Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo, taken in November 2005, shows the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, near Madrid.
This file photo, taken in November 2005, shows the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, near Madrid. Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images
Spain's parliament recently voted to identify thousands of dead from the Spanish civil war of the 1930s. Their remains are in the same tomb as former dictator Francisco Franco.
Fausto Canales, 75, has been fighting to get his father's bones taken out of that tomb. He has a table full of paperwork related to his search for the remains of his father, Valerico Canales.
"This is my father," he says, as he finds an old sepia-toned photo of a proud young soldier. "He was 21 years old and a conscript in this photo. And he was 29 when they killed him."
Valerico Canales was a day laborer in a small town about 70 miles from Madrid. During the Spanish civil war, he says, fascists executed Canales and dumped his body into a mass grave along with the mayor and eight other townsfolk.
"I was just 2 1/2 years old," Canales says.
The war ended in 1939 with the defeat of forces loyal to the overthrown Republican government, and Franco became Spain's dictator. In 1959, Canales heard rumors that his father's remains had been dug up and taken to the Guadarrama Mountains outside Madrid, where Franco was building a giant memorial.
Fausto Canales, 75, holds a photo of his father, Valerico, pictured as a 21-year-old conscript. Fausto Canales has been fighting to get his father's remains removed from the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen.
Fausto Canales, 75, holds a photo of his father, Valerico, pictured as a 21-year-old conscript. Fausto Canales has been fighting to get his father's remains removed from the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen. Jerome Socolovsky/NPR
'Those Who Died For God And Spain'
The monument, the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, has barely changed since the dictatorship ended three decades ago. Under a towering stone cross that can be seen 30 miles away in Madrid, an enormous subterranean gallery leads deep into the mountain.
"Come in and discover one of the most awesome and breathtaking sites the Patrimonio Nacional directs," urges an audio guide provided by the Heritage Authority. It doesn't mention the forced labor that was used to build the monument, which is presented as a memorial to the fallen from both sides, whose coffins are stacked in vaults deep inside the basilica.
In the Chapel of the Sepulcher, there is a locked wooden door under an inscription that reads "Caidos por Dios y por Espana" — those who died for God and Spain. In Spain, it is a slogan closely associated with the fascists.
Fausto Canales says that — and the presence of Franco's decorated tomb nearby — are an insult to his father's memory.
Parliament's recent vote to identify the remains inside the vaults set off alarm bells for the political right, especially when leftist parties went further. They demanded that the Valley of the Fallen be turned into a memorial of Francoist repression and that Franco's body be removed.
"It would reopen old wounds from the civil war just when we Spaniards have overcome them," says Miguel Bernard Remon, the secretary-general of the right-wing labor union Manos Limpias. "What kind of country is this, where parts of the left are refighting the civil war and distracting attention from our real problems?"
Canales disagrees. He says Spain needs to go through a process of self-scrutiny, as Germany did after the Nazi regime. But he says it is not about revenge.
"We just want to clarify what happened," Canales says.
Canales says he hopes that at the very least he can give the father he never knew a proper burial — far away from Franco's grave.