Litigation over the Meirás Estate, the Franco family’s summer residence in Galicia, has been going on for years. Galicia’s Junta Pro Devolución del Pazo de Meirás [Platform for the Return of the Meirás Estate], which represents the La Coruña County government, 40 local councils and historical memory groups and societies have never given up their struggle to get the Franco family to return a property which they believe was seized from the people.
At last now a judge has ruled in their favour in a lawsuit where the Spanish State appeared as a plaintiff, too. The ruling, however, is not final and the Franco family’s legal team —led by Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina— can appeal against it before La Coruña’s Provincial Court. Judge Marta Canales, who sits on the bench of La Coruña’s Court 1, has urged the dictator’s grandchildren to return the Meirás property because she has ruled that the State is its rightful owner. The judge has determined that the alleged purchase of 24 May 1941, which led to the dictator registering the property to his name, was “simulated” and, therefore, the purchase is null and void. Canales argues that the estate became part of Franco’s numerous private assets “in a fraudulent manner”, a fraud which is proven by the fact that no money changed hands in the purchase: “Francisco Franco accepts the Meirás Estate as a donation to the Head of State and then is issued a title deeds, on 24 May, with the sole purpose of registering the property in his name with the Property Registry Office and without paying a price”.
Furthermore, the judge emphasises that the lawsuit that aimed to return the Meirás Estate to public ownership is the result of “a significant historical survey and a social consensus built over many years”.
The ruling also states that, after enjoying the property for decades, now the Franco family must relinquish their summer residence —whose walls are covered in hunting trophies— without any compensation for the upkeep expenses which they have presumably incurred during all this time.
A secluded fortress
Until recently the Meirás Estate remained a secluded fortress. The building was not listed until 2008 and it was only first opened to visitors in 2011. Located in the municipality of Sada, it was Galician nationalist mayor Abel López Soto who fought to get the dictator’s former summer home opened to the public. When López first became mayor in 2003, he found a portrait of the dictator in the mayoral office.
The Franco family always put up a fight. Prior to the summer of 2018 they never used to open the estate to visitors one morning per week, as they were supposed to do. In August 2017, the BNG and several societies and groups decided to take some radical action. About 40 people sneaked into the building, climbed up one of the towers and put up a banner demanding that the property be returned to the public. They took the matter to the UN and the European Parliament. Eventually, the Franco family had no choice but to open up the Estate to the public and visitors were allowed back from 22 September 2018, albeit under management by the Francisco Franco Foundation.
The dictator’s fat, relentless ego
In the property there is no trace left of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Galician poet and essayist who owned the Estate until the Franco family seized it. The dictator’s ego meant that Pardo Bazán’s presence was completely erased. Pardo Bazán was an intellectual who had the Meirás Estate built as a writing and reading retreat. She used to have artists and intellectuals over and would gather her strength there to face a world that prevented women from entering academic institutions. She had the Muses displayed on a wall, only to be replaced by Franco’s coat of arms. At present the walls are dotted with vacant-eyed hunting trophies: there are over fifty of them, some bearing the date and place where they were hunted. There are also many portraits of Franco in uniform, looking poised to begin his conquest. The picture of the dictator’s wife, Carmen Polo, is ubiquitous. She appears wearing a lot of jewellery and looking all stern, as if she was about to scold someone.