The legacy of General Franco is deeply divisive in Spain, where nostalgia for the dictatorship era still lingers on the Right. Mr Sanchez’s decision to pursue an exhumation tore up years of silence and inaction in confronting many of the horrors of the regime.
Mr Sánchez announced his intention to remove Franco’s remains just days after becoming prime minister last June. A law was enacted which states that Franco cannot lie in the same place as the more than 33,000 casualties from the 1936-1939 civil war buried at the Valley of the Fallen.
Justice Minister Dolores Delgado announced on Friday that the administrative process for the exhumation is complete, giving the Franco family two weeks to agree to an alternative reburial site – or cabinet ministers will assign one.
“This is an act of state and a historical step and we will be scrupulous in our application of the law. It is an act of reconciliation with our historical memory,” Ms Delgado said.
“This creates tension among Spaniards,” countered Juan Chicharro, president of the National Francisco Franco Foundation (NFFF), which defends the memory of the dictator.
“The supreme court must have its say and we hope justice will be done,” he added.
No official reaction was made by the family, but it is not expected to assist in the process by naming an alternative burial site.
The grandchildren previously suggested that Franco be reburied in Madrid’s Almudena cathedral, but the government refused to countenance the idea of the fascist leader moving from one prominent public tomb to another, ruling it out on “security grounds”.
“Franco’s seven grandchildren loved their grandfather madly, and they want him to be left alone. They do not want his corpse to be used for political purposes,” Luis Felipe Utrera, the Franco family’s lawyer, said in a programme aired on TeleMadrid on Friday.
The final line of resistance could be Prior Santiago Cantera. The Benedictine monk who has run in Spanish elections for the fascist Falangist party reportedly wrote to the government warning that the basilica is an inviolable space, according to a treaty between Spain and the Vatican.
But Ms Delgado said the government was permitted to enter churches to enforce the law, adding that the exhumation could take place regardless of the ongoing supreme court review process.
For some Spaniards, such as Rosa Gil, who is fighting a legal battle to have the body of her grandfather removed from the Valley of the Fallen, the exhumation of Franco is a straightforward issue.
“He should not be buried there because a democratic country cannot have a dictator in a prominent place. The ideal thing is that he is with his family, as my grandfather should be.”