Blessing at former Franco gravesite sparks Spanish army probe

The Spanish military has suspended an army officer for taking his troops for a blessing at the former burial site of dictator Francisco Franco, military sources said Thursday.

Blessing at former Franco gravesite sparks Spanish army probe
In 2019 Spain removed the remains of dictator Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum northwest of Madrid. (Photo by Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP)

“The captain who headed the company has been suspended and an investigation has been opened,” the army said in a statement to AFP, without giving further details nor saying whether the move was temporary or permanent.

A group of soldiers angered by the gesture published footage of it on the “Citizens in Uniform” Telegram account, denouncing it as “a shameful video”.

In the footage, several dozen of soldiers, one carrying the company’s flag, can be seen kneeing on the stone steps in front of the late dictator’s former mausoleum outside Madrid.

A few steps up stands a priest in a white cassock who reads a blessing.

“Citizens in Uniform” said the captain had organised a march to the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside Madrid, “with the idea of having the company’s flag blessed at the basilica”.

They said he had cancelled all leave for that particular day and required that all company members attend.

The imposing basilica is part of what used to be a grandiose hillside mausoleum topped by a 150-metre (500-foot) cross where Franco was buried after his death in 1975.

It is a deeply divisive symbol of a past that Spain still finds difficult to digest.

In October 2019, Franco’s body was exhumed and moved to a more discreet grave in a carefully-choreographed operation led by Spain’s left-wing government.

Built by Franco’s regime after the 1936-1939 civil war — in part by the forced labour of some 20,000 political prisoners — the site contains the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.

It has long been a draw for those nostalgic for the Franco era, who used to hold masses in his honour and celebrate his memory.

The exhumation was strongly opposed by the dictator’s living relatives as well as by the prior of the Benedictine monks who manage the site.

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Mexico retrieves 2,500 artifacts from family in Spain

The Mexican government says it has recovered around 2,500 pre-Columbian artifacts from a private collection in Spain, as part of a campaign to retrieve what it considers stolen heritage.

Mexico retrieves 2,500 artifacts from family in Spain

Carved stone figures, arrowheads and ceramics are among the items handed over by an unnamed family in Barcelona that will be exhibited at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor Museum.

“Mexico’s archaeological and cultural heritage is being recovered abroad… thousands of archaeological pieces that had been stolen,” President Andres Manuel López Obrador told reporters.

Since López Obrador took office in December 2018, 8,970 artifacts have been recovered, mostly in Europe, according to Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Auction houses and foreign governments usually ask Mexico to prove that the pieces belong to it, Ebrard said.

But in some cases, the Mexican government has successfully argued that sellers must prove the items’ legal origin, he added.

Some pieces have been recovered through police raids, such as in Italy in 2021.

Belgium stopped an auction in March at the request of Mexico.

Some museums and individuals have also voluntarily returned artifacts, although efforts have been less successful in certain countries such as France, whose auctions López Obrador has branded “immoral.”