For years there had been rumors in Spain: babies stolen from their mothers at birth by the government in collusion with the Catholic Church.
But now the country is exploding in anger and outrage as the scale of the baby thefts is revealed: An estimated 300,000 newborns taken from their bewildered mothers. It is only in the last few months that the Spanish government has been willing to confront the country’s horrifying past.
It began in the 1930′s after dictator Francisco Franco won the Spanish civil war. With his government’s approval the children of dissidents were taken from them and given to “better” families.
But as the politically motivated baby thefts receded in the 1940′s they were replaced by an equally offensive form of stealing. Babies were regularly taken from their mothers and sold to other families – for thousands of dollars – by the same doctors and nuns who had delivered them.
The practice continued long after Franco died in 1975. The baby trafficking was unproven until earlier this year when two men — childhood friends — learned that their parents had bought them from a nun.
The BBC interviewed Manoli Pagador in a working-class suburb of Madrid. She has three daughters, but she’s never recovered from the loss of her son almost 40 years ago. Doctors told her he had died. She never believed that.
“Doctors, nuns?” she told the BBC. “I couldn’t accuse them of lying. This was Franco’s Spain. A dictatorship. Even now we Spaniards tend not to question authority.”
But finally Spaniards are demanding answers as years of anger and anguish boil to the surface.