Franco's Exhumation: “This Can End The Prior Handcuffed” | Spain

"It can be broken. I do not guarantee anything. ” It was the last thing the funeral home employee said that on Thursday he took Franco's coffin from his grave in the Valley of the Fallen before giving it to him, at 12.30, to his relatives to take him on his shoulders to the hearse. He feared that the coffin would crack during the transfer, and he pronounced those words, resigned, after witnessing the penultimate pulse between the family of the dictator and the State. Before Thursday he had done many seemingly similar operations, and all of them had been resolved by changing the defective coffin for a new one. But on Thursday everything was different: before getting in front of the grave he had to sign a confidentiality contract; the funeral home, like the marbleists and members of the Government, had received death threats – by letter, with phone calls, graffiti, emails and in ultra-rightist forums; That morning a minister was watching him, a granddaughter of the deceased kept cursing the authorities, and the whole world was waiting, at least the 18 countries that sent journalists to report their work. He was the man who was going to dig up Franco 44 years later.

The fight for the coffin was just one of the tense moments of a historic day that, as such, included a red telephone and lapidary phrases that will take time to forget, like the dictator's close friends shouting: "This is like a dictatorship!" , in a struggle with the police in the cemetery pantheon of Mingorubio, what follows is the reconstruction of Franco's expulsion from his mausoleum and his return to El Pardo.

1. THE NEGOTIATION: “This may end the handcuffed prior”


The negotiation covers more than a year and has three key characters: Francis Franco, the grandson of the dictator who changed the order of his last names, placing Martínez-Bordiú in second place, to “perpetuate the family legacy”; his lawyer, Luis Felipe Utrera Molina, son of Franco's minister José Utrera Molina, and Félix Bolaños, general secretary of the Presidency of the Government. Before the Supreme Court's decision endorsing the exhumation, Bolaños and Utrera Molina were summoned outside La Moncloa, in a hotel that the Government sometimes uses for discrete meetings. Between September 24 and October 23 they do it three more times, with Francis Franco, at the headquarters of the Executive. During these meetings, the family asks for military honors for the dictator; May the 23 Benedictines living in the Valley of the Fallen be present in the exhumation; that the coffin be covered with the pre-constitutional flag that was worn on the day of the funeral, in 1975; That the prior give a mass in the mausoleum and that they may shoulder the coffin. The Government rejects the honors, prohibits the flag and the presence of the Benedictines, accepts a "brief response" from Santiago Cantera and that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren carry the coffin to the hearse. Everything is planned to the millimeter.

In these negotiations, the family fails to clarify whether Franco's remains would be "embalmed or only preserved," but he puts the manipulation of the remains as "red line." The dictator's grandchildren place high hopes that the prior – who came to threaten the vice president by letter to deny them entry – stops the transfer. The Government asks the archbishop of Madrid, Carlos Osoro, to make him come to his senses, warning him that the first image of Franco's exhumation may be that of the Benedictine handcuffed out of the compound. The prior rebels, but finally, claudica, as does Judge José Yusty, son and grandson of Franco's admirals, who tried to suspend the exhumation alleging risks to the physical integrity of the operators. His cause for the building license, in any case, would not have slowed the operation. Sixteen months after the plans to move Franco out of the Valley of the Fallen were known, the Government has a clear track.

2. THE ARRIVAL. Rebellion of the prior and challenge of Francis Franco

The Government quotes the prior in the cafeteria of the Valley of the Fallen to give him his accreditation and reunite him with the family, which has been collected at three points in Madrid and transferred with escort to Cuelgamuros. Santiago Cantera is presented with five Benedictines, although he had been told that only he could enter. He says he needs “helpers” for the answer and that either everyone enters or he doesn't either. Fran Martín, Bolaños chief of staff, tells him about the situation by walkie-talkie. He is in charge of watching everything that happens outside the basilica. The general secretary of the Presidency, already inside, insists that he should enter alone. Finally, the prior surrenders.

Despite the express prohibition of the Government, Francis Franco is presented with a pre-constitutional flag in his hand. The Civil Guard communicates it to Bolaños, who orders to requisition and deliver it, after the exhumation, to the family members who will travel by car to the Mingorubian cemetery instead of Francis himself, who will accompany the coffin by helicopter. Franco's grandson protests, because he wanted to put it on the coffin when he left the basilica.

3. EXHUMATION. Orange phosphorite ropes and a red telephone

Start at 10.45. First three marbleists enter to lift the slab of 1,500 kilos. They have signed, like the four funeral home employees, a confidentiality contract. Around the tombstone a tent has been placed to prevent the taking of images, although everyone has had to pass a scanner and leave their mobile phones in some bags prepared for the purpose, except Francis Franco, who introduces it in a briefcase because it will take longer in recovering it by being the only relative who will accompany the coffin in the helicopter. The agents give him the choice between keeping the briefcase or the key that opens it and he chooses the briefcase. Inside the tent, only Cristóbal and Merry Martínez Bordiu enter at the beginning; the acting Minister of Justice, Dolores Delgado; Bolaños; the Undersecretary of the Presidency, Antonio Hidalgo; the coroner, Vidal Santos Yusta, director of the Institute of Legal Medicine of state jurisdiction and the seven operators. They all wear a white jumpsuit and a mask.

Merry Martínez Bordíu is furious and repeatedly insults the authorities, according to government sources. He carries with him a notebook in which, like his brother Francis, he takes notes. Before the exhumation he sat on the floor, next to the tombstone, until Bolaños offers him a chair. His brother Cristóbal is more relaxed and even praises the care of operators who use a radial on the ground and quickly aspire to rubble. The slab is removed without incident at 11.30. The appearance of the coffin, covered with dust, seems good. The authorities breathe relieved, because they believe that a confrontation with the family has just been avoided to transfer the remains to one of the three coffins they had carried (two wooden and one metallic) in case, as they believed, the 1975 was not in conditions for the transfer. One of the four employees of the funeral home goes down to the pit with a light front. It shows a piece of wood that has come off the coffin. He says: "This could not be transported."

"What a shame! The Minister will be happy! Profanators! ”Shouts Merry Martínez Bordíu. No one answers. He reads the regulation of mortuary health police on embalmed bodies and calls his lawyer, who is waiting on the side of the basilica with 18 relatives of the dictator – of the 22 planned, they were finally 20. Luis Felipe Utrera Molina enters the tent without the mask and the white jumpsuit worn by others.

Operators hoist the coffin and place it on a kind of stretcher. It is domed at the bottom, a little open on the sides. The funeral home employee insists that he is not in a position to move, which can be broken. The coroner matches. But the family roundly refuses to change it. Bolaños asks the funeral home employee if there is any way to fix it so he can leave. They put a wooden board underneath, nails on the trims and a kind of straps hugging him. They are orange phosphorite. The general secretary of the Presidency suggests covering it with a brown cover that they had also carried if necessary. "No way," Merry replies. Christopher talks to her. They call the rest of the family. They agree that they cannot go out with these “orange ribbons” and accept to cover it with the brown fabric on which they place the family banner, the laureate cross of San Fernando and a wreath of flowers.

Without mobiles, the authorities communicate with the Civil Guard and the operations center by means of a radio system by walkie-talkies and on one of the sides of the altar they have placed a landline of the telegraphic cabinet that Bolaños uses twice during the intervention to inform the acting president of progress and incidents. The Minister of Justice, Dolores Delgado, also speaks with Pedro Sánchez from inside the basilica to inform him that they are preparing to take out the coffin.

The prior officiates the reply. It extends a little more than the agreed minute. The authorities are then placed on the opposite side of the basilica and do not exchange a word with Santiago Cantera. The relatives do not finally cross the ship, of almost 300 meters, with the coffin on their shoulders, but they lift it at the end, when the doors of the basilica are opened. It weighs 60 kilos. They shout "Viva España, Viva Franco" when the coffin is introduced into the hearse.

4. THE TRANSFER. “My grandfather had other plans”

There is no fog or wind and the Government can implement the "plan A": helicopter transfer. Francis Franco continues to take notes. In his book The Nature of Franco, when my grandfather was a person, he wrote: “My grandfather never said to be buried in the Valley of the Fallen. He never believed that was his place. I had other plans. He and my grandmother had a pantheon in El Pardo for years and he always thought that there, near where they had spent most of his life, he would rest. But when he died, the highest authorities in the country asked us if it seemed good to bury him next to José Antonio Primo de Rivera. They had pressured us. My grandmother agreed to be taken to the Valley of the Fallen. Then she regretted it and my grandmother would regret for the rest of her life that she could not share the grave of El Pardo with her husband. ” Now, reinhombed in that grave, the family announces his return to court to try to bury him somewhere else.

Nine people travel in the helicopter: the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight mechanic; Francis Franco, Utrera Molina, Delgado, Bolaños, the Secretary of State for Communication, Miguel Ángel Oliver, and an escort. The coffin is placed between the cabin and the seats, which are arranged as follows: the secretary general and the minister on the right, in a double seat; behind, the escort and Oliver. And on the left, in individual seats, Francis Franco in front and his lawyer behind. Bolaños is placed between Franco and Delgado, although this place does not correspond by rank, to avoid tensions. They do not exchange word in 20 minutes (five to launch the helicopter and 15 flight). "I was very focused, thinking about the meaning of all this. It has been very exciting, a historic day for all Democrats," the minister declares to EL PAÍS after the reinhumation in El Pardo.

Several operators carry the coffin with the mortal remains of Francisco Franco towards the helicopter to transfer it to the Mingorrubio cemetery. Pool

5. REINHUMATION. “Franco was a great man and a great Christian”

The Government decided that Franco's remains be re-smoked in the family pantheon of El Pardo. Although the family believed that it was theirs for years, ownership belonged to National Heritage. Last summer, the Government transferred it to State Heritage. A few days before the exhumation he offered the family to buy it at the price priced per square meter, about 300,000 euros, after the grandchildren expressed their fear that, being owned by the Government, in a few years "a president of Podemos" wanted to exhume him again to take the remains to another site. The family refused to buy it. The Executive has invested almost 40,000 euros in its conditioning.

The pact states that, as in the Valley of the Fallen there will be no cameras. But Francis Franco confronts a policeman when he passes him the metal detector palette: "You don't send here, send this man," he says, pointing to Bolaños. The secretary general of the Presidency reminds him that they cannot use their phones. Tension increases in Mingorubium when agents detect a signal and think they are recording. "This is like a dictatorship," shouts the family lawyer.

Previously, the Government and the family had negotiated the duration of the Mass. Utrera says that “at least 40 minutes,” Bolaños, 20. They stay at 30. The ceremony is held by Ramón Tejero, son of the protagonist of 23-F, who also travels to Mingorrubio to say goodbye to Franco. During the Mass, Tejero affirms that the dictator was "a soldier, a great Spaniard, a great man and a great Christian." Bolaños and Delgado witness the mass in silence. The coffin is at all times covered – now yes – by the pre-constitutional flag.

A wreath of flowers in the cemetery pantheon of Mingorrubio last Friday. Jaime Villanueva


The Government is satisfied with the operation, in which it has worked more than a year, despite tensions with the family and the concentration of nostalgic Franco in Mingorrubio and remains with an image: that of the exit of the coffin of the Valley of the Fallen, with the three representatives of the Executive above and family members, alone, without honors by entering the coffin below, in the esplanade. “Democracy has demonstrated its moral superiority over dictatorship. Everything has been done with the utmost respect, elegance and dignity, ”says Bolaños. The Franco spread a statement against "desecration" -valued by the three powers of the State- and talk about "media circus" while complaining that they were not allowed to take photographs or record the most delicate moments: exhumation and burial. The Government already thinks about the future of the Valley of the Fallen. The Benedictines have little chance of staying, although the final decision is not made. They want to transfer Primo de Rivera's tomb to one side, but they will not oppose if the family wants to take their remains to a private pantheon that does not serve as an exaltation of Francoism. And prepare the return, in cases where possible, of the Republicans buried there without family consent. But victims and executioner have stopped sharing space 44 years later.