Cries of ‘long live Franco!’ as remains of Spanish dictator exhumed

General’s body removed from state mausoleum and taken for reburial in cemetery near Madrid

After months of delays and legal obstacles, the body of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco has been exhumed from his controversial mausoleum.

On Thursday morning Franco's remains were removed from the Valley of the Fallen, a huge monument he had built in the mountains north of Madrid. They were flown by helicopter to Mingorrubio cemetery on the outskirts of the capital, where the dictator was reburied next to his wife, Carmen Polo.

The Socialist acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, whose government organised the exhumation, described the dictator’s presence in the mausoleum as a “moral affront” and an “anomaly” that had to end.

“Today we pay tribute to all the previous generations,” he said after the exhumation. “And with our thoughts fixed on the future generations we proclaim that the banner of democracy and co-existence will always be flown in our country.”

The exhumation procedure was planned to the last detail, with tight security around the Valley of the Fallen and at Mingorrubio cemetery and restricted access for the media.

Twenty-two relatives of Franco were at the Valley of the Fallen for the exhumation, which began at 10.30am local time in the basilica drilled into the mountain where the dictator lay. A 1.5-tonne granite slab covering the tomb was removed from the floor, before Franco’s coffin was lifted out and carried onto the large esplanade outside by members of his family.

Some of his relatives shouted “Long live Franco!” as the coffin emerged.

Forced labour

The Valley of the Fallen has long been a divisive site that many believed glorified the legacy of Franco, who died in 1975. It was built using the forced labour of republican prisoners whom Franco had defeated during the 1936-39 civil war. Nearly 34,000 casualties of the conflict from both sides are buried in its vaults.

Having been prohibited from gathering at the Valley of the Fallen, some pro-Franco protesters demonstrated near Mingorrubio cemetery, singing civil war-era songs and waving banners showing their support for the dictator.

But other Spaniards said they had been waiting for this day for decades. "It's taken a long time but it makes me happy and proud, that we've got the man responsible for the Spanish holocaust out of his mausoleum," Felisa Echegoyen, who was tortured by Franco officials in 1974, told El Diario news site.

The government initially planned to carry out the exhumation in the summer of 2018, but it was delayed by a string of bureaucratic and legal obstacles.

The Franco family repeatedly sought to block the initiative. However, the supreme court dismissed their objections last month, also approving the government’s choice of reburial site, which it is hoped will be low-key enough to avoid becoming a new magnet for the far right.

“It’s a calm place and we hope it stays that way,” said Francisco Gerardo Jiménez, who lives next to the cemetery.

“Today there was a bit of a ruckus... I hope that when time has passed and the years go by it will be calm here again and it will be forgotten.”

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain

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