Spain confronts far-right past; exhumes fascist leader

Madrid –

The body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist movement Falange movement, was exhumed from a mausoleum in Madrid on Monday and moved to the city cemetery.

The fascist political leader was executed by Spanish Republicans in November 1936. That year he came in July after General Francisco Franco led an uprising of soldiers to overthrow Spain’s democratically elected government. The ensuing civil war he ended in 1939 left hundreds of thousands dead and the country devastated.

Primo de Rivera’s death was exploited by Franco.

He was exhumed in line with the latest laws banning the glorification of Spain’s dictatorship and fascist heritage. His body lay for 60 years in a huge complex known as the “Valley of the Fallen,” built with forced prison labor to commemorate the fascist victory in the civil war.

The Falange leader was dismembered in a private ceremony in front of his family, away from public scrutiny. They broke through the cordon, performed a fascist salute, and sang the Farange national anthem.

After Franco won the war, he ruled the country with an iron fist until his death in 1975. He himself was buried in the Valley of the Fallen until his 2019, after which his remains were transported by helicopter to a nearby cemetery.

Recently rebaptized under its pre-war name, Quelgamros, the Valley of the Fallen is also the burial place of 34,000 people killed during the civil war. Many were initially buried in communal graves exhumed at Franco’s request. The bodies were moved to the Valley of the Fallen, filling the site with casualties from both sides.

Last year, Spain approved a new law on historical memory that nullifies legal decisions made under the dictatorship. It makes the central government responsible for recovering the bodies of tens of thousands of missing persons who have been forcibly disappeared by the regime.

Spain’s Minister of Finance and Public Functions María Jesús Montero said on the eve of the excavation that it was important to bring “justice” to the victims of Spanish fascism. It is very important that decisive steps are taken to comply with the law that wants us to,” she said.

A spokesman for the center-right People’s Party accused the government of using the Primo de Rivera to “distract” the Spaniards from their problems. He called it “the man who was murdered 80 years ago.”

The government wants to turn the Kuelgamros mausoleum into a place of reflection.

José Antonio Primo de Rivera was the son of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, who ruled Spain from 1923 to 1930.

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