EXHUMATION OF FRANCO

Franco family: “The only alternative is that he stay in the Valley of the Fallen”

Grandchildren of the Spanish dictator say they will fight to rebury his body in the landmark La Almudena cathedral if they cannot stop the exhumation

Artist Tenreiro splatters red paint on the tomb of Francisco Franco.
Artist Tenreiro splatters red paint on the tomb of Francisco Franco.Pedro Armestre / EL PAÍS

The family of Francisco Franco says it is willing to use all legal means at its disposal to stop the exhumation of the Spanish dictator’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen monument, located northwest of Madrid. If these measures fail, the family said it will rebury his body in La Almudena, a centrally located cathedral that attracts thousands of tourists every year.

“The only alternative to La Almudena is for him to stay in the Valley of the Fallen,” Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina, the lawyer representing Franco’s seven grandchildren, told EL PAÍS.

The family warns they are willing to take the case to court if the government decides to act unilaterally

This, however, would be disastrous for the Socialist Party (PSOE) government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, given that the dictator’s remains would be moved from a location more than 50 kilometers from the center of Madrid, to the center of the city itself.

But Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo announced on Tuesday that Franco would not be buried in La Almudena after meeting on Monday with the secretary of state for the Vatican, Pietro Parolin.

“[The archbishop of Madrid] Cardinal Osoro said that he was not in favor [of him going to La Almudena], and we agreed [with the Vatican] to work together to find a solution that obviously does not include [La Almudena],” Calvo explained.

The exhumation of Franco was green-lighted by Congress thanks to a change to the Historical Memory Law, legislation originally passed by the PSOE administration of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and aimed at closing the wounds left behind by the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the subsequent Franco dictatorship.

On Tuesday, Calvo explained that the government would use that law to ensure that Franco does not end up in the landmark Madrid cathedral.

But Utrera-Molina is optimistic the Franco family will have the final say. According to the lawyer, a statement from the Vatican, released on Tuesday in direct response to the deputy prime minister’s comments, is favorable to the family’s interests. It reads: “Cardinal Pietro Parolin does not oppose the exhumation of Francisco Franco, if the competent authorities have decided to do that, but at no time did he make a statement about the place of burial.”

Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina, lawyer for Franco family

According to the lawyer, the “competent authority” in this case is Santiago Carrera, the prior of the Valley of the Fallen monument, who is against the exhumation plans. The family and Utrera-Molina warn they are willing to “exhaust all avenues” and take the case to court if the government decides to act unilaterally.

Utrera-Molina says he sees little threat in the government’s plans to use the Historical Memory Law to stop Franco’s burial at La Almudena. He claims the government is “putting a bandage on before the injury and cannot ban a family from burying its dead or dictate a law solely against the Franco family because this is not allowed by the Constitution.”

Utrera-Molina says burying Franco’s remains in La Almudena cathedral “has nothing to do with turning the temple into a mausoleum just because people pray there or because there is a plaque with his name on it.” He added that he does not believe the government will enforce a law to “ban praying or putting a flower on Franco’s tomb,” describing such an action as “absurd” and one that cannot be considered to exalt or incite the Franco regime.

No negotiation

Although the Holy See recommended dialogue to solve the dispute, Utrera-Molina maintains that the government has made no official or serious contact with the family. After Sánchez promised to remove Franco’s remains “soon,” there was an indirect attempt to open a dialogue between the secretary general of the Heritage department and one of Franco’s grandsons. According to the lawyer, the government representative said they were in charge of carrying out the exhumation and asked the grandson for details but did not negotiate anything.

The lawyer says the family has spoken “recently and at the highest levels” with the head of the Catholic Church in Spain. Utrera-Molina maintains that at no point has the church suggested the family agree to rebury Franco’s remains at a different location. “They have not said anything at all to the family because of course they have every right to bury him in a vault on their property.”

The Franco family bought a crypt “in perpetuity” underneath La Almudena cathedral, and that is where the remains of the former dictator’s only daughter, Carmen Franco, were buried in 2017.

Vandalism in the Valley

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over the exhumation of Franco, Galician artist Enrique Tenreiro daubed the tomb of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco with paint on Wednesday morning, drawing a dove and writing the phrase “for freedom” using bright red paint.

“I decided to carry out an artistic action consisting of drawing a dove of peace on Franco’s tomb,” Terneiro told journalist Pedro Armestre, who caught the incident on video. “I am not trying to harm the family nor his followers, what I want is a space of freedom,” he added.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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