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Spain To Uncover Past In 'Valley Of The Fallen'

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Spain To Uncover Past In 'Valley Of The Fallen'


Spain To Uncover Past In 'Valley Of The Fallen'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Spain is still coming to terms with its tumultuous history. Politicians are still passionately debating the legacy of the civil war of the 1930s. Spain's parliament recently voted to identify thousands of dead. Their remains sit in the same tomb as Spain's former dictator, Francisco Franco.

Jerome Socolovsky met a man who's been fighting to get his father's bones taken out of the tomb.

Mr. FAUSTO CANALES: (Foreign language spoken)

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Seventy-five-year-old Fausto Canales sits in front of a table full of paperwork related to his search for the remains of his father, Valerico Canales.

Mr. CANALES: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: This is my father, he says, as he finds an old sepia-toned photo of a proud young soldier.

Mr. CANALES: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: 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, Canales was executed and dumped into a mass grave along with the mayor and eight other townsfolk.

Mr. CANALES: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: I was just two-and-a-half years old, Canales says.

The war ended in 1939 with the defeat of forces loyal to the overthrown Republican government, and Franco as Spain's new 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.

(Soundbite of machinery)

SOCOLOVSKY: 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.

(Soundbite of audio guide)

Unidentified Woman: Come in and discover one of the most awesome and breathtaking sites the Patrimonio Nacional directs, Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos.

SOCOLOVSKY: The audio guide provided by the Heritage Authority doesn't mention the forced labor that was used to build it. It's presented as a memorial to the fallen from both sides whose coffins are stacked in vaults deep inside the basilica.

I've just walked into the Chapel of the Sepulcher, and there's a carved wooden door here under an inscription which says caidos por Dios y por Espana.

(Soundbite of door)

SOCOLOVSKY: And it's locked. This is as far as we can go.

Caidos por Dios y por Espana - those who died for God and Spain is a slogan only used by the fascists. Fausto Canales says that and the presence nearby of Franco's decorated tomb are an insult to his father's memory.

Parliament's recent vote to identify the remains inside the vaults here set off alarm bells for the political right, especially when leftist parties went further. They demanded that the Valley of the Fallen should be turned into a memorial of Francoist repression and that Franco's body be removed.

Miguel Bernard Remon is the secretary general of the right-wing labor union Manos Limpias.

Mr. MIGUEL BERNARD REMON (Secretary General, Manos Limpias Labor Union): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: It would reopen old wounds from the civil war just when we Spaniards have overcome them, he says.

Mr. REMON: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: What kind of country is this where parts of the left are refighting the civil war and distracting attention from our real problems, the right-wing union leader says.

Canales disagrees. He says Spain needs to go through a process of self-scrutiny, like what Germany went through after the Nazis. But he says it's not about revenge.

Mr. CANALES: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: We just want to clarify what happened, Canales says. The old man puts away all the documents and 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.

For NPR News, Im Jerome Socolovsky at the Valley of the Fallen, Spain.

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