Exile “grandchildren” in Americas mobilizing to claim Spanish citizenship

By Beatriz Diaz

Americas Desk, Mar 1 (EFE).- “I was born to two exiled Spaniards in Venezuela who, at the time of my birth, had lost their nationality,” Fanny Pujol told EFE, adding that now she – like hundreds of thousands of descendants of Spaniards in Latin America – is trying to get Spanish citizenship for her children via Spain’s recently enacted Democratic Memory Law (LMD).

When Pujol thought that at last she had the chance to provide Spanish citizenship for her children, with Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law, she ran up against the obstacle that only people younger than 18 were eligible, and thus her young daughter could acquire it but not her older twins, so she preferred that none of them receive it at that time.

“I didn’t want there to be differences among my three children,” she said, although now she feels that “justice has been done.”

The difficulty she faced was remedied with the new law that “corrects the gaps” left by the 2007 law, Spain’s ambassador to Venezuela, Ramon Santos, said at an event last week at which he bestowed Spanish nationality on 71 Venezuelans living in the South American country.

The LMD, known as the “grandchildren law” and approved by the Spanish Parliament last October, allows the descendants of people exiled during Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war and during the 1939-1975 Francisco Franco dictatorship to obtain Spanish nationality.

The differences with the earlier law allow citizenship to be applied for by the children and grandchildren of Spaniards who lost their citizenship due to their exile (Attachment I), the children of Spanish women who renounced their nationality by marrying non-Spaniards (Attachment II) and the adult children of Spaniards whose nationality was recognized in accord with the Historical Memory Law (Attachment III).

The Spanish Justice Ministry is tasked with receiving the nationality requests but, at present, officials tell EFE that they don’t have any figures on how many requests have been made because of the short time since the law was approved, although the Foreign Ministry (MAEC) confirmed to EFE that it is going to strengthen the system and increase the personnel at the country’s consulates abroad to handle the requests.

In the countries where Spaniards resettled after leaving Spain, the forecast is that citizenship requests will skyrocket, as has been the case in Cuba, where consular officials told EFE that between 200,000 and 300,000 people may claim Spanish citizenship, although they acknowledged that it is difficult estimate how many will do so.

They said that the largest group of petitioners will be adult children of people who obtained Spanish citizenship under the Historical Memory Law, given that they did not automatically receive Spanish nationality unlike, for instance, their minor siblings.

To deal with this anticipated wave of requests, the consulate expects to increase the services it offers at its second office in Havana, where they are planning to hire about 20 workers and open more windows where the requests can be processed.

Meanwhile, requests are increasing in Mexico, where estimates are that about 20,000 Spaniards arrived during and after the Spanish civil war, making it one of the countries that received the most exiles.

According to diplomatic sources, during the first four months after the new law entered into force thousands of requests for Spanish citizenship have been received and citizenship documents have already begun being delivered to the new Spanish citizens.

Officials at the consular office told EFE that “the system is not saturated” because new space has been set aside where people can make their requests and “additional professionals (have been hired) to process the requests.”

At Spain’s consulate in Buenos Aires, which is home to the largest number of exiled Spaniards in the world – about 350,000 – some 42,600 have been given appointments to apply for citizenship since the LMD was approved, Consul General Fernando Garcia Casas said.

Of those, citizenship has already been granted to about 2,000, and to deal with the ongoing demand, expectations are that “in the coming months,” the consul said, between 15 and 20 new workers will be hired, to add to the 78 workers already on staff, to process the requests.

Each day between 1,000 and 1,200 people come to the consulate for various reasons, the system of scheduling appointments helps avoid what happened with the Historical Memory Law when there were people “who spent the night in the street” waiting to get into the consulate, and that provides “dignity and quality attention to the citizen,” Garcia Casas said.

In Chile, the LMD is having a similar effect to that of the earlier law, with 1,135 citizenship requests having been received since the law went into effect, of which 996 are categorized under Attachment III and 139 under Attachment I, according to figures provided to EFE by the Spanish consulate.

“The number of requests is expected to increase considerably starting in April with the incorporation of new hirees already approved by the MAEC. We’ll be able to almost double the number of daily appointments,” officials said.

According to official figures, Chile in 1939 took in 2,200 exiled Spaniards, specifically 1,160 men, 540 women and 500 children, all of them arriving on board the Winnipeg, a vessel chartered by then-consul and later Chilean Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda and which set sail on Aug. 4, 1939 from the French port of Poullac and arrived a month later in Valparaiso.

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