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Spanish poetry icon to be exhumed

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman


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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Initial steps have begun to exhume and identify the remains of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was shot dead by right-wing forces at the outset of Spain's Civil War in 1936.

Lorca, whose works include "Romancero gitano" (the gypsy balladeer) and "The Poet in New York," became an icon for generations of writers. He was also a playwright.

The effort to exhume his remains, presumed dumped in a mass grave, is among the boldest steps yet for the Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory, a Spanish citizens group which has been trying to build support to identify and exhume the mass graves left over from the Civil War.

Some 600,000 people died in the Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, won by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. His right-wing regime ruled Spain until his death in 1975.

Experts say 30,000 opponents of Franco could still be buried in mass graves, which are thought to number in the hundreds.

The association, in a statement Thursday sent to CNN, said it has asked the town hall of Alfacar -- a village near Granada in southern Spain -- for permission to exhume a mass grave in the locale of Viznar, where Garcia Lorca is believed to be buried.

The request, made Monday, now faces various administrative procedures. If permission for exhumation is granted, a DNA expert would be brought in to try to identify Garcia Lorca's remains from that of others, including a teacher and a bullfighter, who are thought to be in the same grave site.

The association said it made the request in the name of the relatives of the teacher, Dioscoro Galindo, and the bullfighter, Francisco Galadi. But the relatives of Garcia Lorca were not part of the association's request, and one Garcia Lorca relative -- Manuel Fernandez de Montesinos -- has said, according to the association, that he was not in favor of the exhumation although he would not oppose it for the relatives of the other families.

Even after Spain's transition to democracy in the late 1970s, it still took many years before the association formed and exhumed its first mass grave, in October 2000.

Since then, the remains of 210 people have been exhumed, an association member told CNN on Thursday. Last month, the association reported that an investigating magistrate appeared, for the first time, at one of the exhumations.

But the association says that the government of conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been resistant to exhuming the mass graves.

The opposition Socialist Party has requested funding in parliament to help recover and identify the missing in the mass graves, but the ruling Popular Party has declined.

A Popular Party spokesman told CNN last year, "This issue is closed for us. We don't have to look at the past."

Lorca was born in Fuente Vaqueros in June 1898, near Granada. He was in southern Spain when the Civil War started in July 1936, and pro-Franco forces rapidly took control of that part of the country. He was captured and historians say he was shot, near Granada, soon after the outbreak of the war.

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