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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spain court rejects probe into Franco-era torture claim

A Barcelona court said Wednesday that it has rejected a claim by a Spanish man who says he was tortured by police during the Franco dictatorship.

Spain court rejects probe into Franco-era torture claim

In an unusual move, Spanish prosecutors threw their weight behind the case last month, asking the court to investigate the claim filed by former trade unionist Carles Vallejo relating to abuses during Francisco Franco’s 1939-1975 regime.

Vallejo made his claim in November 2022, alleging he had been tortured at a Barcelona police station in the early 1970s to get information on his activities.

But Catalonia’s top court said it had decided not to admit the case.

It said the events “fell outside the statute of limitations and were covered by the amnesty”, a reference to a 1977 law passed as Spain moved from dictatorship to democracy.

“We will appeal,” said Catalonia’s top justice official Gemma Ubasart in a message on social media.

Human rights organisation Iridia denounced the decision as perpetuating a culture of silence regarding crimes committed by Franco’s regime.

“The refusal to investigate Francoism’s crimes is a violation of the right to truth, justice and reparation, and it represents the ongoing perpetuation of a model of impunity which is based on silence and indifference and is still very present within Spain,” it said in a statement.

Vallejo’s lawsuit was filed a month after Spain’s left-wing government passed a democratic memory law to tackle the legacy of the 1936-39 Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship, and honour victims of violence and persecution under Franco.

Until the law was passed, Spain’s courts had routinely rejected lawsuits filed by victims, saying they fell under the 1977 amnesty law or that the time limit for filing criminal charges had passed.

But in backing Vallejo’s claim last month, public prosecutors said the new law had created a new legal framework for such cases that required judges “to investigate alleged violations of human rights” that occurred “during the civil war and the dictatorship”.

They called for a probe “into the facts” alleged by Vallejo and “their context” in a move hailed by Amnesty International as the first time prosecutors had called for a probe into torture and crimes against humanity during the dictatorship.

Also last month, another man who says he was arrested and tortured by the Franco regime testified before a Madrid court for the first time since the dictator’s death in 1975.

Julio Pacheco Yepes, 67, was called to testify after a judge decided to admit his case on grounds it contained “possible” evidence of “crimes against humanity and torture”.

In his case, there was no call by public prosecutors to investigate the allegations.

Over the years, around 100 lawsuits have been filed over alleged torture during the Franco era, but none was ever admitted, victims’ associations say.