Three arrested as Spain exhumes fascist movement’s founder

By Silvio Castellanos and Juan Antonio Dominguez

SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, Spain (Reuters) – Three people were arrested on Monday after police clashed with sympathisers of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Spain’s fascist Falange movement that supported the Francoist regime, whose body was exhumed from a mausoleum near Madrid.

Police struggled to hold back a crowd of about 150 Falange supporters gathered outside the San Isidro cemetery in southern Madrid, where he was taken to be reburied. They gave the fascist salute and sang the Falangist hymn “Facing the sun”. The three arrests were for public disorder, according to a police source.

Earlier, a smaller crowd outside the gates of the complex formerly known as the Valley of the Fallen also made the fascist salute and held up banners saying “Jose Antonio is present” or shouted “Long live Spain” as his hearse drove past.

His exhumation, which follows the 2019 removal of the remains of dictator Francisco Franco, is part of a plan to convert the complex built by Franco on a mountain near the capital into a memorial to the 500,000 people killed during Spain’s 1936-39 civil war.

Some 34,000 people’s remains, many of them victims of Franco’s regime, are buried anonymously in the complex.

Presidency Minister Felix Bolanos on Friday welcomed the exhumation. “No person or ideology that evokes the dictatorship should be honoured or extolled there,” he said at the time.

The Falange party continues to exist but does not have any seats in parliament. In 2019, the anti-immigration Vox became the first far-right party to win representation in Spain’s parliament since the restoration of democracy in 1977.

The son of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, who governed Spain from 1923-1930, Jose Antonio was shot by firing squad in November 1936 by left-wing Republican forces in Alicante.

It is the fifth time his body has been buried and the fourth time it has been exhumed.

In 1939, after having lain in two different mass graves in Alicante, his coffin was paraded 500 km (300 miles) from the eastern coastal city to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a town near Madrid where Spain’s royals are buried.

His remains were moved again to the Valley of the Fallen monument 20 years later and buried under the altar of the basilica.

Franco, a conservative general, and Primo de Rivera, a flamboyant playboy, had little love for each other, according to Franco’s biographer Paul Preston.

Franco sabotaged several efforts to organise a rescue or a prisoner swap that would have saved Primo de Rivera’s life, Preston wrote in his biography.

His death allowed Franco to eliminate a rival and take control of the Falangists, subsuming them to a broader far-right movement that supported his dictatorship.

The government said on Monday that work was ongoing in the mausoleum at the site, now called the Valley of Cuelgamuros, to give access to the crypts to carry out the exhumations of 121 people, as requested by their families.

(Reporting by Charlie Devereux and Emma Pinedo; Additional reporting by Michael Gore, Juan Medina and Miguel Gutierrez in Madrid; Editing by David Latona, Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)