The family of Spain’s late-dictator Francisco Franco was apparently caught off guard Friday when the government of President Pedro Sánchez announced a postponement until June of its plans to exhume Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen monument outside Madrid, naming a date and a location for Franco’s reburial that the family and right-wing opponents of the government will have trouble contesting.
The first initiative announced by the Sánchez government upon taking power after ousting the conservative Partido Popular (PP) government of President Mariano Rajoy last May was that Franco’s remains would be disinterred and transferred from the place of honour in the Basilica at the Valley of the Fallen where they have lain since the dictator’s death in 1975.
A series of administrative hurdles and maneuvering to circumvent the Franco family’s desire to rebury the dictator at the even more high-profile site of Madrid’s downtown La Almudena cathedral appeared to be nearing an end last month, when the government announced the transfer was imminent and gave 15 days to the Franco family to agree to a new site for Franco’s remains.
But the move appeared to be temporarily blocked last week by two lawsuits — one filed by Franco’s heirs in a Madrid courtroom charging worker safety would be at risk in unearthing Franco, another in Spain’s Supreme Court claiming the family’s rights are being violated and demanding a precautionary injunction be issued against the government.
On Friday, however, the government announced its new target date for the removal of Franco’s remains as 10th June, giving the Supreme Court time to consider and rule on the family’s claim without having to issue an injunction. The government also named the location for Franco’s reburial as the same crypt where Franco’s widow, Carmen Polo, was buried on her death in 1988 at the El Pardo cemetery in the Mingorrubio area north of Madrid — burial of the former dictator alongside his widow hardly to be seen by the Court as a gross violation of the Franco family’s rights.
The Franco family reportedly had always assumed it owned the crypt at the El Pardo cemetery, where a number of other important figures and ministers from the Franco regime are also buried, including Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco and Pedro Nieto Antúnez, Minister of the Navy and personal friend of the dictator. But, the government clarified in its announcement Friday that the entire El Pardo cemetery is national patrimony, making any decision about who is buried there the sole jurisdiction of any sitting Spanish government.
The delay until 10th June also came as a surprise. Why that date? Because of upcoming general elections on 28th April, followed by regional, municipal and European parliamentary (EP) elections on 26th May, the Sanchez government is almost certainly to still be in power, at least in an interim capacity.
Even if Sánchez’s Socialist party (PSOE) loses the general elections on 28th April, the first day of the new Congressional session would be 21st May — at the very end of campaigning by political parties in the regional, municipal and EP elections. It will take at least three days from 21st May to agree the makeup of the administrative Mesa Directiva and proceed to debate or vote on any matter in the new Congress. That would place the first day any new government could move to stop the reburial of Franco at 24th May, just two days before the local and EP balloting.
But even then, in a scenario in which the PSOE were to lose the general elections, negotiations to form any coalition government among right-wing parties would take weeks after the dust has settled on both elections, during which the Sánchez administration would remain in office in an interim capacity. So, win or lose on 26th May, on 10th June the Sánchez government will still be in control of removing Franco’s remains from the Valley of the Fallen and re-interring them at El Pardo, as planned.
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