Spain History - Rule of Franco (1939 - 1975)

With no opposition left to his leadership General Francisco Franco immediately set about ruthlessly removing from both army and political scene any possible future opponents. The Law of Political Responsibilities introduced in 1939 gave such wide powers to his rule that in the first three months 250,000 people were arrested. Thousands died before firing squads, tortured and languished for years in prisons. Most intellectuals and artists had to flee to other countries and it can be said that Spain temporary lost its soul.

One winner was the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII was quick to congratulate General Franco for his defence of the ideals of faith and Christian civilization. The Jesuits returned and once again took over the education of students. Bishops took their place in Parliament and new laws were always made to be in step with Catholic doctrine. Social standards overnight became ultra conservative to the point that holding hands in public was banned. The Falangelist Party was not left out of the act and was considered as one with the Catholic faith. It was a matter of pride for party members to appear at Mass in their uniform and give the Fascist salute. General Franco instructed the party to create new Unions which combined workers and management into one unit without any real power. The government used propaganda together with the press to also control the Party.

The Monarchists were in some ways were also winners from the Civil War in that Spain started to return to a conservative controlled social state. Monarchist values, if not views, were to return and preparing for the eventual day when a king was once again to occupy their throne. King Alfonso XIII continued in his comfortable exile until his death in Rome in 1941. His son Don Juan sought unsuccessfully Monarchist support from within Spain. His main contender was General Franco who was not necessarily an anti-Monarchists but who was firmly of the opinion that Spain needed nobody other than himself - Francisco Franco.

At the outbreak of the World War II, Germany made overtures for Spain to join them but General Franco proved to be elusive and kept his country neutral. Germany planned on taking Gibraltar as the an important door to the Mediterranean by marching an army down through Spain. This was known as Operation Felix and General Franco remained firm stating that a German army n Spanish soil would be resisted. This stand by him was to prove a great asset when later the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa (1942) used Gibraltar as its naval base. In 1941 Hitler tried once more to enlist General Franco's aid and for the last time when he travelled to Hendaye for a meeting. The General again proved so determined to keep Spain from becoming actively involved that Hitler had to instead accept an offering of troops and the supportive production of the Basque Iron Industry. General Franco realised that Spain was in no economic condition to be trapped into a costly war as it was still trying to recover from the results of its own Civil War. History records that he played all sides at once, assisting Jews to escape from Nazi persecution and at the same time sending the crack fighting Blue Division of 20,000 Spanish men to fight for Germany on the Russian front, in particular Stalingrad.

At the end of the World War II, Spain's situation was still economically strained and due to its governing strong right wing politics it was left out in the cold by the rest of democratically inclined Europe. In 1945 the newly formed United Nations (known previously as the League of Nations), formally voted against Spanish membership. The following year Franco closed Spanish borders to foreign powers and concentrated in the consolidation of his power within his own country.

He adopted a now typical policy of strong rulers by never allowing people to become too close or persons in positions of power and to become too comfortable or too secure. General Muņoz Grandes of the famed Blue Division only learnt he had been relieved of his post as Vice-President of the government when the official gazette was delivered to his office. One of the few exceptions and one man to influence General Franco was Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco and was one of the few peole earmarked as a possible successor. During his rule there were 19 major shakeups that in total affected over 120 different ministers in his government - this is besides the changes made in other political power points. He had only one rule and that was his, and always ready to back him were his generals and the equally important army of the Guarda Civil. Also, to establish control administration was all channelled through Madrid which involved considerable delays in any decision. Soon the country was to be by necessity run on corruption as this became the only manner to achieve the simplest of things.

In 1953 General Franco signed a treaty with the USA that in return for considerable financial aid ($ 1.8 billion by 1965), the Americans had use of Spanish military bases in their defence plans for dealing with the Cold War with Russia. The influx of dollars was soon felt in the Spanish economy and subsequently brought about a relaxation of the some of the political control of the Fascist inclined organizations. General Franco made peace with the Catholic Church for any past wrong-doings by placing priests on the state payroll but at the same time he negotiated with the Vatican that in return he had the right to approve or negate any new Bishop. The economic boom resulting from this badly needed money injection also helped to prepare the path for the late 50s and 60s insurgence of the tourist industry. This was to bring at the urban level a powerful exposure to other cultures that began to slowly influence the long established traditional way of thinking. Power slowly moved into the hands of a new breed of youngish ambitious technocrats and when in 1955 Spain's application to United Nations was accepted the doors of Spain were opened to foreign interests. One sad note for Spain was in 1956 when France withdrew its control on Morocco General Franco was forced at accept that he had to follow suit retaining just the ports of Ceuta and Melilla. They were also to lose possession of the phosphate rich Spanish Sahara in 1975.

The 1960's became the boom time for Spain with industry and commerce finding international markets. In 1965 their shipbuilding industry ranked sixth in the world and the foreign income from tourism was put to good use improving rundown communications. Unfortunately, rural workers now looked to earn decent wages by moving into urban areas which resulted in the agriculture industry being the first to suffer.

Not all Spaniards were prepared to accept this new style of control and demanded more liberty. The left fractions continued with their active discontent whilst mainly waiting for Franco to disappear from the political stage. As recorded throughout its history the inhabitants of the Basque region maintained an attitude of independence from Madrid and when a group of intellectuals in 1959 created a movement named ETA it gained serious local support. However, by 1967 this organization had passed into the hands of a group of extremists who adopted a terrorist policy. In 1973 they made a public showing of the sincerity of their intentions by dramatically killing Admiral Carrero Blanco who was at that time Franco's most powerful aide and next in line for the leadership of Spain. This secretive ETA continues with a its same policy for independence with less of the killings and many efforts have been made to find a solution acceptable to all sides.

In 1969 General Franco made the announcement that the throne would one day be occupied by a Bourbon, but not to the waiting in line Dom Juan, but passing by him to his 31 year old son Juan Carlos. The Prince had been born in Rome, educated in Spain, and then married in 1962 Princess Sofia the sister of the future-king Constantine of Greece. By 1968 much to the chagrin of diehard monarchists Juan Carlos accepted the throne in name but without any powers. For the next seven years he appeared at all ceremonial occasions standing close to Franco without expressing any thoughts and waiting for his moment.

By the mid 70s there were serious rumblings of rebellion with a plot discovered amongst junior army officers, student unrest, strikes amongst workers, and a lot of ETA terrorism. Also, Basque and Catalan young priests wanted their flocks to enjoy more civil freedom in line with the liberal minded Pope John XXIII. Many priests ended up in prison for becoming involved and actively assisting the various rebel groups. Apparently even the Bishop of Bilbao fell into disgrace with General Franco for publicly supporting the Basque language to be used as their regional language. In June of 1973 General Franco stepped to one side naming Admiral Carrero as the future defender of Francoism. ETA responded on the 20th of December by blowing Carrero and his car into the sky. In 1975 General Francisco Franco died and Spain held its breath as Dom Juan Carlos steped up to take the throne.


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