Tuesday, December 30, 2008

500,000 New Citizens for Spain?

500,000 New Citizens for Spain?
By Lisa Abend Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

Ludivina García's father fought on the side of the Republic in the
Spanish Civil War, and was imprisoned in one of Franco's concentration
camps before he escaped to Mexico. Now, thanks to a change in Spanish
law, the Mexican-born García, 63, is busy compiling the paperwork to
obtain the citizenship she feels she has been unfairly denied all these
years. García is already recognized as a Spanish citizen through
marriage. But having her nationality acknowledged as her birthright is a
matter of honor. "It's not redundant," she says. "I've always had an
identity conflict, and now I have the chance to resolve it."

The law change, which goes into effect this week, is the latest in
Spain's ongoing efforts to atone for the mistakes of its past. As part
of the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, the Spanish government will now
offer citizenship to anyone who can prove that his or her parents or
grandparents went into exile during the war and the first decades of the
dictatorship that followed. According to the Spanish government, some
500,000 around the globe are eligible. (Read TIME's Top 10 news stories
of the year.)

During the civil war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, and the brutal
repression that followed, hundreds of thousands of people left Spain
because their political sympathies put them on the wrong side of
Franco's authoritarian regime. The majority fled to France or Mexico,
though thousands of children were also sent to the Soviet Union, Britain
and the United States.

Now, the children and grandchildren of those who fled have the
opportunity to reclaim the nationality that, in many cases, their
ancestors were forced to renounce. "It's a question of identity," says
García, president of the Descendents of Exiles Association. "Even though
I grew up in Mexico City, my school was founded by exiles, and we were
always learning about Spanish culture. I grew up feeling Spanish."

Frank Casanova, a resident of Naples, Florida who's grandfather
emigrated from the Canary Islands to Cuba, is applying for Spanish
citizenship for the same reason. "I was born in Cuba, but I never felt
Cuban; I felt Canarian," he says. "I even preferred Canaries music over
salsa. It's something you feel in your blood." (See pictures of Cuban

Under the law, the descendants have until December 2010 to present
themselves at the Spanish embassy in their home countries, and turn in
documentation that proves their parents or grandparents fled Spain
between 1936 and 1955. They do not need to relinquish their current

"We don't have concrete data yet," said a spokesperson at Spain's
Justice ministry. "But we're getting reports from our consulates that a
lot of people are signing up already." In Argentina, which is home to an
estimated 300,000 emigré descendants, demand has been so strong, that
applicants have already snapped up all consular appointments through
July 2009.

But the new provisions are perhaps most attractive to Cubans. On
Saturday, the Spanish news agency EFE reported that hundreds of Cubans
spent Christmas night lined up outside the Spanish consulate in Havana,
waiting to pick up the necessary application forms. One of them was
William, a 38-year-old resident of Havana, whose reasons for seeking
Spanish nationality were not purely cultural. "In Spain, you can work,
earn money, live comfortably," he told EFE.

And that's not the only benefit of a Spanish passport. "Once you have
it, you can leave Cuba and go to the United States, says Frank Casanova,
who has five or six cousins planning to do just that. "It's closer, and
you have more family there."

That will come as welcome news to the Spanish government, which is
currently attempting to reduce immigration into the country. In response
to the global economic crisis, Spain's once-receptive labor ministry
recently introduced a plan that essentially pays unemployed migrants to
return to their country of origin. On December 20, the administration
extended the period during which police can detain undocumented migrants
and barred legally registered immigrants from bringing over any family
member of working age.

But economic concerns shouldn't apply to exiles' descendents, argues
Garcia. "We're not foreigners. We're Spanish."

Still, the organization she heads does hope for one form of special
treatment. Spain's civil code requires potential citizens to swear an
oath of loyalty to both the constitution and the King. But the
Descendants of Exile Association sees the latter requirement as
"ideological coercion" that restricts freedom of expression, and is
asking that it not apply to the citizenship process. "After all," she
says, "our parents and grandparents were Republicans.",8599,1868934,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

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