A growing movement claims that hundreds of Spanish babies were trafficked during General Franco's dictatorship, some as late as the 1960s. So far, courts have denied families' demands for investigations.
Thousands of communists' children were taken away under Franco
Hundreds of families gathered in Madrid on Tuesday, rallying for an investigation into decades-old cases of alleged state-supported kidnapping.
The families released hundreds of helium balloons over central Madrid's famous Puerta del Sol square for the children they say were systematically stolen from them during General Francisco Franco's dictatorial rule.
Thousands of children taken
Family members demonstrated by releasing balloons with babies' names
Demonstrators in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid believe Franco's regime stole babies into the 1960s and that their children and siblings did not die as doctors told them, but were also taken and given to Franco supporters.
The balloons the families released at the Madrid rally bore the names of children claimed dead by hospital staff.
After Spain's bloody civil war, government institutions and church authorities used a 1940 decree to take custody of children whose "moral education" was seen as at risk - in other words, the children of the regime's opponents.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the state had custody of some 30,000 children, who had their names changed and were given up for adoption to make them untraceable.
'Doctors preyed on patients'
An organizer of the event, Mar Soriano, launched a pink globe with the name Beatriz written on it in blue felt tip. "Beatriz was my sister. She was born at the O'Donnell clinic in Madrid on January 3, 1964."
She believes Beatriz was sold to a childless family in cahoots with the regime.
Spain is still reluctant to come to terms with all the events of Franco's dictatorship
"Crooked doctors and midwives preyed on vulnerable parents," said lawyer Fernando Magan, who has repeatedly attempted to force courts to investigage. "Professionals involved in the racket gave unlikely causes of death and tampered with records."
Soriano said the baby was born healthy, but was taken away by medical staff who returned three days later to say that Beatriz had died of an ear infection - a non-fatal condition.
The parents never saw the body, she said. Instead they were simply told "we will take care of everything" by hospital staff.
Such claims have recently gained weight, after some parents their babies' graves dug up, to be found empty. Some families have even managed to track down supposedly deceased children, whom turned out to be alive and well.
In the interests of a smooth transition to democracy, the abuses of Franco's regime were swept under the carpet. Although Spain has slowly opened the door to investigations of the Franco era, the National High Court refuses to contemplate cases brought by families alleging the theft of children.
Fernando Magan described this resistance as "illogical," insisting that society needs to know the truth.
Searching for the truth
The babies' families believe their doctors falsified medical records
That's all that Paloma wants.
A housewife in her mid-50s and a member of Soriano's platform of 300 families, Paloma hopes to find her daughter.
"I gave birth to a thriving, beautiful baby girl weighing 3.5 kilos (7 pounds, 11 ounces)," she said. "But she was taken to an incubator by hospital staff soon after the birth. I never saw her again."
According to Paloma, the staff said her baby had died of a heart attack - even though the medical records didn't appear to match the baby she had given birth to.
Paloma hopes that her child's adoptive parents took very good care of her and gave her a good education. For now she dares not think about being reunited; she just desperately wants to know what really happened, to put an end to her doubts.
Author: Hazel Healy, Madrid (dl)
Editor: Rob Turner