Madrid, June 12 (EFE).- Forensic scientists have begun exhuming the bodies of 128 victims of the civil war and the Franco regime in the former dictator’s mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid, Spanish authorities announced on Monday.
The mausoleum, formerly known as the Valley of the Fallen and recently renamed Valley of Cuelgamuros, also housed the remains of dictator General Francisco Franco and the founder of the Falange fascist party, José Antonio Primo de Rivera until their bodies were removed from the premises in 2019 and late April this year respectively.
Franco built the mausoleum carved into a mountainside after winning the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) making it a symbol of his regime.
It is considered Spain’s largest mass grave and houses the remains of some 33,833 victims from both sides of the civil war.
Almost 15,000 bodies were buried anonymously and families have been calling on authorities for over a decade to identify their remains and honor their loved ones with dignified burials.
On Monday the first exhumation of 18 bodies began in the crypt of the basilica and work to locate a further 59 bodies is expected to continue on other levels of the chapel.
In 2016 the family members of brothers Manuel and Antonio Ramiro Lapeña, who were shot dead in 1936 by Francoists, took their case to court and the judge ruled in their favor.
The ruling in favor of the victims’ families became a reference to other families seeking justice for their loved ones.
The search for and exhumation of 128 victims requested for by relatives will be addressed in a second phase in other chapels of the basilica, sources from the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory said.
The exhumation works will take place “once all the legal, technical and security obstacles have been cleared,” the source added.
Eduardo Ranz, a lawyer for victims of Francoism, told Efe that relatives were notified on Monday morning of the exhumation works.
Affected families have received the news with joy and caution, as is the case of Purificación Lapeña, granddaughter and great-niece of the Lapeña brothers, who is hopeful there will be no more “stumbling blocks.”
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government passed the Law on Democratic Memory in 2022 making it the government’s responsibility to exhume and identify the bodies of victims of Franco’s regime and buried in unmarked graves. EFE