Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde – now simply remembered as Franco by most, although still Generalissimo or Caudillo (leader) by others. Even now, more than 35 years after his death, his name still provokes a fierce reaction. After many years of el pacto del olvido- the pact of forgetting – Spain is coming to terms with the legacy of the civil war. This has resulted in statues of Franco and his supporters being taken down – even in his home town of El Ferrol in Galicia – and streets being renamed all over the country. But there are still many, and not all of them in the military or elderly, for whom the age of Franco is looked upon, if not as a golden age, then at least as a time when, in some ways, life was more straightforward.
Francisco Franco was born in December, 1892 and, although his father was a naval man, he joined the Infantry Academy at Toldeo in 1907. As a lieutenant he was commissioned to Morocco in 1912 as part of the effort to win the Rif Wars with the native Moroccans. He soon gained a reputation for being an astute officer and was regularly promoted through the ranks becoming at one stage the youngest major in the Spanish army. By 1923, the year of his marriage, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish Foreign Legion. King Alfonso XIII, incidentally, was the best man at the wedding.
After being made the youngest general in 1926, Franco was subsequently given responsibility for the newly formed Military Academy in Zaragoza, a position he kept until its closure in 1931, which brought him into conflict with the newly established Second Republic. Franco found himself relegated from first in the list of military brigadiers to 24th and posted to the Balearic Islands but he came to prominence again in October, 1934 when, with the right wing government back in power, he was largely responsible for suppressing an insurgency in Asturias in which between 1,200 and 2,000 people were killed. This established Franco clearly as an ‘enemy’ of the left in Spain and when a left wing coalition regained power in February, 1936, he found himself sent to the Canary Islands in the position of military commander but with very few troops at his disposal. When Emilio Mola began trying to organize a military coup he held a secret meeting with Franco in La Esperanza Forest in Tenerife where a commemorative obelisk can still be seen at Las Raices. In villages in the centre of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, there are still cafés with large framed photographs of the Generalissimo on the walls – usually situated next to one of the Pope.
Upon deciding to join the rebels Franco was put in command of the Army of Africa. A De Havlland 89 was chartered from England to transport him to Morocco on July 19th, 1936; the Spanish Civil War had begun.
After the war, Franco was totally merciless in his attitude to his former enemies and an estimated 100,000 were killed or died in prison whilst many other opponents fled the country. Although, in 1947, Franco proclaimed Spain to be a monarchy, he did not designate a monarch. Instead he made himself regent wearing the uniform of captain general traditionally worn by the king and living in El Pardo Palace. His image appeared on coins and he was the commander of the army as well as leader of the only political party, the National Movement. The army provided most of the ministers for the government and the Catholic Church became powerful by being given control over most secondary schools. In addition, church weddings were made compulsory and divorces illegal. Spanish Nationalism was promoted fervently, at the complete expense of any cultural diversity. Bullfighting and flamenco were considered ‘national traditions’ and the languages of Catalan, Galician and Basque were forbidden in schools, advertising, on road or shop signs or in any publication. The chief means of social control, apart from the army, were the members of the Guardia Civil which acted as a military police for civilians.
Probably the most comprehensive biography of Franco was written by the British historian Paul Preston who has also had a book published in Spain with the translated title of Franco the Great Manipulator, which illustrates comprehensively how Franco was able to maintain his authority for so long. During the Second World War, for example, Franco was to keep a position that, at its most charitable, could be described as ‘ambiguous’ – keeping favour with Hitler but also allowing Jewish refugees from France and other countries to enter Spain as a safe haven. Historian Richard Bassett has claimed that Churchill paid Franco large sums of money in order to remain neutral, indeed, Britain and France acknowledged him to be head of state in February, 1939 – before the finish of the war.
Despite this support the United Nations remained very anti-Franco, sponsoring a trade boycott in the 1940s, which led to Spain’s ‘years of hunger’ – but then, in 1953, he negotiated with the USA to allow them to have four large bases in Spain as part of their anti-communism campaign in return for substantial sums in aid – and pressure on the United Nations to admit Spain, which it did in 1955. By the end of the 1950s the highly successful Stabilisation Plan, largely the product of members of the catholic group Opus Dei, was beginning to have an impact and during the first few years of the 1960s tourism began to really develop along the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava.
In 1969, with the jails still full of political prisoners and Franco personally signing all death warrants, Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón was officially pronounced as successor to the throne, who then took an allegiance of loyalty to the National Movement and Franco himself.
Franco died on November, 1975, having given a final speech warning of a ‘Judaeo – Masonic – Marxist’ conspiracy movement at work in Spain. The decision was made to bury Generalísimo in a colossal memorial at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos known as the Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, which was the site of the tallest memorial cross in the world (152 metres) and was a notable Nationalist monument. The fact that many political prisoners were made to carry out the construction of the Basilica, fourteen of whom died in the process, only added to its symbolism. In 2007, political rallies in celebration of the former dictator, often greatly attended and controversial events, were forbidden and the organisers were made to be much more ‘neutral’ in their presentations about the civil war.
Within two days of Franco’s death, Juan Carlos I took the throne and, with the help of former Franco aide Adolfo Suárez, the new, two-chamber parliamentary system, the reformation of political parties and trade unions, the development of a new constitution and the liberation of personal and social lives quickly began.