Yguarina Brito gets “her hair on end” as she talks excitedly about the history of her maternal family, a part of her past that she met just a few years ago. Her grandmother, María Dolores, always mentioned that her uncle had been disappeared since she was very young in the municipality of Arucas, in Gran Canaria, where they come from. His name was Tomás Velázquez Morales and according to the register of reprisals published by the association for the recovery of the historical memory of this municipality (the first established in the Canary Islands) he is one of the more than 60 people of whom there is a record with name and surname who have been missing since the Francoist coup d’état. These are men who were taken from their homes and their jobs by force and whose families never heard from them again until, years later, the exhumations and the struggle of the families brought their stories to light.
Archaeologists descend through the volcanic tube of the Sima de Jinámar in search of reprisals from Francoism
Very little information is known about Tomás Velázquez. His family lost him when he was barely 20 years old, but Yguarina’s grandmother used to remember him as a day laborer from Arucas (although she did not specify which landowners he worked for) and that one day “they took him away and he never appeared again.” Over the years, they only had a picture of him, a tie and a union card. His whereabouts remain unknown like that of so many other men and, although his grandmother always said that she believed he was in the Sima de Jinámar (a volcanic tube through which victims of Francoism were thrown after being shot and where it is intended to carry out the exhumation of the mortal remains found there), there are also other points in Arucas pending exhumation, such as the Barranco de Arucas well or the Vuelta del Francés well.
Yguarina Brito Castellano points out that after some time searching for information and trying to carry out DNA tests to be able to compare them with other mortal remains that have already been located in the wells of Arucas and Tenoya, she is very hopeful after she has already managed to give that step and the tests have been carried out at the Institute of Legal Medicine. In the last well exhumed in 2019, the father of the founder of the association for the recovery of the historical memory of Arucas, Pino Sosa, the tinsmith of the neighborhood of Las Chorreras José Sosa, was located. However, the mortal remains of 14 people were located and a total of seven were identified, leaving several unidentified.
For Yguarina Brito “it is very important that the reality of what happened in those years is known.” She recalls that rescuing these people from oblivion is very important for progress towards justice, truth and reparation. “What remains of my life I will continue searching,” says this 38-year-old, determined to find her great-granduncle. Since he found out that this story had happened in his family, he has documented and contacted different associations of historical memory, such as Arucas or the platform of relatives of the Fusilados de San Lorenzo, where he has found a great support for Francisco González, whose grandfather, a trade unionist with the same name, was shot along with the mayor of the then municipality of San Lorenzo and buried in the mass grave in Vegueta.
The great-niece of Tomás Velázquez explains that a few years ago her mother attended a tribute that was being held to the victims of reprisals and that a man in his 80s approached and said he was Velázquez’s son. The family did not know until that moment that the missing uncle had had a son and affirms that they would like to contact him, since since then they have not heard from him, says Yguarina Brito. “He was only one or two years old when his father disappeared,” she points out. In addition, she adds that he has recently recorded his and his mother’s testimony on video so that the historical memory association saves it for posterity and the history of his family is not lost.
Towards the DNA bank and the exhumation of more points
From the Ministry of Public Administrations and Justice of the Government of the Canary Islands, they recall that one of their objectives in terms of Historical Memory is the regulation of the DNA bank, which is pending completion. Currently, there is a database in the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML) in which the comparison of samples can be requested if there is sufficient evidence, although not yet randomly until the order is regulated and coordinated with the Democratic Memory Law, which is still being processed in Congress. At the moment, there is already an exhumation protocol and it is intended to move towards the regularization of said DNA bank and in the Strategic Plan for Historical Memory of the Canary Islands, in which you can still participate until June 17.
Relatives of victims of the repression have also shown their interest in carrying out exhumations in other places such as Fuencaliente, in La Palma or two more wells in Arucas. Next week the Historical Memory technical commission will also meet to analyze the catalog of Francoist vestiges of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and an agreement has recently been signed with the ULL to finalize the study of the entire Archipelago.
In this week, in addition, the Cabildo de Gran Canaria announced the discovery of a point where the mortal remains of the reprisals of the Franco regime thrown into the Sima de Jinámar could be found, after a group of archaeologists descended through the tube to study a possible future intervention. Regarding these interventions, Yguarina Brito considers that if these mortal remains are located and finally exhumed, it would be great news for families who have been waiting for many years to locate their loved ones, but she remains cautious since on other occasions , as in the case of the mass grave in Vegueta, it was not finally exhumed because the technical report concluded that it was not viable. A conclusion that was rejected by relatives, as is the case of Paco González. In addition, both consider that all families should have been invited to the last descent.
The archaeologists who recently descended this volcanic tube expressed that it is “very likely” that most of these human remains are accumulated in the last demolition before reaching the bottom, where the garbage and the remains of animals that have been thrown are concentrated. to the top As reported by the Cabildo, it is possible that they are two meters or two and a half meters below the current surface.
It is not the first time that someone descends through this volcanic tube. In 2017, the documentary La Sima del Olvido was released in which Professor José Monzón Gil recounts his experience descending through this tube. A work with which he intended, in addition to shedding light on this stage of history, to guide experts in future descents. In this documentary he recounts that in the hole there is also a lot of garbage that has been thrown in recent years. Before him, the speleologist Jesús Cantero also managed to descend in the 1960s, who narrates his experience in that documentary. He tells how on each descent (about 14 that he made in total) he did it with the utmost respect to avoid distorting the reality of the place. The skull with a bullet wound that is preserved in the Canary Museum and that was extracted from this Sima was also remembered in that work. These descents also made it possible to banish the myth that the Sima connected with the sea and that the corpses ended up in the water.