundamental rights”. The citizenship offer ends in October 2024.
Between the end of the civil war in 1939 and the approval of the democratic constitution in 1978, approximately 2 million Spaniards fled the regime.
The exodus began when nearly 500,000 people crossed the border into France in the final days of the civil war. A column hundreds of miles long of terrified civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, crossed the Pyrenees in freezing weather and under constant shelling, abandoning their few possessions along the way.
Once in France, they faced a hostile reception and thousands were sent to concentration camps, where many died.
Between 1939 and 1942, around 25,000 Spaniards, including many artists and intellectuals, fled to Mexico, where they were welcomed.
Historian Henry Kamen, in The Disinherited, his history of Spanish exile, writes: “The emigration of most of the cultural elite between 1936 and 1939 was totally unprecedented. Combined with the mass exodus of refugees from the civil war, it represented a truly momentous event in the country’s history.
Spain has tried to make peace with its past before, in 2015 offering citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled under the 1492 edict. However, although the 2015 law did not require applicants that Whether they were observant Jews or lived in Spain, the requirements were long, complicated and expensive, requiring the applicant to travel to Spain, take Spanish language and culture tests and prove their Sephardic heritage. They also had to establish or prove a special connection with Spain and pay an appointed notary to certify their documents.
At the close of the offer in 2019, it is estimated that approximately 36,000 applications had been accepted out of a total of 150,000.
The new law offers Latin Americans a way out of violence and poverty. Already, a steady stream of Argentines are arriving in Spain, weary of bad governance, corruption and inflation, which reached 78% last month. Last year a record 33,000 Argentinians came to Spain and now tens of thousands more are expected.