The day Argentina vetoed the entry into the country of 970 children between 4 and 12 years old: the reasons for a secret circular.


Issued in Buenos Aires more than half a century ago and addressed to all our diplomatic representations in the world.

Its text is an alert to all consuls: a visa cannot be granted to any of the foreigners on the list. What is striking is the age of the victims of this right of non-admission. The challenge began unexpectedly. A consular file folder contains a Secret Circular issued in Buenos Aires addressed to all Argentine representations around the world. Its text is an alert in which all consuls are told that a visa to enter Argentina cannot be granted to any of the 970 people of Spanish nationality who appear on a list: Fastened to the circular, is the printed list . 

The Circular is from 1957.The consuls read carefully and follow the instructions. Each consulate has a jurisdiction in which it must operate and if one of those mentioned on the list appears, it must deny the visa and inform you. The Circular was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Argentine Republic.

From quick Googling it emerges that the names of those discriminated against and prohibited entry were children between four and twelve years old who had been taken to the port of Bilbao, Spain, in 1937, after the city was bombed. There were thousands, whose parents, to save them, boarded ships that took them to London, France, Belgium and Moscow.

Eternal goodbyes.

There is still the memory of a mother who tells another daughter, while greeting her brothers from the dock: you should not cry; On top of that, they suffer from having to leave... He doesn't want to add more fear to them. The 970 names, surnames and passport numbers that appear printed on the sheets attached to the secret circular are a part of the children who had to embark, specifically heading to Moscow, in the middle of the Civil War in Spain. Twenty-one years later, after insistent pressure from their families at the United Nations, many who wanted to return to Spain. They were already between 24 and 32 years old. It was this story that motivated us to know what material related to the war is available in the archive of the Argentine Foreign Ministry, before returning to the refugee children of the Spanish war.

El archivo.

The archive on the Civil War in Spain is housed in 17 metal boxes. They contain sheets written as the events occur and most of them are presumed unpublished. They interest students, researchers, teachers, academics and journalists. Also to Spaniards and descendants who were part of that diaspora and who today live in different parts of the world. Some may find in these papers a trace of their near past.

Addressing this war archive so many years later allows us to know the most hopeful and reiterated claims transmitted by the communications. Also the saddest and most tragic. They reveal something about the position and attitude of our authorities and those of other countries in the face of events that generated extreme desperation. These are handwritten and official letters, telegrams on letterhead with the printed ticker tapes glued to the paper. And the newspaper clippings, everything to get an idea of ​​a timeline and see the real events as they were being experienced.

Those who ask, those who transmit the requests and those who resolve them, or not, follow one another page by page. In war, everyone who can asks. They are particular and public situations written on their original paper. The inhumanity and humanity of the moment. Reports about bombings and shootings. Writings requesting steps to transmit requests for clemency. The telegrams instruct consuls to find out something about the whereabouts of certain people or families, for which they transcribe names, surnames and possible addresses. An Argentine diplomatic official with safe conduct had to go out to find out. There are letters with requests for clemency taken to official offices crossing the city under the roar of bombs and various controls. Number of letters from parents, Spanish citizens residing in Argentina, who ask that something be done for their son recruited to go to war

.The archive folders have the titles on their covers: Revolution, Repatriations, Citizenship Certifications, Claim for furniture and real estate, Request for ship detention (crews change flag), The right to Asylum, Argentine initiative before Latin American governments, Information from the newspaper Crítica related to the transport of weapons on Nazi ships with the Argentine flag, Information received from the consulates, Deposit of money, jewelry and valuables in the Argentine Embassy in Madrid, Press clippings.

General Francisco Franco carried out the coup d'état in July 1936. Our country recognized him as an authority at the end of February 1939. The archive reflects what was preserved on paper from the time during which the war was suffered. There are more than 60 files and 53 files that exceed 14,000 pages. Spain 1936. The war begins In the month of July, when the war broke out, the headquarters of the Argentine embassy in Madrid, as usual, had moved to a summer resort. It was a remnant of monarchical Spain, although the Republic had existed five years before. The accredited diplomatic corps, heads of mission and ambassadors, attached to established habits and forms of relationship, moved the representations to the seaside resort of San Sebastián in the Basque Country every summer.

From the first days, ambassador Daniel García Mansilla provided asylum in his residence to sympathizers of white Spain (republican sympathizers were called red Spain). A few weeks later he moved to Ciboure, a small French town near the border and maintained regular communication with the chancellor. On October 31, 1936, he wrote: "I will try to help and save some people from both sides, who at the end of the day are all Spanish and there is nothing more unpleasant than a civil war." García Mansilla is not isolated and has very good information about everything that is happening, although he will not return to Spain. The embassy will be in charge of a Chargé d'Affaires.

There are many consulates that go into emergency. The one from Gijón is one of those that reports regularly. The list he transcribed - asking for more funds - of 136 Argentine citizens who received food from this consulate may give an idea of ​​what things were like.

These are years in which the Argentine position in international politics is attended with relevance and interest in decision-making places in the western part of the world. The Nobel Prize recently awarded to Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas reflects some of this. In those weeks, Franklin Roosevelt, president of the United States, arrived at the port of Buenos Aires to attend a conference of countries.

That same year, 1936, the war between Bolivia and Paraguay began to close. To achieve this, a union of countries was formed that carried out the negotiations in the offices and on the battlefields. It was made up of Argentina, the USA, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.

The newspapers of the time commented that Argentina was the first country to manage to remove its asylum seekers from Spain. Dozens of people who had received the protection of the Argentine embassy in Madrid, left the headquarters and boarded trucks that took them to the train station in January 1937. There is a dialogue and a negotiation that prospers with the authorities of the government of the Republic. They were months of fear. In a Madrid controlled by republican forces, some renowned fascists find refuge in the Argentine embassy. At night there is a bad rest, many people sleep on mattresses on the floor while the militia guard can be heard on the sidewalk. There were fears that the embassy would be taken over and that everyone would be shot. A secret cable will report that eighteen Colt pistols were stored in the building's safe.

From the terminal station, the refugees traveled by train to the city of Alicante. There they embarked on a specially chartered Argentine military ship that transported them to the French port of Marseille where they were safe. There was also solidarity evacuation for Uruguayans, Chileans and Bolivians. The reports from the captains of the cruise ship 25 de Mayo and the torpedo boat Tucumán inform the names and surnames of the people when they are far away and safe. In the first five months of 1937, there were 1,527 evacuations by sea of ​​Argentines, Spaniards and other Latin Americans. It is more difficult to establish the number of safe passages that were given among all the consulates for those who crossed to Portugal and France by land. Two more pieces of information that help make assessments of that reality and that context. One is the printed book that contains the Report of the Chancellery to the National Congress (1937-1938) and mentions all the consulates, vice consulates and honorary consuls with their respective names, and the addresses of the offices where they can appeal. There are 46 Argentine representations existing throughout Spain, including its islands. The other is the internal organizational chart transcribed in the Report. It shows the Chancellery divided into four large sections (ministerial cabinet, general secretariat, administration and investigations, archive and propaganda). The General Secretariat has two Divisions, one Political and the other Economic. The policy has one called America, and another America, neighboring countries. The economic one is repeated the same, with the exception that there is a specific additional area called "British Empire".

A political report that stands out.

Meanwhile, a historical document with direct references to the origins, facts and consequences, it is worth stopping at a Report on the Spanish political situation prepared by a career diplomat. He emphasizes that his vision is unilateral, limited to the political and social, reflecting the most current ideas... within the varied mosaic of the Popular Front. Avoiding topics related to military operations, since it does not have reliable authentic news or copies of foreign press.

Felipe Chiappe is 48 years old and has studied at the University of Buenos Aires, first in medicine and then in a diplomatic career. He knew Madrid since he had been stationed there in 1913. While serving at the Argentine embassy in Rome in that European spring of 1937, the Argentine chancellor of the time ordered him to take temporary charge of the embassy in Spain. Madrid remained the epicenter of the clashes and all the embassies and the government itself had already moved to the city of Valencia.

His report is an elaborate 21-page reflection, separated by seven subtitles, in which he demonstrates high interest, sensitivity and analysis, even more so if we consider that his stay in charge of the embassy was just 78 days. His writing adds relevant historical information that helps to understand something about how that moment came to be.

It is signed on May 25, 1937. Chiappe tries to put the data and arguments most weightable to him, distributing reasons and responsibilities, on a two-plate scale. Highlights and transcribes a verbatim paragraph from the founding speech of the deputy and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, calling for the constitution in 1931 of a national republican party. Ortega says there that Spain was forced to shake off the foreign body of the Monarchy, reduced for many years to being a society of mutual aid, which did not represent a minimum portion of the Nation, and were: the big capitals, the high hierarchy of the Army, the aristocracy of blood and the Church.

The constituent courts voted on the Fundamental Law of the Republic in December 1931. Chiappe transcribes article 1: "Spain is a democratic Republic of workers of all kinds that is organized in a regime of freedom and justice..." Before a year passes The first military uprising breaks out. New courts were elected in 1933, forming a majority that was more representative of the parliamentary tradition of the Monarchy than of the new style of a Republic. Until the dissolution of these courts in January 1936, it was not possible to prepare a State Budget Law, and no less than 23 political crises occurred. Chiappe indicates that the precepts of the 1931 constitution could not be a living letter during the five years due to the obstruction of right-wing elements and due to the impatience and irreducibility of the demands of the labor organizations that many times exceeded the possibilities of the economy. It identifies the culminating moment of the civil war when Italy and Germany recognized as legitimate the government installed in the city of Burgos under the command of Francisco Franco.

The report indicates that the era of terror in the cities culminated shortly before he arrived, in the last months of 1936, and from then on it began a war of positions.

He transcribes a dramatic infidelity that the Minister of Defense of the Republic, Indalecio Prieto, made to him when he interviewed him in those days of May 1937: "There are so many atrocities committed by the uncontrollable masses that the government itself had to arm and which was then powerless. to dominate, so cruel were the reprisals of the forces and authorities dependent on Franco, those of the phalanges and requetés, so deep was the abyss undermined by hatred between those who fought on both sides, so much was the blood shed that "Several generations of Spaniards will not be enough for the words reconciliation and oblivion to recover their meaning again."

The end of the war

On February 9, 1939, the President of the Republic, Manuel Azaña crossed the French border on foot. All of Catalonia had fallen. Peace, Pity and Forgiveness are the words of cry that he spoke and that remember him. A week later, on February 15, the consul in Barcelona announced by letter "the triumphal entry of the nationalist troops into this city." And he added: "It is in the atmosphere, and in all circles it would be welcomed, for the Argentine Republic to go ahead of other countries in recognizing General Franco (...) for better spiritual and commercial ties between the two peoples."

The following week, the same consul receives a telegram and letter with instructions from the Government House of Buenos Aires. The telegram had been sent from Laboulaye, Córdoba. Once again they were family, friends and neighbors who were members of the Spanish Aid Committee who asked for "help from our government to children, women and elderly refugees in France."

On February 27, France and Great Britain formally recognized Franco's government. During those same days Argentina too. Consul Achával was ordered to travel to France to attend to the needs of the refugees. From there, he writes to the chancellor and tells him that he witnesses with some sadness the collapse of the Government and Army of the Republic, whose leaders, except in a few moments, have risen to the occasion. Letter from the concentration camp. The requests of national deputies for specific cases continue to be attended to by the chancellery. The embassy reported in July 1939 that according to what could be found, they knew nothing about the Argentine citizen Marcos Aurelio Sinigaglia in the Inspection of Prisoner Concentration Camps. An Argentine deputy writes saying that it must be an error since Sinigaglia wrote, from Spain, to his family in Bahía Blanca.

A letter included in the file, dated August 3, 1939, dated in the San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp, signed by Sinigaglia and addressed to his brother, says that he is indeed in the company of sixty fellow citizens (Argentines) "pending the interest that they take in our fate." And he adds: "I think that Dr. Ortiz (president of the nation) has been interested in us." Sinigaglia, 27 years old, originally from Villarino, Buenos Aires, had enlisted in the Army of the Republic - says another report -, was part of the Franco-Belgian brigade, and was taken prisoner in April of that same year. In 1940 he was released.


The story told at the beginning, and which gave rise to interest in knowing the documents available from the time, is known and was disclosed not so many years ago in a documentary film titled The Children of Russia.

An eloquent description of the circumstances that existed in the city of Bilbao in those days can be found in a moving document: the president of the Basque Country sends a telegram to the Argentine president on June 13, 937: "For 75 more days of 100 German and Italian planes with Moroccan mercenary groups and the regular army of those countries are dedicated to the destruction of towns and villages and the extermination of their inhabitants... we believed that in the face of the universal emotion awakened by the horrific bombing of Durango and Guernica there would be stop the exterminating anger of our people protected by the inexplicable complicity of international conversations in which nations that call themselves democratic and protectors of the noblest human feelings appear involved... the Basque people who from time immemorial have been distinguished by their patient and very industriousness that has been the cradle of the oldest democracy in the world, contemplates with amazement the concert of nations that call themselves civilized, apparently conspiring to exterminate it with some soldiers who revolted against those who were trying to defend their right to respect their patriarchal democracy, their freedom, their customs and their ancient language continue with ever greater viciousness, destroying cities and villages, machine-gunning women and children, shooting priests, raping women...and so that nothing is missing in this picture of horror and terrible injustices, the Bilbao cemetery has been bombed with unprecedented viciousness. and it intends to become another cemetery for all of Bilbao where the Basque people who are still alive have taken refuge... so much crime, why and for what? I ask in horror to the world that calls itself civilized what is intended with so much crime and if there is not a breath of humanity in the universal conscience to prevent the most frightening injustice in memory in the history of the world from being consumed, greet him carefully. signature: president of the Euzkadi government"

A large part of those children who were saved from the bombings and traveled to Moscow, over the years went to work in the arms factories of the Soviet Union. As soon as they returned to Spain, when they were between 26 and 33 years old, both the Franco government and the US intelligence services presumed that many of them could be spies in the service of the KGB, for which they were extensively investigated. . At the time of their return, the American Intelligence Center (CIA) interviewed and interrogated them one by one. The government of our country at that time supported the hypothesis that they were spies, and for that reason issued the Circular Secret No. 64 of 1957 and No. 4 of 1958 that give rise to this note. Some time later, when it was found that those Spanish adults were returning from Moscow only to reunite with their families, both circulars were repealed.

Franco's dictatorship lasted until his death in 1975.

By Marcos Lohlé