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Franco regime: Franco’s tyranny against railroad workers | Culture



In 2011, a team of forensic anthropologists uncovered a 30-meter-long chain of graves in Gumiel de Izán, Burgos. Due to the profession of most of the 59 victims buried there, the place was dubbed “the railroad workers’ grave.” They had been murdered by squads of the fascist party Falange in 1936 and buried by street sweepers from Aranda de Duero. Ten years on, Public Works Minister José Luis Ábalos and the president of Spain’s state-owned railway operator Renfe, Isaías Táboas, have set up a website – – and released a film called, Los hijos del hierro (or The children of steel) which documents the tyranny of the Francisco Franco dictatorship towards its enemies forced to work in this sector.

Exhumation of what is known as the so-called “railroad workers’ grave” in Gumiel de Izán, Burgos, in 2011.
Exhumation of what is known as the so-called “railroad workers’ grave” in Gumiel de Izán, Burgos, in 2011.ÓSCAR RODRÍGUEZ

Eighty-eight percent of the rail workforce, amounting to around 90,000 people, were targeted by purging committees. The Franco regime went so far as to create a specific police force that infiltrated companies in order to spy on the railroad workers and detect possible enemies. “The objective,” explains historian Miguel Muñoz, author of several investigations on repression in the sector, was “to annihilate the unions and place the workers in a situation of permanent terror.” Those suspected of being enemies of the regime were not only removed from their trade, but also murdered, executed after being sentenced to death, imprisoned, used as slave labor and forced into exile. The website contains an exhaustive database with files on the reprisals, including those against at least 4,592 women. The film, which can be seen on Renfe’s YouTube channel, takes its title from a piece of writing poet Miguel Hernández published, under a pseudonym, in 1937 as a tribute to the railway workers.

Files on the purge of railway workers during Franco’s regime.
Files on the purge of railway workers during Franco’s regime.

Researchers Francisco Polo, Miguel Muñoz, Fernando Mendiola and Carlos Hernández all participated in the documentary, explaining the multiple methods of repression used by the Franco regime against railway workers such as Antonio Sin, José Báscones, Luis Miguel Martín Montoliu, Paqui Chaves or the former coach of Spain’s national soccer team, Vicente del Bosque, as well as their relatives.

Flavio Báscones worked as a brakeman for the Railway Company. He was a member of both the UGT union and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and had been elected mayor in Mataporquera, Cantabria. The website states that during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) he dug trenches and fought to defend his town, but finally had to go into exile in France with his family, where he remained until his death. His son José remembers his journey into exile from Matarporquera to Ribadesella and from there to Gijón: “They bombed the cinema where we had taken refuge, we couldn’t breathe from the dust,” he recalls. Then to Bordeaux, by train to Girona where, he says “we ate lettuce that we picked from the vegetable plots, pine nuts from the pine forests;” then to Lloret del Mar, and from there to Paris and to the Belgian city of Liège, where he was reunited with his parents in March 1940, before settling definitively in France to live through his second war. “That generation suffered a lot,” says Vicente del Bosque whose father, Fermín – also a railway worker – was imprisoned in Salamanca and Vitoria.

Francisco Chaves was murdered in Torremejía. “He was a track and works foreman,” says his granddaughter Paqui. “The Francoists took him and killed him. They shot him and left him lying in a ditch. There was no trial. His death certificate says ‘Dead due to the war’.”

Antonio Sin was sentenced to death. He spent eight months waiting for his execution, recalls his son Antonio. After eight months, the sentence was commuted in exchange for agreeing to a transfer to the Bustarviejo penal colony in Madrid, where he worked, with almost 1,000 other prisoners on the Madrid-Burgos railroad. The families of many inmates settled right across the street, in stone shacks they built themselves. “That was our home, in the countryside,” says Antonio. His mother, who was a teacher, taught the children of the other prisoners.

A group of workers on the Madrid-Irun line in 1944.
A group of workers on the Madrid-Irun line in 1944. Vicente Garrido Moreno

The penal colonies were always located near large construction sites and it was the bosses of the contracting companies themselves who went to the prisons to select the healthiest, strongest workers. When they were released, many of the prisoners continued working for the same company because their sentences always included an order of exile, meaning they could not return to their homes. Antonio Sin was among those who continued working on the lines.

From 1938, prisoners of war and political prisoners were used in various railway works to repair what had been destroyed by the war or to build new infrastructure. Until 1940, the number of forced laborers exceeded 9,000. During the last months of the Spanish Civil War, railroad work accounted for 7.1% of the work done by prisoners. The numbers remained close to 3,000 until 1945; during the 1950s, they dropped to below 500.

A team of archaeologists led by Alfredo Ruibal from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) excavated the Bustarviejo penal colony in 2007 to document the lives of the prisoners and their families. The complex has now been restored and set up as a place of memory.

Milagros Montoya, in 2007, next to the remains of the shack in which she lived while her father was imprisoned in the Bustarviejo penal colony.
Milagros Montoya, in 2007, next to the remains of the shack in which she lived while her father was imprisoned in the Bustarviejo penal colony. ULY MARTÍN

“We tried to close a dark chapter in our history too quickly… We were wrong”

The Transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy was criticized by Public Works Minister José Luis Ábalos at the presentation of the new website and documentary. “Memory hurts, but it is healing,” he said. “Certain sectors, whose link with fascism we must not stop denouncing, continue to rebel against it. Repression is not the worst legacy of terrible dictatorships such as the one we were subjected to. What really annihilates us as a society is oblivion and silence. The political reasons for this do not escape us. We tried to close a dark chapter in our history too quickly in order to embrace democracy. We naively believed that reconciliation meant not looking back, but we were wrong. In order to avoid seeing the open wounds, we were unjust. It is only by examining the past that we will be able to have a dignified future. This is the main lesson we have learned. It is time for the victims of Francoism and their families to stop footing the bills for our democracy.”

The national railway union and UGT poster from 1937.
The national railway union and UGT poster from 1937.

Describing “the children of steel” in his 1937 book, poet Miguel Hernández wrote: “Greased and muscular as axles or engines, they carry traces of smoke on their foreheads, and on their skin the pure footprints that work leaves with its powerful horse hooves. They look like burnt ore, running through loyal Spain from end to end, heroic and swift under enemy bombardment. Their muscles tremble like machines, and like machines they do not mind rolling relentlessly through these days in which the freedom of Spain depends on the effort of every Spaniard.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture



Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds



Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal



CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.

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