Spain moves dictator’s remains after 44 years

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The remains of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco are being moved from a vast mausoleum to a low-key grave, 44 years after his elaborate funeral.

Thursday’s long-awaited relocation fulfils a key pledge of the socialist government, which said Spain should not continue to glorify a fascist who ruled the country for nearly four decades.

His family unsuccessfully challenged the reburial in the courts.

The Franco era continues to haunt Spain, now a vibrant democracy.

Family members are present to witness the ceremony at the Valley of the Fallen, a national monument and basilica carved into a mountain about 50km (30 miles) from Madrid that was built in the Franco era.

The remains will be moved by helicopter.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the exhumation was “a great victory for dignity, memory, justice and reparation – and thus for Spanish democracy”.

Secluded ceremony
Only a few people are being allowed to attend the event, which is taking place under high security. They include the justice minister, an expert in forensics, a priest and 22 descendants of Francisco Franco. Media are excluded but more than 200 journalists are near the site.

As part of the ceremony, a crane will need to lift a concrete slab weighing 1,500kg that covers the coffin. In total, the exhumation and re-burial will cost about €63,000 (£54,000; $70,000).

Reason for moving the remains
The Valley of the Fallen houses more than 30,000 dead from both sides of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, in which Franco’s Nationalist forces defeated the Republican government.

It was partly built by political prisoners, whom Franco’s regime subjected to forced labour.

The site has been a focal point for Franco supporters and a shrine for the far right. Visitors were able to lay flowers and say prayers at the late dictator’s tomb.

The government wants the site to become “a place of commemoration, remembrance and homage to the victims of the war”. It sees the presence of Franco’s remains there as an affront to a mature democracy.

He is being moved to the El Pardo state cemetery in Madrid, where his wife is buried. The family is not allowed to drape the national flag on his coffin but have brought along the same flag that covered Franco’s coffin at his 1975 funeral.

 

Nneka Ukachukwu