Spanish dictator Franco's remains exhumed from state mausoleum

Elias Hubbard
October 25, 2019

"And it's taken us almost as long to remove its creator's remains from a place of public tribute", said Sánchez, speaking from La Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government, just hours after Franco's casket was transported from the Valley of the Fallen to the cemetery in the north of the Madrid region. And although the dictator's popularity has waned immensely, the exhumation has been criticized by Franco's relatives, Spain's three main right-wing parties and some members of the Catholic Church for opening old political wounds.

The government-ordered operation on Thursday is a momentous event for Spain and satisfies a decades-old desire of many in Spain who considered the vainglorious mausoleum that Franco built an affront to the tens of thousands who died in Spain's Civil War and his subsequent regime and to Spain's standing as a modern democratic state.

Relatives of late dictator Francisco Franco load his coffin into a funeral auto.

The exhumation and reburial will not put an end to Franco's legacy on Spain's political scene, since it comes just weeks ahead of the country's November 10 general election.

After his coffin was extracted from under marble slabs and two tons of granite, a brief prayer was said in line with a request from Franco's family before the coffin began its journey to its new resting place 57 kilometers away (35 miles).

Justice Minister, Dolores Delgado, was also due to be present.

Franco's family lost a legal battle to keep the dictator's remains in the Valley of the Fallen or have them taken to a family burial site in the Almudena Cathedral in Central Madrid.

Many of Franco's victims are buried in unmarked graves in the same mausoleum, which was carved out of a mountainside using convicts as part of the workforce, including political prisoners under Franco. Spaniards are divided over the exhumation, with 43 percent in favour of the move, 32.5 percent against and the rest undecided, according to a poll published this month in El Mundo daily.

Ordered by Mr Franco in 1940 to celebrate his "glorious (Catholic) crusade" against the "godless" Republicans, construction of the Valley of the Fallen lasted for nearly 20 years.

Around 500,000 people were killed in the 1936-1939 Civil War between Franco's nationalist rebels and left-wing Republicans.

While the Spanish and global press along with many others were keen to attend the exhumation, the Spanish government insisted it would be a private affair.

A 150m cross towers over the site which Mr Franco dedicated to "all the fallen" of the conflict in what he called a gesture of reconciliation.

Shortly after his death, in an effort to ease the transition to democracy, Spain passed a pact pardoning political crimes committed under Franco.

Once at the Mingorrubio cemetery, there will be a private service held at the family crypt, conducted by two priests chosen by Franco's descendants.

The Francisco Franco Foundation, which defends the dictator's memory, had called for supporters to protest outside the El Pardo cemetery on Thursday, but the demonstration was banned by the local authorities. In 2017, the parliament approved a non-binding motion calling for Franco's remains to be removed from the Valley of the Fallen, but it was ignored by the former conservative government of Mariano Rajoy.

The Historical Memory Law sought redress for the estimated 100,000 victims of his dictatorship.

It involves the removal of all symbols honouring Franco and requires the state to collaborate in the search for and exhumation of the mass graves of those who disappeared.

Rajoy, who governed from 2011 until 2018, proudly said his government never gave any money to apply this law.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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