CASTELBUONO, Sicily (CN) — Spain’s left-wing government is seeking to remove the body of dictator Francisco Franco from a fascist-era monument near Madrid and set up a commission to investigate crimes committed during Spain’s civil war and military dictatorship, a move strongly opposed by retired military officers and others.
The moves by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party are provoking a strong reaction from his opponents — the latest being a manifesto signed by former military officers opposing the removal of Franco’s body.
More than 180 retired military officers on Tuesday signed a document declaring that Franco’s memory, remains and contributions to Spain must be safeguarded from the left-wing government’s efforts to “erase” Franco from the history books.
The socialist government wants to remove Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum. The Sánchez government came into power two months ago after a corruption scandal that brought down a right-wing government.
The Valley of the Fallen was built in the 1950s — using the labor of political prisoners — and contains about 34,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. There are remains from people on both sides of the bloody presage of World War II.
But the only remains identified at the monument are those of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the fascist Falange party. Franco and Primo de Rivera are entombed inside a central basilica.
On Franco’s birthday his supporters descend every November on the mausoleum to honor his legacy with fascist salutes.
About 12,500 of the remains in the mausoleum remain unidentified — just as thousands of victims have not been identified in many parts of Spain. The Sánchez government wants to bolster efforts to find and identify victims through formation of a truth commission.
In June, Sánchez spoke out about the need for confronting Spain’s violent past.
“A country that looks to its future needs to be at peace with its past,” he said, as reported by Politico. He told parliament that “wounds have remained open for many years, too many, and it’s time to heal them.”
His party says it wants to turn the Valley of the Fallen into a “place of reconciliation” and “not of apology for the dictatorship,” a Socialist party spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
Sánchez has taken his anti-Franco proposals a step further. He has proposed outlawing pro-Franco groups, such as the Fundación Francisco Franco, The Guardian newspaper reported. The group did not immediately reply to a request for comment from Courthouse News Service.
Franco ruled over Spain until his death in 1975. He took power after launching attacks on the democratically elected Republican government in 1936 and defeating Republican forces in the civil war.
Euronews reported Wednesday that the document signed by retired military officers calling for the safeguarding of Franco’s memory was sent to the Sánchez government.
Euronews reported that signers of the manifesto included a former admiral, 29 generals, 105 colonels, 15 lieutenants and navy commanders and captains.
The leader of the Popular Party, Spain’s conservative opposition party, has spoken out against removing Franco’s body. Pablo Casado, the party leader, has said that if he were in power he would not spend any money on moving Franco’s body.
He claims that Sánchez is seeking political points in seeking to move Franco’s remains.
In 2014, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations urged Spain to do more to deal with the legacy of its civil war and dictatorship.
In a report, UN rapporteur Pablo de Greiff, a human rights expert, said the civil war and dictatorship led to human rights violations that included executions, torture, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, forced labor and exiles.
The report said attempts to cope with the legacies “have been mostly fragmented” and that Spain has not done enough to seek the truth of what happened and take actions to heal the wounds, such as reparations.
It found that Spain has failed to set out an official policy to investigate and shed truth on the events. The report faulted Spain for leaving it up to individuals and associations to exhume the remains of people killed during the conflict.
The report urged Spain to take a number of steps to help families identify victims, to “make truth official,” ensure information and archives are accessible and help families identify the remains of family members buried at the Valley of the Fallen and help them remove remains if they choose to.
It also urged Spain to look into returning properties seized by the Franco government and investigate violations of women during the civil war and Franco regime, including sexual violence, humiliation and discrimination.
It recommended that Spain annul a 1977 amnesty law that made it illegal to prosecute Franco-era crimes in the courts. The report said that law stands in the way of investigations and criminal proceedings.
Lydia Vicente Márquez, executive director of Rights International Spain, said a truth commission would be a “much needed step” toward redressing “gross human rights violations amounting to international crimes” from the Franco years.
“What is clear is that dealing with the past is fundamental and critical to Spanish democracy,” she said in an email to Courthouse News. “A true and complete democracy cannot be built over thousands of mass graves and disappeared [people]. It cannot be based on ‘forgetting the past’ and ignoring the rights of the victims.”