Madrid, Spain – The remains of one of the Spanish tyrants of General Francisco Franco, Queipo de Llano, were exhumed in a few hours in the central church of Seville in early November.
Only one member of the 45,000 Republican families killed by his orders was there to see what happened, and even that was far away.
Paqui Maqueda was already asleep when he received the call he had been waiting for a long time from his friend telling him that the excavation of the grave, which was provided by the government and the family of de Llano at a time when people could not be few, was progressing. .
But Maqueda, however, felt obliged to get up and cross Seville to look outside the Basilica of La Macarena.
Thus, “late debt to that person [de Llano] I was with my family it was stable”, he told Al Jazeera.
‘Democratic Memory Law’
The exhumation of de Llano and cremation after a private family ceremony are the first results of a new reform of Spanish law, called “Democratic Memory Laws”, which aimed to end the decades-long conflict over Franco’s legacy.
Previous Spanish laws with the same goal were only partially effective.
One of the goals of the new law is to prevent the burial grounds of people like de Llano from being a rallying point for Spain’s far-right, which traditionally pays tribute to the Franco regime on November 20, the anniversary of the dictator’s death in 1975.
But as Maqueda told Al Jazeera, the removal of de Llano’s remains sets up unfinished business and brutally oppresses his family.
“I had to do it,” said Maqueda, who cried “respect and glory to the victims of Franco” on the other side of the churchyard as the graves were exhumed.
“First, for political reasons, because I am a representative of the group of ‘remembers’ – one of several organizations in Spain for the rights of the victims – and it saw the need for one of us to be there. Secondly, I had a debt with the man and his relatives which it needs to be resolved,” he said.
“I didn’t know when or how, but I knew that the time would come when the debt would be resolved.” And his release was at that time. “
The Maqueda family suffered a lot because of de Llano and Franco’s dictatorship.
His grandfather and one of his uncles were killed by de Llano’s soldiers in the 1930s. In the decades following the Spanish Civil War, another uncle spent most of his life in a concentration camp. because of political mistakes, and finally died of poverty.
The family property was directly confiscated from de Llano after the summary execution of his grandfather. It has not been returned.
The oppression of his family did not end there. Like hundreds of “Red” (Communist) Spanish families, when Maqueda’s mother gave birth in 1936, her newborn was taken from the hospital and never seen again.
However, many of Maqueda’s relatives, referred to as “grandchildren of the Reds” and suffering economic hardship as a result, were forced to move hundreds of kilometers from Seville to find work.
De Llano’s release is one of the consequences of the new law.
In 65 new ways, organizations that try to protect Franco’s regime are banned, while the victims of the dictator who are accused of being criminals because of their political and religious beliefs or sexuality are now exempt from any charges.
One of the main beneficiaries of this is the famous Spanish poet Miguel Hernández, whose death sentence for supporting the Republic was commuted to life imprisonment, and he died in Alicante prison in 1942 of typhus and tuberculosis.
But perhaps most importantly, the government will be responsible for searching, exhuming and identifying the 110,000 victims of the dictatorship who remain in unmarked graves across the length and breadth of Spain.
“This law shows a great progress compared to where I started,” Juan Luis Castro, a Seville archaeologist and researcher of unnamed Civil War tombs for the past 20 years, told Al Jazeera.
“Back then, it was just a phone call from the relatives of the injured person and doing the work without payment. Also, you have to have an iron case to start digging because you always face the same problem: If you excavate an unknown grave from the years of dictatorship, you investigate crimes.
“But thanks to the new laws and the financial support of the government, the mass graves can be opened. It is a big step forward.”
However, despite the government’s new law, exhumation still faces many obstacles.
One of the country’s biggest cases of the unknown in the Spanish civil war involves 30,000 unknown fighters, mostly Republicans, who – because of the death wish of the former dictator – were buried in the same cemetery where Franco was originally buried.
Franco’s remains were removed from the mausoleum and reburied in 2019, but for the next three years, families seeking to exhume relatives buried at the dictator’s will were unable to do so.
“These processes are not progressing because the mausoleum is inside the town of San Lorenzo del Escorial”, which is controlled by the right-wing Partido Popular, whose leader Alberto Nuñez Feijoo has promised to remove the Democratic Memory Law if he takes power. , and “at the moment they are refusing to give the necessary permits”, Eduardo Ranz, a lawyer representing several families in the case, told Al Jazeera.
“This is the case, unlike other exhumations in Spain, which will proceed through official procedures, we have a legal decision that protects the rights of families who want their relatives to be exhumed.”
Ranz has taken the mayor of San Lorenzo del Escorial to court for continuing to pervert justice.
But the date of the trial has not been set yet.
There is no time to waste
“I don’t understand why we continue to have these obstacles,” said Ranz. “The truth of the matter is that he is the son of one of Lapeña’s two brothers [Manuel and Ramiro, whose remains are still inside the mausoleum] he is dead now and his grandchildren are 65 or 70 years old. We don’t have time.”
“We are happy to see the new law come into effect,” Rosa Gil, whose grandfather was buried in Cuelgamuros, formerly known as the Valley of the Fallen, told Al Jazeera.
“But some legal mistakes mean that the excavation is not going forward, and it is difficult and frustrating.”
Gil said his biggest concern was for his father Silvino, who is now 95 years old, is in a wheelchair and needs oxygen 24 hours a day, but he was sure he would be able to see his father being exhumed and buried in the place where he was waiting. home church in Aragón.
I thought that after Franco was exhumed, things would be much better, but it didn’t happen. When the plague happened, we didn’t want to argue too much at that time, we knew that the world’s attention was elsewhere. “But now things are back to normal, our problems are not over,” he said.
“[The new law] it’s frustrating because it doesn’t describe the situation in our lives and there are people who want to stop it [the exhumation] at any cost. “It is strange that my father wants to put his father where he wants to be, why do these people not see or appreciate the bad things they are doing to them after so many years,” added Gil.
“When you hear Feijoo saying that ‘as soon as I come to power, I will stop the ‘Democratic Memory Law”, how can he say that, for his own good? Or how [former right-wing Spanish President Mariano] Rajoy, is he saying that he will not finance the implementation of this law with one euro?”
“Why do they think we’re doing this? For fun or to chase someone? I don’t understand how they don’t put themselves, even a little bit, in someone else’s shoes.”
Although Ranz believed that teaching the current generation of students of university age in Spain of the Franco era was very important to ensure that there is no repetition of the past, he was convinced that excavation is the main way to solve the failure of Spain to come. in line with his previous tyranny.
“There is an open wound, which has been bleeding and bleeding for 80 years and is not healing. “But until the families find their relatives and bury them as they want, it will not be possible to treat the injured with dignity,” he said.
“As a lawyer, I always like to change things, but there is one fact that we cannot ignore: Franco died peacefully in his bed. In other words, he was not removed from office, he was not judged and when the path was taken in this country from dictatorship to democracy, there was no law to remember the past until 30 years later,” added Ranz.
“That means we don’t have time, we can’t sit back and wait, we have to move forward with statements and questions.”
The goods did not return
Meanwhile, Castro said the lack of mechanisms to investigate political crimes during the dictatorship was one area the new law failed to address.
Then, there is continued legal uncertainty regarding property seized by the government from political opponents and never returned.
Maqueda said that another issue was the removal of fascist symbols.
“Likewise in my city, Seville, we have to see the removal of many of the fascist symbols left in public,” he said, citing the memorial tiles – near the Giralda tower – linked to the 1936 riots as one of them.
But on the face of it, he said the events of early November and de Llano’s release ended some lingering pain.
“After it was all over, a friend of mine who lives nearby came and hugged me and we took a selfie together,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since I smiled like I do in this picture: I’m calm, I’m successful and that something I’ve dreamed of has come true.”