Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Saturday, 22 November 2008

Hopes fading for Franco's victims

In the week that marks the 33rd anniversary of General Francisco Franco's death, Steve Kingstone has been speaking to two men who have very different opinions of the Spanish dictator.

Valley of the Fallen
Franco, buried here in the Valley of the Fallen, ruled Spain for 39 years

Earlier this week I hired a car and took the A6 north-west out of Madrid in search of General Franco. He is not difficult to find.

As you drive up into the pine-clad mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the world's largest cross, 150m (492ft) high, marks the Valley of the Fallen, the final resting place of Spain's dictator.

At the base of the cross is a vast basilica, carved into the granite rock.

This astonishing feat of engineering took two decades to complete, and relied on the forced labour of Franco's defeated left-wing opponents.

As I arrived, a Catholic priest was leading prayers for peace, right beside where the general himself lies entombed.

Beneath him an underground mausoleum houses the remains of tens of thousands of civil war dead, mostly from Franco's own side. A plaque proclaims: "They fell for God and for Spain."

Political protest

I had a date here with an 80-year-old fascist.

Diego Marquez Horrillo
Diego Marquez Horrillo is the leader of Spain's Fascist Party, Falange

Diego Marquez Horrillo is a lawyer, and for the last 25 years the leader of the Falange, Spain's Fascist Party.

He had come to the valley with a busload of followers to mark 20 November, the date on which both Franco and the founder of the Falange, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, died.

In the past, this annual act of homage would have culminated in fascist salutes on the steps of the basilica. Except this year, Spanish police met the bus and barred the fascists from entering the site.

Under a new law, political acts at the Valley of the Fallen are forbidden. The day-trippers were told to take their flags and their trademark blue shirts somewhere else.

So they drove the bus to the headquarters of Spain's governing Socialist Party, where Senor Marquez led 50 blue-shirted followers in a protest.

Map of Spain showing Madrid, the Valley of the Fallen and Pajares de Adaja

"We've come to tell the prime minister he's more of a dictator than Franco," he said. "We weren't planning a demonstration at the Valley. Just a mass."

He had gone for the designer military look - dark glasses, a three-quarter length coat with epaulettes and black boots.

Deeply tanned with curly white hair, this ageing fascist had the air of an Italian film director.

I put to Sr Marquez the claim by a respected judge that members of the Fascist Party had summarily executed thousands of Franco's opponents during the civil war, and throughout the decade that followed.

"In wartime, of course we killed people," he replied, matter-of-factly. "But after the war, no. To pin those crimes on the fascists is absurd."

Civil war murders

As the far right retired for lunch, I visited another smartly dressed, white-haired Spaniard with a personal interest in the Valley of the Fallen.

Fausto Canales
Fausto Canales wants his father's body moved from Franco's mausoleum

Fausto Canales was just two years old when, in the early hours of 20 August 1936, his father was dragged from the family home and shot dead.

It was a month into the civil war, and the town, Pajares de Adaja, was in the hands of Francoist rebels.

Fausto's father was one of seven people murdered that night for belonging to a trade union.

In his modest apartment, Fausto - now aged 74 - described a life-long effort to locate his father's remains.

He had first spoken to local people who were forced to transport the bodies that night and dump them in a disused well.

One woman had recalled her mother scrubbing blood off the family's horse and cart.

But the horror did not end there.

In Franco's name

In early 1959, with construction of the Valley of the Fallen almost complete, Franco decided he needed more bodies to fill his mausoleum.

Valerico Canales
Valerico Canales was murdered in 1936 for belonging to a trade union

An order was sent out to town halls across Spain, which duly delivered the remains of at least 33,000 people, including Fausto's father.

Valerico Canales lies in a container inside a sealed crypt at the Valley of the Fallen.

Denied even the dignity of an individual grave, he shares the container with the other trade unionists shot dead in Franco's name.

"For me, and for my father, this is the ultimate insult," Fausto told me, his voice cracking with rage. "The victims lie buried with the killers, inside a symbol of fascism, just yards from Franco himself.

"If it takes the rest of my life, I'll get my dad out of there."

Legal battle

It will not be easy.

The other day, victims' relatives lost a powerful ally when Spain's best-known judge, Baltasar Garzon, abandoned plans for an unprecedented inquiry into Franco-era atrocities.

The judge had ordered the opening up of the mausoleum, so victims' remains could be removed.

And there was even talk of ageing fascists facing trial for crimes decades old.

But Judge Garzon's opponents argued that an amnesty law passed after the general's death had already pardoned political crimes by both sides.

If his father is ever to escape the Valley of the Fallen, Fausto must now rely on the goodwill of a local judge.

As I left the basilica, a small number of closet Francoists were gathered reverently around the general's tomb.

Some laid flowers, others hurriedly kissed the grave. One man offered a fleeting fascist salute, the moment the security guards looked the other way.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 22 November, 2008 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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