FEATURE - Doubts rise over Spanish poet Lorca's remains

MADRID Thu Dec 17, 2009 7:17pm IST

MADRID (Reuters) - The barren, rocky hills of southern Spain have failed over months of digging to yield the remains of Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, whose 1936 killing became a symbol of a brutal civil war. Now, hope is fading his body will ever be found.

Accounting for around 100,000 still presumed dead and missing in the 1936-39 Civil War, mostly shot by right-wing supporters of Francisco Franco, still divides Spaniards. Few cases are as poignant, though, as that of of Garcia Lorca.

The poet's niece, Laura Garcia Lorca, has repeatedly said the family opposes the excavations, because they do not believe the findings will help heal old wounds.

Digging finally got under way in September this year after decades of delays due to political wrangling over the need for open discussion of teh war and, more recently, legal debate.

Surveys by the Geophysics Institute of the University of Granada located six possible burial sites, which have been covered by a tent measuring 20 metres by 10 to ensure secrecy.

Sources at the Justice Department of the southern regional government of Andalusia said just two sites remained to be investigated, but they declined to comment on what had been found so far. Media reports say no bodies have been uncovered.

"We shall wait to see what the scientists say in order to put an end to the speculation," the sources said, adding that a forensic report is expected on Dec. 29 or 30.

Garcia Lorca, known for works including his play "Blood wedding", was captured in August 1936 and shot for his suspected leftist sympathies by supporters of a military uprising which took place the previous month.

He is known to have been killed along with a teacher and two anarchists near the southern city of Granada.

Investigators are digging on a site where Irish author Ian Gibson was taken in 1966 by Manuel Castilla, who said he had helped to bury Garcia Lorca.

Media reports say the excavation has so far been fruitless and a recent book by Spaniard Miguel Pozo, based on interviews with the daughter of the man who detained Garcia Lorca, suggests that Castilla may simply have lied to Gibson.

Gibson told El Pais newspaper he was anxiously awaiting the outcome of the digging.

"I feel ill. I think of this all day. I fear for my mental health. It's been 45 years of my life," he said, but rejected charges Castilla had misled him.

"He had no reason to, he had nothing to gain. He wasn't my friend, he didn't ask me for money, and it was very risky for him to take me there when he did," Gibson said.

Gibson dismissed theories the Garcia Lorca family may have disinterred the body shortly after the poet's slaying, or that Franco supporters may have done so to avoid bad publicity.

"If they had moved the four bodies, some traces would have been left behind," he said.

POLITICALLY SENSITIVE

In contrast to post-dictatorship truth commissions conducted in its former colonies like Argentina and Chile, Spain's transition to democracy was built on studiously ignoring the bloodshed during the Civil War and subsequent dictatorship.

A High Court investigation into the disappeared was dropped last year after opponents cited a 1977 amnesty law; but regional courts were allowed to probe 19 suspected mass graves, including one alleged to hold Garcia Lorca's remains.

If the excavations fail to find Garcia Lorca's body and authorities give up the search, then lines from his poem "Fable of Three Friends", may turn out to have been prophetic.

"I understood they had murdered me...They roamed the cafes and cemeteries and churches, they opened barrels and wardrobes...They could no longer find me," the poem writes.

(Writing by Martin Roberts)

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