Franco’s family faced with deadline to choose dictator’s reburial site

The Spanish government will give Francisco Franco's family two weeks to decide on a place to rebury the late dictator when his remains are exhumed from a vast mausoleum.

Franco's family faced with deadline to choose dictator's reburial site
Franco is his coffin in November 1975. Photo: AFP

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who came to power in June, had vowed to remove Franco's remains from an imposing basilica in the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) near Madrid, which was built in part by political prisoners during his regime.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Spanish govt's vow to exhume Franco

A man wearing a Franco-era Spanish flag among visitors at the Valley of the Fallen. Photo: AFP 

Spain's cabinet meets on Friday and will give its final green light to the exhumation of Franco, said a government source, who refused to be named.   

The family will be able to appeal this at the Supreme Court, which would delay the exhumation.   

The source said the government would also give the family two weeks “to decide on a place for the (re) burial and, if they don't do it, the government will decide.”

The bid to exhume the remains of Franco, who ruled from 1939 to 1975, has run into difficulties.

Franco's family wants to bury his remains in a crypt at Madrid's central Almudena Cathedral, where the family owns a crypt and where the dictator's daughter, Carmen Franco-Polo and her husband are already interred. 

The government wants Franco's embalmed body to be relocated to a more discreet spot and has already told them this will not be possible.   

Fresh flowers on Franco's grave in the Valley of the Fallen. Photo: AFP

In a report prepared last November, the government said it fears such a central site as the Almudena, would only attract an even larger number of visitors. This would pose a significant headache for security forces as it is right next door the Royal Palace.

The government would prefer that the late dictator is buried somewhere more low-key. It has been suggested that a grave in the Mingorubbio cemetery in El Pardo, a town on the edge of Madrid where the Franco family had a palace, would be ideal.

His wife, Carmen Polo was buried there on her death in 1988. 

The  Mingorubbia cemetery has been suggested for reburial.

But there are fears that any new burial site will become a place of pilgrimage for admirers of Franco and supporters of fascism. 

Last year alone, 366,000 people visited the Valley of the Fallen, according to ticket sales at the site – 150,000 of them in the July and August after the newly installed Spanish government announced plans to exhume him.

Paul Preston, historian and author of numerous books on the Spanish Civil War and Francoist regime, suggested a bold solution to BBC Radio 4's Today programme:  “He never missed an opportunity to dress up as Admiral of the Fleet so why not bury him at sea.”

READ ALSO: Spanish councils ordered to remove Franco symbols once and for all

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Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen

The Spanish government on Tuesday approved a special fund to exhume graves at the Valley of the Fallen, where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War and dictator Francisco Franco are buried.

Spain to exhume bodies of civil war victims at Valley of the Fallen
Women hold up pictures of their fathers and relatives, who were condemned to death during Franco’s dictatorship. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP

The Socialist government said it had set aside €665,000 ($780,000) to exhume some 33,000 victims whose remains lie behind a vast basilica near Madrid.

Franco was buried in the basilica when he died in 1975 but his remains were removed in 2019 and transferred to a discreet family plot on the outskirts of the capital.

Government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montera told reporters that more than 60 families and international institutions had called for the exhumation of the victims to give relatives who suffered during the civil war and Franco’s dictatorship “moral reparation”.

Campaigners estimate more than 100,000 victims from the war and its aftermath remain buried in unmarked graves across Spain —- a figure, according to Amnesty International, only exceeded by Cambodia.

Human remains discovered during exhumation works carried out by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory of Valladolid, in a mass grave where the bodies of hundreds of people were dumped during the Spanish civil war. Photo by CESAR MANSO/AFP

Built between 1940 and 1958 partly by the forced labour of political prisoners, the imposing basilica and the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen was initially intended for those who had fought for Franco.

But in 1959 the remains of many Republican opponents were moved there from cemeteries and mass graves across the country without their families being informed.

The crypts and ossuaries where some of the victims are buried are inaccessible as they were walled off at the time.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made the rehabilitation of the victims of the Franco era one of his priorities since coming to power in 2018.

As well as the Valley of the Fallen, his government is also focusing on identifying remains founds in mass graves across Spain.