SPAIN’S €650,000 project to exhume and identify victims of the country’s Civil War that were buried at the Valley of the Fallen site outside Madrid has been given the green light.

The City Council of San Lorenzo de El Escorial has issued the building permit that will allow work to exhume the remains of 33,833 people at the site to start.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Spain tweeted the news yesterday morning and said that the process of getting ‘justice’ for the families would begin soon.

Carmen Calvo wrote: “The @aytosanlorenzo has given us the building license for the Valley of the Fallen. The exhumation and identification of the victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship claimed by their families will soon begin. It is justice that they can regain their dignity.”

On the orders of the dictator General Franco, construction of the Valley of the Fallen began in 1940 and continued over the next 18 years. Around half of the bodies have never been identified.

Franco hailed his creation as a work of healing for the ages, but he forced political prisoners to work on the construction, which itself was also seen as a colossally unnecessary and expensive showpiece to gloss over the war crimes of a brutal regime.

The dictator was himself buried at the site when he died in 1975 but the current socialist-led government of Pedro Sanchez ordered the removal of his remains to a family mausoleum in 2019.

Two of the buried victims of the Franco regime are brothers Manuel and Antonio Lapeña Altabas from Zaragoza who were shot dead in 1936 and buried locally.

Spain: Francisco Franco Exhumation
The “Valley of the Fallen” is a Spanish monumental complex built between 1940 and 1958 in the village of El Escorial, in the Community of Madrid

They were moved to the Valley of the Fallen in 1959 when the site was completed.

The San Lorenzo de El Escorial court, which covers the Valley site ruled in 2016 that families had the right to recover the bodies of relatives and transfer them to their home area.

There have been delays in getting that ruling enacted since then but the current government is to provide money as part of an €11.3 million plan to promote ‘Democratic Memory’ policies.

Besides paying for exhumations, the funding will help create a DNA register and a full census of victims, which will be conducted by the University of Barcelona.


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