MADRID – Spain’s parliament voted on Thursday in favor of exhuming the body of former military dictator Gen. Francisco Franco from a vast mausoleum complex located just north of Madrid.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the new measure was adopted thanks to the votes of all parliamentary groups with the exception of the conservative opposition Popular Party and Ciudadanos, who both abstained.
“We should have solved this a long time ago,” said Calvo. “However, with the creation of Spain’s Law of Historical Memory in 2007, the delay was unsustainable.”
She added that after 40 years of democracy in Spain, the anomaly of having Franco entombed in a vast, state-maintained monument was “an anomaly that required closure.”
Calvo said that peace was not possible without justice and it was “an atrocious aberration” that a dictator who seized power in a military uprising and waged a civil war against Spain’s democratic republican government should be buried in a monument alongside the bodies of those who opposed him and were his victims.
Calvo was critical of the PP and Ciudadanos for turning a blind eye to Franco’s brutal and internecine dictatorship.
For its part, Ciudadanos criticized the fact that the exhumation should be ordered by parliamentary decree, saying there was no need of such urgency given that Franco had been dead and buried for 43 years.
The business-friendly center-right party added that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was using the exhumation debate as a smokescreen to conceal his government’s weakness and incompetence.
The decree was approved in the lower chamber with 172 votes in favor, 164 abstentions and two votes against that were cast by two members of the PP who claimed they had voted in error.
The Spanish government had in August begun the process by modifying the Historic Memory Law, paving the way for an exhumation.
Franco’s body was buried in the vast memorial complex of El Valle de los Caídos, or Valley of the Fallen in English, a triumphalist mausoleum that was erected after Franco’s victory in the 1936-39 Civil War.
He later ruled Spain with an iron fist under a military dictatorship from 1939 until his death in 1975.
The exhumation of Franco’s body from the mausoleum will leave the government with the quandary of where to rebury it.
While there are proponents of burying Franco alongside his wife in a pantheon tomb outside the Pardo Palace where the dictator lived during his rule, others fear creating a new place of pilgrimage for far-right factions who are nostalgic for a hard-line regime.
“Given that this decision will not be universally welcomed, if this decree is actually implemented, the issue will then be to find a universally satisfactory resting place for the body,” said renowned historian and Hispanist, Paul Preston.
“Since any grave within Spain could simply replace the Valle de los Caídos as a place of pilgrimage for his supporters, there is a case for him to be buried at sea,” Preston added.
He said that as a young man, Franco’s naval ambitions were thwarted by the closure of the naval academy in the wake of the defeat against the United States in 1898.
“That failure to enter the navy would always weigh heavily on him,” Preston said. “In Salamanca, during the Civil War, it was known that the best way to please him or deflect his anger was to change the subject to naval matters,” Preston added.
He said that Franco had spent as much time as he could aboard his yacht “Azor,” wore an admiral’s uniform at every opportunity and, when visiting coastal cities, liked to arrive from the sea on board a warship.