Once Spaniards looked across el charco (the pond) for refuge. Now traffic is expected to go the other way after Spain passed a law granting citizenship to the grandchildren of people exiled under the Franco dictatorship.
Lawyers and consulates in central and South America say they have been inundated with inquiries after the passing of the democratic memory law, which seeks “to settle Spanish democracy’s debt to its past”. It is estimated that as many as 700,000 people could be eligible for citizenship under the law, which passed the upper house of parliament on 5 October and came into effect on 21 October.
It goes much further than similar legislation in 2007, which offered citizenship to some offspring of Spanish exiles, with about 70,000 Latin Americans becoming Spanish citizens.
Between the end of the civil war in 1939 and the approval of the democratic constitution in 1978, an estimated 2 million Spaniards fled the regime.
The exodus began when nearly 500,000 people escaped across the border to France in the dying days of the civil war. A column hundreds of miles long of terrified civilians, mainly women, children and older people, walked across the Pyrenees in freezing weather and under constant bombardment, abandoning their few possessions en route.
Once in France they faced a hostile reception and thousands were sent to concentration camps, where many died.
Between 1939 and 1942 an estimated 25,000 Spaniards, among them many artists and intellectuals, fled to Mexico, where they were welcomed.
The historian Henry Kamen, in The Disinherited, his history of Spanish exile, wrote: “The emigration of the greater part of the cultural elite between 1936 and 1939 was wholly unprecedented. Taken together with the massive exodus of refugees from the civil war, it represented a truly momentous event in the country’s history.”