The Spanish cabinet approved a decree Friday that would allow the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco to be exhumed and removed from the memorial near Madrid where they have lain since he died in 1975.
Franco's tomb in the Catholic basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, a memorial site created by the dictator to commemorate those who died in the Spanish Civil War, has long been the subject of heated debate in Spain.
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The Socialist Party sees the tomb as a shrine to a brutal dictator and, since coming to power in June, has pledged to take action, despite protests from right-wing parties and the Franco Foundation. While Friday's approval was a victory for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his new government, the Senate must also approve the decree before it can be implemented.
"The government has approved a decree that modifies two aspects of the 2007 [Historical Memory] law," said Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo at a press conference Friday following the cabinet meeting. "The decree will permit the exhumation of the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco from the place where the victims of the conflict lie," she said, referring to the Valley of the Fallen monument.
"Having the tomb of Franco there means a lack of respect and peace for the victims who are buried within," Calvo said. "Democracy is not compatible with a state tomb that honors the memory of Franco."
The Franco family will have 15 days from August 31 to propose a new burial site, and should they fail to do so, the Spanish government will choose a "dignified and respectful" place for him to be reinterred, Calvo explained.
Asked why the government has chosen to do this now, Calvo responded saying: "We are late with this, we are all late with this, us too, but this government headed by Pedro Saánchez will not be late."
Under current Spanish law, Franco's remains belong to his descendants, who have not given their consent for the exhumation and reburial. The new decree allows the state to override that privilege.
The right-wing Franco Foundation, which promotes a positive interpretation of the Franco regime, has long opposed any plans to move the leader's remains.
Writing in response to Friday's news, Juan Chicharro Ortega, president of the foundation, said that the past should be left alone by politicians and warned that the Valley of the Fallen would lose its sacred value if the exhumation were to be carried out.
In a letter posted on Facebook Thursday, the Franco Foundation pledged to take legal action against the government if it passes and implements the decree, which it believes violates Spain's constitution.
Franco ruled Spain from the late 1930s until his death in 1975. Tens of thousands of executions were carried out by his nationalist regime during the Spanish Civil War and in the years afterward.
After World War Two, he seen by many as the last surviving fascist dictator and was ostracized by the United Nations. His rightist authoritarian regime was partly rehabilitated during the Cold War because of Franco's staunch anticommunist ideology.
In 2007, the Spanish government passed the Law of Historical Memory, which formally condemns the Franco regime and bans political events at the Valley of the Fallen. It also recognizes the victims of the civil war and the Francoist state and pledges aid to those victims and their descendants.