“Neither we nor Spanish democracy can afford to wait a single day more for the damage to be minimally repaired. We have already learned this in these hard months in which we have seen people who suffered so much during the Franco regime disappear.” Almost a dozen relatives of victims of the dictatorship buried in the Valley of the Fallen They have addressed themselves by letter to the Government to demand that the process of exhumation of their loved ones be accelerated and that what they have been waiting for decades be finally fulfilled. After a maze full of obstacles, National Heritage authorized last November The work to access Cuelgamuros, but nothing has been known again: “We cannot and do not want to continue waiting. We have no more time,” they put forward in the letter addressed on June 22 to Félix Bolaños, Secretary General of the Presidency of the Government.
Eight of the 31 families of reprisals buried in the largest mass grave in Spain without the consent or knowledge of their own, grouped together in the Association of Relatives for the Exhumation of Republicans in the Valle de los Caídos. All have the endorsement of National Heritage, which made the decision less than a month after Franco’s exhumation, but they fear that it will continue to lengthen in time. And, in short, that many of them, over 80 and 90 years old, never see how their loved ones leave the place that was built to honor the dictatorship that persecuted and murdered them. “Understand that we are very concerned about the older family members. We are tired and weary of the very long wait that only unnecessarily prolongs our suffering.”
One of the families is that of Silvia Navarro, president of the association, who fights with her mother to recover the remains of her great-uncle, José Antonio Marco Viedma, shot on September 2, 1936 after being kidnapped from her home by a group of police officers, phalangists and civil guards. “It is a shame that people of 86, 87 and even 97 years are still waiting for their parents or uncles to be returned to them because time is running out. We understand the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus, but they must accelerate the process.
The families’ greatest concern is that, more than a paralysis due to the pandemic, “what is really happening is that nothing has started in the process,” they point out in the letter and, therefore, demand action. “urgent, brave and determined”. For their part, sources from the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory reject that the procedure is paralyzed and argue that “it is being finalized” and that the date will be communicated to the families. They also remember that the Government is preparing a Historical Memory law to improve and expand the one in force since 2007 and that he will go to the Council of Ministers before the end of the month.
Thousands of corpses in the largest mass grave
The process of the work to start, however, is not easy. As stipulated by National Heritage, which made the decision after a favorable technical report from the CSIC, “the viability of the location, identification and recovery of the remains of the inhumed persons” will first be determined, given the conditions in which the graves are and the “chaos” of burials can complicate the operation. The operators will start with the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher following the Chapel of the Holy of Holies and finally, by the side chapels of the nave of the Basilica. The first to open will be the one where the Lapeña brothers, Manuel and Antonio Ramiro, who were shot in 1936 and whose family, who also signs the letter, rest. has a court ruling that authorizes its exhumation since 2016.
The ruling yielded hope for all families, but at the same time opened a maze full of obstacles that, until now, has prevented compliance with the sentence. Like the Lapeñas, as many families – 31 are authorized, but the number may increase if they request it, declared National Heritage at the time – they are looking tirelessly for their relatives buried in Cuelgamuros, where the transfer of bodies without permission was carried out from mass graves and cemeteries in almost all parts of Spain. 33,815 bodies are buried in it, 21,423 of them identified, according to the map of graves prepared by the Ministry of Justice.
Another of the signatories to the letter is Mercedes Abril, who has spent her entire life searching for and recovering her father Rafael, whom she last saw when she was three years old. On September 17, 1936, several Civil Guard agents entered her house in Calatayud and took her away for being a PSOE militant. After that, her mother received four signed letters, but they never heard from her again. No one told them that after the murder, her body had remained in a mass grave to be later transferred to the Valley of the Fallen. Both were forced to move to Valladolid, where Mercedes still lives and where she dreams of taking Rafael to be buried with her mother.
The letter signed by the eight families recalls the commitment of the Prime Minister in response to another letter sent by Mercedes herself: “There is no doubt in your mind about our firm commitment to support them in the processes of recovering their loved ones buried in the Basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos “, Pedro Sánchez argued. The signatories recognize the “predisposition” of the Executive to the exhumations “of our parents and grandparents from such a sinister place and destination”, but they point out that, since Mercedes received the response, “almost a year has passed in which niet @ se children from 86 to 96 years old, some seriously ill, have survived even the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic “and work has not started. Families continue to fight like this for an act that for many is late due to the advanced age of the most direct relatives. A list to which they want to stop adding you hope that they will never stop being.