The Franco Era

A few kilometres north of Felipe II’s El Escorial lies another man’s grandiose statement on his life and times. Inaugurated on the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, the colossal Valley of the Fallen monument took many years to complete and involved thousands of men toiling as virtual slaves. Most workers were war prisoners, although in theory the monument honoured the dead of both sides.

Like Felipe, Franco supervised the plans and often visited the site. The design reflected the overblown style favoured by all totalitarian governments, in this case “victorious” Spain’s pretensions of a holy crusade and an imperial past. Since 1975 it has served as the tomb of Francisco Franco and his era. Yet in its sheer pomposity, the Valley of the Fallen also expresses the ultimate folly of the Spanish Civil War.

This neo-Valhalla was carved and blasted from the innards of a huge granite mountain in the Sierra de Guadarrama. The first thing visitors see is a gigantic stone cross, 150 metres high and weighing thousands of tons, clutching the rock like some freak bird-of-prey. You enter the monument via a long, cavelike tunnel lined with chapels whose walls conceal the tombs of thousands of civil-war dead. At the far end is a massive basilica with marble floors, priceless tapestries, and intricate mosaics of Christ and the saints. Like Franco’s Spain itself, the setting is the perfect blending of religion and military pomp.

For the grand opening in 1959, the remains of José Antonio Primo de Rivera were transferred here from the Escorial (where he had been buried many years earlier). Blueshirted members of the Falange were out in force that day to hear Franco proclaim: “The struggle between good and evil never ends no matter how great the victory; Anti-Spain was routed, but it is not dead.”

This same sentiment dominated nearly forty years of Spanish history; The figure of one million civil war dead has been refuted, but the eminent authority Hugh Thomas considers half that number to be a reasonable estimate. This includes about 200,000 killed in combat, some 150,000 murdered or executed behind the lines by both sides, and at least another 100,000 executed or dying in prison in the years immediately after the war. Another 300,000 fled their country; never to return, pushing the figure of “lost” Spaniards close to 800,000. This does not count the injured and maimed. Post-war Spain swarmed with armless, legless or otherwise crippled soldiers in search of work. Only the lucky ones got jobs selling lottery tickets.

Without any doubt, the war’s crowning tragedy and Francisco Franco’s greatest failing was his utter lack of mercy and compassion toward the defeated, millions of his fellow Spaniards. For Franco the vanquished represented “anti-Spain,” and those not slaughtered on the battlefield should be exterminated or severely punished. There was no program of national recovery and reconciliation to bind the nation’s wounds, as President Lincoln proposed “with malice toward none” at the end of the American Civil War. But then Franco was no Lincoln.

In fact, the diminutive dictator never admitted that a civil war between Spaniards had been fought; instead Truth had triumphed over international Evil. The ultimate irony came when courts of rebel army-officers sentenced Loyalists to death for the crime of “rebellion.” The Law of Political Responsibilities (1939) tarred nearly everyone connected with Popular Front parties or government as guilty of something, and about a quarter of a million arrests were made in the first months (well over a million by 1942).

The summer of 1939 was an orgy of informing, private vendettas, and sanctioned executions. Tens of thousands died in the mass bloodletting; Mussolini’s son-in-law reported 250 executions a day in Madrid alone, mostly by firing squad. It got so bad that many of Franco’s supporters protested the bloody reprisals. But they did not subside. (Franco gave orders that a maximum of one in five suspects could be acquitted.) When France fell to the Germans in 1940, many republican leaders were sent back to their death in Spain, among them Catalan president Luis Companys. Facing the firing squad, he took off his shoes and socks so that he could die touching the soil of Catalonia.

Another side of the tragic story was Spain’s loss of virtually an entire generation of artists and intellectuals, either killed like Lorca or in exile. Machado died in France. Jimenez and many others went to live and write in Latin America. Other exiles were writers Américo Castro, Madariaga, Ramon Sender, Rafael Alberti, the cellist Casals, and film-maker Buñuel. Spain did not begin to make cultural progress again for many, many years.

Wrote Hugh Thomas: “Upon the heaped skulls of all these ideals, in the dust of the memory of so much rhetoric, one more cold-hearted, dispassionate, duller, and grayer man survived triumphant..."

The man named Franco who had risen to supreme power remained an enigma. “A less straightforward man I never met,” said one American journalist. He was short, increasingly stout, and had a shrill voice “like that of müezzin,” according to one observer. Moreover, he had an ordinary manner and was a poor speaker - hardly the charismatic traits of a modern dictator - yet it was said that those in his presence grew frightened and submissive.

Franco had proved his military skills and personal bravery. Yet he had a nasty vindictive streak that spoke volumes about the man. One time he strongly reprimanded Yagüe, a fervid supporter, when he praised the bravery of Republican troops. Thirty years after the war, when someone suggested that Loyalist veterans receive pensions, Franco was outraged: “You can’t combine a glorious army with the scum of the Spanish population.”

Spains conservative powers clearly dominated the post-war landscape. The army had proved it had the last word in Spanish politics and was showered with special privileges. Yet though cabinet members during the first twenty years were nearly half military men, Franco’s Spain was not literally “governed” by the army (although generals continued to loom in the background). With Franco in charge, the military slipped back to a state of political indifference, concerned more with promotions and getting new hardware. Many veterans joined the ranks of the beefed-up civil guard.

In April 1939, Pope Pius XII congratulated those who “rose in defense of the ideals of faith and Christian civilization.” The Catholic Church, acting as a catalyst among all elements of the Nationalist coalition, was another clear winner. The loyal church would receive its rewards, as bishops sat in parliament and on the Council of the Realm, and laws had to conform to Catholic dogma. Once again classrooms had crucifixes and pictures of the Virgin Mary, along with that of the caudillo. The Jesuits were allowed back and given charge of most secondary schools, proving again the old adage that “Night and the Jesuits always return.”

The clergy also assumed the role of guardians against “moral lapses” such as holding hands in public, wearing sleeveless shirts, or being seen conversing with Protestants. In short, it was a hidebound brand of Catholicism going back to the age of Felipe II. The church and military often linked arms in defending the new regime. One naval training handbook read: “Other nations struggle to gain more territory; more food, more petroleum. Spain has battled and will continue to do battle so that there are more Catholics and honourable men in the world.”

Initially at odds, the church and Falange began to cozy up, and blue shirts and fascist salutes became common at Mass. Even bishops and nuns thrust out a raised arm at every opportunity; And the church had a new “saint” in José Antonio; his disinterred body was carried on the shoulders of falangists all the way from Alicante to the Escorial for reburial - a trip lasting ten days and nights. (His burial at the royal site stirred monarchist ire.)

Franco had crushed the Falange’s radical wing, and post-war attempts to create a fascist state were thwarted by conservatives. One exception was the Spanish labour movement, awarded as a kind of booby-prize to the Falange, which created “vertical syndicates” combining both management and labour of each economic sector into individual unions. The idea was to replace class struggle with cooperation in a kind of a state-run paternalistic world. The Falange also controlled the press and government propaganda machine, the bark if not the bite of power.

The monarchists must also be considered winners in post-Republic Spain, but it was a hollow victory without the return of the king or his heir. Alfonso XIII was reasonably content with life in exile, though he complained that with each passing year he was seated one row further back at polo matches. He died in Rome in 1941, shortly after he renounced his rights to his son, Don Juan, who began to drum up support and issue manifestos calling for a return to the monarchy. This merely served to annoy Franco, who had no intention of relinquishing any of his power. Noting the presence of anti-monarchists among his supporters, Franco claimed his rule was “that which divides us least.”

Many of the more realistic political exiles came to realize that a constitutional monarchy was the only hope for a return to some semblance of liberty; It was a great irony indeed when these republicans looked to the Bourbon pretender to deliver them from Franco. On the subject of pretenders, Francis Xavier pressed his claims; later, the Carlist torch was later passed to his son Hugo Carlos. (This odd bird made nonsense of the entire movement by becoming a socialist in the 1960s.)

Just a few months after the surrender of Madrid, the Second World War broke out with the joint German-Soviet invasion of Poland, an act of collusion that shocked Franco. Although indebted to the Axis powers, Franco steered an evasive course that kept him out of the war. Especially after Hitler’s pact with Stalin, Franco had reason to suspect the Germans, who could not care less about Spain except for its vitally strategic importance in the Mediterranean.

After the fall of France, Spain became distinctly less neutral, and there was talk about inheriting French North Africa as part of the “New Order.” In October 1940 Hitler and Franco had their famous meeting at Hendaye in France. After keeping the fürhrer waiting an hour, the Spaniard proceeded to drive Hitler to distraction with a masterly display of his strongest quality - the ability to promise everything but give nothing. Franco willingly agreed to become an ally, but would not commit to any timetable for Spain’s entry into the war. Every request by the German was met with a counter-request in Spain’s interest such as sovereignty over Morocco; anything to stall a firm commitment. Finally, Hitler gave up, later remarking “I would rather have three or four teeth pulled than meet that man again.

German diplomats continued to press for safe passage of troops through Spain for an attack on Gibraltar, a plan called Operation Felix. But Franco would not budge, and even stated that any attempt to cross the Spanish border would be resisted. Finally Hitler wearied of the debate and turned his attentions to the invasion of Russia. The German failure to gain passage proved to be a major turning point. In October 1941, a great Anglo-American invasion force massed at Gibraltar for the crucial invasion of North Africa, the beginning of the end for the Axis. No less than Churchill praised Franco’s role - however selfish - in turning the tide. (Franco was also credited with allowing many Jewish refugees from France to seek haven in Spain.)

Yet Franco regained much of his pro-fascist ardour with Hitler’s invasion of Russia. Nearly 20,000 Spanish “volunteers,” the famed Blue Division led by General Muñoz Grandes, set off for the eastern front to help fight communism. They saw some of the war’s bitterest fighting, including the battle of Stalingrad, and suffered heavy losses. In a 1942 speech Franco offered a million Spanish volunteers to defend Berlin.

By 1943 the war’s outcome was uncertain, and Franco began to backtrack by recalling the Blue Division and affirming Spain’s neutrality. Spanish pyrites and tungsten for munitions were sold to the highest bidder at unheard-of prices. After the Normandy invasion, the American ambassador noticed that the photos of Hitler and Mussolini in Franco’s office - previously flanking another of the pope - had suddenly vanished. The defeat of Germany marked the end of Spain’s so-called fascist period; even the infamous raised-arm salute was banned. Realizing his country’s weak position, Franco began to work on his image abroad.

With the defeat of the Axis, much of Europe and most exiled Spaniards expected Allied armies to cross the Pyrenees and oust the “last fascist dictator.” But this was not to be, largely due to growing concern about Soviet intentions in Europe. Nevertheless, in 1945 the new United Nations voted to formally exclude Spain from the same community of nations that included the likes of Stalinist Russia. The next year France closed its border, and most governments withdrew their recognition of Franco’s regime. With consummate skill, Franco used this diplomatic isolation to rally Spanish patriotism and consolidate his own power. 

Francoism came to be, in the words of its wily architect, “a novel solution.” After so many rigid ideologues, Franco was the supreme pragmatist, who sought to achieve a perpetual balance of power among the loyal but sometimes rival “clans” that formed his power base: church, army, Falange, monarchists, bankers. To all he gave something, to each never enough. And no one was really sure how Franco would act or react. Most of the political history of his 36-year reign involved the ebb and flow of each “family member.”

Franco’s attitudes about government were simple: politicians were corrupt and should be eliminated; the press was biased and should be controlled. In politics as in war, procrastination was his main policy; he always preferred to delay action rather than act unsuccessfully. The secret of Franco’s power lay in his right to name and dismiss ministers at will. (Over almost four decades there were 19 major shakeups and 120 different ministers sitting on the council.) These ministers ran the government under a fairly loose rein, but were replaced whenever squabbling grew too vocal or their power too great. Quite unlike a ranting Hitler or Mussolini, Franco would preside over council meetings with a detached serenity, rarely making a comment. Said one monarchist: “A lot of the time he didn’t have anything to say. He was a sphinx without a secret.”

The Spanish cortes was a rubber-stamp parliament of appointees. Of the thousands of laws passed during the Franco era, only two actually originated in parliament. The courts were likewise mouthpieces for official policy: all power resided in the executive branch and ultimately with Franco himself. One critic shrewdly observed that he was really “the supreme Spanish anarchist,” answering to no law but his own.

In 1945, as part of his window-dressing campaign to improve Spain’s image abroad, Franco gave the nation its Charter of Rights. But the new clothes were threadbare, denying such basic liberties as freedom of expression and political association. Many of the rights granted were routinely trampled on, and with the courts part of the monolith, the average citizen had no place to protest government or police abuse. The press was totally controlled, and the string of state-sponsored provincial dailies of abysmal quality. Reading them became an art in itself; if headlines pronounced “No Strike in Catalonia,” it meant something big was happening.

Franco’s social philosophy was likewise simple; “For the good of Spain, I should like there to be rather fewer rich people and rather fewer poor,” he once remarked. Labour laws used a clever blend of carrot and stick to bring the traditionally unruly working class to heel. Reflecting falangist influence, both capitalism and socialism were rejected in favour of a corporative state of government paternalism. Workers gained a plethora of benefits like social security, numerous paid holidays and bonuses, and job security so sacred that only the most heinous offense warranted dismissal. On the other hand, strikes were considered acts of sedition punishable by long prison terms. The policies of long-time Labour Minister José Antonio Giron (1941-56) were very popular with workers and won much good will for the regime from the common man.

When peace came to Spain the economy was in shambles: fields lying fallow, factories smashed, cities bombed. Rebuilding would not be easy, especially when Franco maintained that things would “right themselves” in time. New labour laws defined Spain’s economy as “totalitarian.” Its principles were self-sufficiency (the end of “exotic products”), government regulation, and vertical syndicates. This nationalistic and authoritarian version of economics (called “autarchy”) meant inefficiency and corruption, a clumsy bureaucratic machine, and thriving black markets to deal with people’s real needs.

Spain’s economy had numerous fundamental weaknesses. It was still based on a system of agriculture mired in backward techniques and the unresolved land problem (e.g. in Malaga province 1.8 per cent of the landowners still controlled 55 per cent of the land). Transportation was also backward; until 1947 there was no railroad between Madrid and Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. Goods to and from the provinces were forced to take the most roundabout routes, always via the capital. Additionally, worker productivity was low.

In Franco’s Spain, Madrid bureaucrats were free at last to carry out the centralisation begun by Felipe V. Direct state investments into the economy were funneled through an unwieldy agency called the INI, whose name became a byword for ineptitude. Grandiose schemes were launched with little or no planning, then became bogged down in a sea of regulations, many self-imposed. The average businessman fought a losing battle against paperwork from Madrid.

The first decade after the war were the “years of hunger” for most of Spain, and economic life was primitive and often picturesque. Private cars practically disappeared due to a gasoline shortage, and strange contraptions burning charcoal or almond shells were seen rumbling through the potholed streets. Mechanical wizards kept the most dubious wrecks rolling. It was an utter contrast with a consumer society: toothbrushes were reconditioned rather than replaced and fountain pens sold on the installment plan. Electricity and water could be cut at any moment, and telephone service was sporadic at best.

State control left enormous loopholes for corruption, and favouritism and influence-peddling became part of the system. The only way to get things done - finding an apartment, getting a telephone, making a business deal - was through a friend or an enchufe (a contact, literally a “plug”). The idea of conflict-of-interest between government and business did not exist. Anyone who did not line their pockets when given the chance was considered deranged. Juan March was probably the ultimate product of the system; his smuggled cigarettes almost broke the government monopoly, and it was said he had 40,000 Spaniards on his payroll from customs officials to ministers. When he died in 1962 (his Cadillac collided with another car) he was reputedly the world’s seventh richest man.

Franco was personally honest, but turned a blind eye to those around him. His brother Nicolis, for example, got involved in many shady deals. Economics was not Franco’s strong suit, and there are indications that he never grasped how bad things really were in those first years. Like the Bourbon kings, he went shooting several times a week and spent little time on the nation’s business.

Part of Francoism was a self-orchestrated personality cult that eventully reached the absurd with such titles as “Minister of God” and “The sword of the most high.” Every Spanish town had its plaza or avenida named in his honour; his photo was in every office. Franco lived at El Pardo Palace outside Madrid, but played king in grandiose style at lavish receptions given at the Bourbon’s Palacio Real in the capital. Imperial touches included a personal bodyguard of turbaned Moroccans.

Franco was king in all but name, and he may have considered taking that final title if he had sired a son (he and Carmen Polo had one daughter). One man who urged him to do so was his fanatically loyal aide, Admiral Luis Carrero BlancoAdmiral Luis Carrero Blanco For thirty years he was the dictator’s right arm, his alter-ego, and he came close to succeeding his mentor. Carrero was an interesting breed of arch-conservative; he detested the Falange, yet regularly made harangues about the usual liberal vices. Among them he counted Judaism, “the origin of all other evils from the Enlightenment to Marxism.”

Over the years Franco’s search for legitimacy and popular approval developed into a complex structure of institutions he hoped would outlive him. The Law of Succession (1947) defined Spain as a monarchy; Franco was regent with the right to name the successor to the throne. The new monarch had to meet specific criteria: he should be male, Spanish-born, Catholic, over 30, and must swear loyalty to the Movement’s principles. A national plebiscite of questionable validity confirmed the law. Don Juan, the legitimate heir, protested Franco’s manipulations from his Portuguese exile. He correctly suspected that Franco the temporary guardian would become Franco the permanent dictator. The two rivals finally met in 1948 aboard a yacht off San Sebastian and disliked each other instantly. They agreed only that Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, would be educated in Spain.

Under the stifling cloud of Francoism cultural achievements were meager. One best-seller on the civil war theme was The Cypresses Believe in God by José Maria Gironella. Of more literary merit, perhaps, were works by Camilo José Cela, The Family of Pascual Duarte and The Hive, the latter about the miserable life in post-war Madrid. Art made a tentative comeback in the late forties with Antoni Tapies, called “the black knight of modern painting.” Miró continued to paint and to champion Catalan culture, “like a carob tree, deep-rooted and evergreen.” Dali remained in Franco’s Spain, opening a museum in his native Figueres once called a “temple of kitsch.” Public architecture reverted to the “Escorial style” seen in massive buildings like the air ministry in Madrid and the ultimate travesty - the Valley of the Fallen.

In music Joaquin Rodrigo penned his brilliant musical masterpiece, the Concierto de Aranjuez. With Buñuel in exile and censorship severe, the promising Spanish cinema took a sharp nosedive. All film scripts had to be submitted for approval, and the dubbing of foreign films was compulsory. Audiences tried to fathom the mind-boggling plots created by the censor’s scissors in which, at the risk of implying incest, mistresses were converted into sisters and lovers into uncles. One amusing film in 1952 was Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall a comedy by Berlanga about the new connection between the wealthy, powerful United States and impoverished but proud Spain.

With the start of the Cold War in the late forties, Franco could play his anti-communist card with the Americans, well aware of Spain’s strategic location. The ice was broken in 1950 with an American ambassador to Madrid and a loan. President Truman disliked Franco - especially after discovering Protestants had to be buried at night - but his successor was a general and had fewer misgivings. In 1953, Eisenhower and Franco signed an agreement permitting four American bases on Spanish soil in return for substantial aid ($1.8 billion by 1965). “It was like water to the desert,” said one minister.

The treaty helped launch Spain’s economic recovery and indirectly its later political reform, but at the time its most important result was to legitimise the Franco regime. Upon signing the accord he remarked, “At last I have won the Spanish war.” In 1955, Spain was admitted to the United Nations. Franco also played his Catholic card by concluding a concordat with the Vatican (1954). Priests were put on the state payroll, and in return Franco won the right to approve bishops. The Vatican even bestowed its highest honour on Franco: Knight of the Order of Christ.

Spain’s only other diplomatic successes were in fostering cultural and economic ties with Latin America, and in its friendship with several Arab nations. In the middle of his Arab overtures, Franco seemed caught off guard when France announced its withdrawal from Morocco (1956). But he too had to face the inevitable and abandoned Spanish Morocco. Spain retained the ports of Ceuta and Melilla, and (until 1975) the phosphate-rich Spanish Sahara (Rio de Oro), the last crumb of Franco’s neo-colonial delusions.

In 1964, colourful posters began appearing all over Spain announcing the completion of 25 years of peace. The Francoist press claimed it was the longest period without domestic or foreign war since the Pax Romana, and many believed that the time for reconciliation had come. By 1964, 43 per cent of the population had been born since the war, and Franco was the only leader they had known. Unfortunately, the propaganda machine continued to dwell on the fear and hatred of the civil war, and a film about the new Cid, called This Man Franco, played to packed theatres around Spain.

The old man had settled into a comfortable life of fishing and hunting. He also took up painting, favouring seascapes and game-animals, and even did a self-portrait in an admiral’s uniform, the one denied him by his exclusion from the naval academy. He still dabbled in politics, especially if it involved sacking a minister who had grown too independent. His style spoke volumes: In 1966, Muñoz Grandes of the Blue Division, considered a possible successor, discovered he had been relieved as vice-president of the government by reading about it in the official gazette.

Franco registered in the Society of Spanish Authors under the pen-name Jaime de Andrade for his history of the foreign legion and a 1940 screenplay called Raza (Race). Using the pseudonym Jakim Boor, he also penned an astonishing treatise on Freemasonry called simply Masoneria. In it he claimed that modern history resulted from their conspiracy to rule the world, and that all Spain’s modern ills sprang from masonic intrigue.

Order was the undeniable achievement of Franco, but the price was high. By the 1960s Spain was still an authoritarian state with a rubber-stamp parliament, shackled press, and jails filled with political prisoners. Passing out pamphlets or “spreading false news” were considered acts of “military rebellion,” and student pranksters could be tried by army courts. Large garrisons were located just outside the major cities, and the civil guard had its fortress-like cuarteles in every small town, from which they patrolled the countryside. In the larger towns and cities a new force called the policia armada (nicknamed “the grays” for their uniforms) struck fear in potential criminals and dissidents alike. There was also a plain-clothes secret police based in the gobernación building on Madrid’s Puerta del Sol. A strong hand was often not necessary, however. Crime rates were low, and most of the populace had slipped into political apathy.

With rare exceptions - like Manolete (killed in the ring in 1947) and El Cordobés (a sixties mop-top) - soccer had replaced bullfighting as the national passion. Franco himself was an avid fan, and the nation went berserk with its victories over England (1950) and the Soviet Union (1964).

Feeling a new prosperity along with the 25 years of peace, Spaniards of all classes began to appreciate the accomplishments of Francoism. Given a kick-start with foreign loans and freed from many government constraints, the economy was definitely improving. Facing ongoing disasters through the decade, economic ministers from a new school had convinced Franco of the need for fundamental changes. His reluctant approval led to the Stabilization Plan (1959), the death knell of twenty years of state autarchy and its pitiful results. Price controls, import quotas, limits on foreign investment, and other economic dinosaurs were dropped in favour of a relatively free market.

Among the new ministerial voices were members of Opus Dei (“God’s Work”), a lay-Christian group of hazy origins and purposes (critics called the group Octopus Dei). Founded by an Aragonese priest in 1929, Opus Dei strives to increase Catholic influence in all realms of society, especially among the intellectual elite. Its handbook, called The Way, reads like a Spanish version of the Protestant work ethic, and group members’ talent and effort (plus Carrero Blanco’s support) propelled them into key positions in the government.

One vital element of the economic miracle was tourism. Numbers of foreign visitors rocketed from 4 million in 1960 to 14 million by 1965 and would go through the roof in the next decade. Tourism provided jobs and badly needed foreign exchange for purchasing imports such as petroleum. More foreign currency poured in from Spanish workers abroad, more than half a million by 1970. With the influx of tourists, Spain seemed to go mad with building projects along its coast, and even falangists like Girón made fortunes on the Costa del Sol and elsewhere.

Construction also boomed in the cities, where industries were suddenly humming like never before. During the decade Spain’s overall growth rate was second only to Japan’s, and in the 15 years after 1960, industry’s share of exports rose from 21 to 78 per cent. By 1965 Spain ranked sixth worldwide in shipbuilding, ahead of the United States. When the first SEAT factory was built in 1952, managers worried that the market could not absorb a hundred cars a month; by the 1970s SEAT employed 20,000 workers, and Spanish automakers churned out 750,000 cars a year.

Manning these new factories required a huge population shift from country to city. In 1960 agriculture still employed 42 per cent of the labour force, but this had shrunk to 25 per cent a decade later. By 1970 1.6 million Andalusians had left their region, and about half of them were living in Barcelona. Emigration from Extremadura and the bleak Castilian plain also reached tidal-wave proportions. Except for the elderly who stayed behind, village after hopeless village was abandoned for the baubles of Bilbao or Barcelona. The old ways - pack animals lumbering along cobbled streets, plowing with mules, oil lamps and charcoal fires - were retreating to the remote pueblos for a last stand before finally succumbing to the onslaught of motorbikes and slot-machines.

Franco’s speeches during the 1960s dropped falangist rhetoric and hammered on the theme of prosperity; glossing over problems like inflation and labour strife. Yet 1962 witnessed the most industrial unrest since the Republic, and there were also rumblings at the universities. The central drama of the Franco era was how to modernize the economy yet keep Spaniards content with the old social-political order. In the end it was not possible; changing realities made Franco-style rule obsolete. The ultimate irony for Francoism, therefore, was that the progress it had spawned would come back to bring it down.

Consider the changes wrought by tourism. In the 1950s tourists were arrested for wearing bikinis or kissing in public. A Spanish cardinal stated, “Public bathing constitutes a special danger for morality. Mixed bathing must be avoided because it almost always gives rise to sin and scandal.” By 1970 this world had completely changed as Spaniards were bombarded with foreign ideas like democracy and socialism, not to mention consumerism and free-spirited rubias (blondes). In a survey of non-congenital mental illness in Malaga province, 90 per cent of the afflicted were teenaged males who had gone to work on the coast and could not adapt to the new ways. By 1975, more than 40 million tourists were coming to Spain every year, outnumbering the entire Spanish population. Spain was also becoming a consumer society, less interested in religion and political rhetoric than in “the good life.” Television sets jumped from 50,000 in 1960 to 1.75 million by 1965, and there were over a million private cars by the same year.

Spain’s economic miracle and its social effects were felt most strongly in the old regional bastions of Catalonia and the Basque lands. There the native residents continued to regard themselves as more productive and culturally advanced, more “modern” than fellow Spaniards, especially the droves of immigrant workers flooding in from rural provinces. (By 1970, only 25 per cent of the residents of the Basque provinces could speak the language.)

Not surprisingly, regionalism began to raise its head again. The evolution of Basque nationalism defied all logic - from its ultra-conservative Carlist roots to reluctant support of the Republic, from crude racialism to an odd breed of revolutionary Marxism. The now-infamous group called ETA (euskadi ta askatasuna) was founded in 1959 by a few pseudo-intellectuals tired of the old Basque party; but by 1967 extremists dedicated to violence had taken control. Of nine “states of emergency” called by the government from 1962 to 1975, six were in the Basque country. And when the police over-reacted, moderate Basques started to sympathize with ETA.

Faced with a host of new realities, the political world started to divide in the 1960s between those who wanted to “open up” Spain to modern influences and those who steadfastly resisted. The former included a new civil service based on a college-educated middle class, best represented by Manuel Fraga Iribarne, who became Minister of Information and Tourism in 1962. Opus Dei members favoured economic opening, but shied away from politics. The forces of reaction were called “the immobile ones” and later “The Bunker.”

By the late 1960s the question on everyone’s lips was "Despues de Franco, que?" (What happens after Franco?) The aging dictator tried to head off an impending crisis by serving up the final course of political institutions, leaving things “tied up and well tied down” in his own words. The Organic Law of 1966 allowed the “contrast of opinions” but not political parties, and the election of one-fifth of parliament by “heads of families.” These and other curious features comprised something called “organic democracy.”

Many of the reforms were comical. According to the liberalized press law, there was no more “prior censorship,” but copies of periodicals had to be in the government’s hands half-an-hour before publication. If there was a problem, the issue was confiscated - often ripped from readers’ hands right on the street. Thus the burden of complying with Francoist principles shifted from the censors to editors and reporters. One paper was fined for printing a critical article in which Franco was referred to as “De Gaulle.” Another was closed for four months, then dynamited, after its editor criticised the regime in a French daily. When the Organic Law was put to a vote in 1967, Spaniards said “yes” by a 95 per cent majority. (A “no” vote meant leaving things as they were.) Franco had staged another triumph without granting more than a wisp of reform.

The same year as the plebiscite, Carrero Blanco was named vice-president and became the heir apparent. His views on reform were simple: “To offer change to a Spaniard was like offering a drink to a confirmed alcoholic.” Carrero was a strong supporter of Don Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, to fill the vacant throne, and in 1969 Franco made the long-expected announcement. Little was known about the 31-year old prince or his views, but nearly everyone was suspicious. He was born in Rome in 1938, baptized by the future pope, and brought to Spain for his education at the age of ten. This included stints at the three military academies and the University of Madrid, where he was a capable if not brilliant student.

While still in school, Juan Carlos was invited by Queen Frederika to Greece, where he met princess Sofia (sister of future-king Constantine). The attractive young couple were married in 1962 at a spectacular double-ceremony using both Roman Catholic and Orthodox rites. Their first-born son was Felipe (the future Prince of Asturias), and his baptism in Madrid was a veritable Bourbon reunion, with the exiled queen, Victoria Eugenia, making her first appearance in Spain since 1931.

Over the years it became evident that Franco had no intention of bringing back the legitimate heir, the feisty Don Juan. In 1962 he told Juan Carlos, “Your highness has a better chance of becoming king than your father.” Two years later, the young prince was asked to join Franco on the podium at the annual victory parade. By 1968, Juan Carlos had decided to “leapfrog” over his father to the throne, a decision that outraged many monarchists to whom the line of succession is sacred. Their displeasure grew after his investiture, at which he knelt and swore loyalty to Franco and the Movement. Thereafter Juan Carlos was usually present at all state affairs, stone-faced and towering awkwardly over the lilliputian dictator 46 years his senior.

Supporters of Don Juan grumbled, but within the Movement only a few old falangists and Carlists opposed the choice of Juan Carlos. The Carlist pretenders Francis Xavier and Hugo Carlos had already been expelled from Spain and were not a threat; the latter became a favourite of the society pages after marrying princess Irene of the Netherlands. A more serious challenge was Alfonso, son of Don Jaime. (Jaime, Juan’s elder brother, had renounced his rights in 1932, but tried to reclaim them in 1964.) Young Alfonso - actually Alfonso XIII and Eugenia’s first grandchild - did not press his claims, but tongues wagged furiously when, in 1972, he married one of Franco’s granddaughters. Juan Carlos was on notice not to deviate from his passive role. According to one story; after he was seen dining with a leading liberal, Franco remarked, “The choice is your highness’s; you can either be a prince or a private individual.”

Francoism began to seriously unravel after 1969, with a major cabinet crisis, serious student unrest, wildcat strikes, and ETA terrorism. At a pelota match attended by Franco, one zealous Basque doused himself with gasoline, lit a match, and jumped in front of the astonished crowd (he miraculously survived). There were even rumblings within the two pillars of Francoism, the church and army. A group of young officers with democratic sympathies was discovered and punished, but a new generation of soldiers looked to the future.

Far more serious and especially galling to Franco were changes within the church during the 1960s. Basque and Catalan priests had traditionally supported more political and cultural freedom for their regions. Then, with the winds of change blowing from the Vatican under liberal pope John XXIII, the foot-dragging Spanish church began to loosen its grip. The younger clergy and even some bishops became more radical and supported worker and student groups, and the most radical even offered their churches as refuges for ETA fugitives. The regime reacted by creating a special prison in Zamora where about 200 priests served time, more than in all of Europe’s communist countries combined.

One key figure in the struggle was Cardinal Enrique y Tarancón, archbishop of Madrid, who presided over the parting of the ways with full support from Rome. In 1971, an open letter from the Spanish bishops actually asked forgiveness of the church for taking sides in the civil war. Three years later, the Bishop of Bilbao was placed under house-arrest for writing a defense of the Basque language, and Tarancón warned Franco against interference in church matters. It was said that the pope even had a decree of excommunication for the general awaiting signature should the Basque bishop be expelled. Franco was livid; the circle had been squared.

In June 1973, Franco resigned as president of the government (retaining his other titles) and appointed Carrero, then 71 but the chief guarantor of Francoism after Franco. In December, a group of ETA commandoes tunneled beneath the street where Carrero passed daily on his way to Mass and deposited a cache of explosives. When it passed the spot the morning of the 20th, the president’s special armour-plated Dodge was blown five stories into the air, over the top of the church, and into a courtyard on the other side. It was the first major assassination since the civil war.

The nation, and above all Franco, was severely shocked, and the hardcore right-wing began bracing for battle. At Carrero’s funeral, Cardinal Tarancón was jostled and insulted by thugs, who yelled “to the firing squad!” Franco appointed a rigid conservative named Arias Navarro as president, indicating that he would not consider backing down. But when even Arias showed signs of “opening up” small groups of extremists like “The Warriors of Christ the King” began to appear, beating up “red” priests and slashing Picasso paintings. The year 1975 was the most violent since the 1940s, with terrorist groups mushrooming on both extremes. ETA and new bands like FRAP continued a rampage of random violence in which many innocent people were slaughtered. Spain seemed to be lurching toward disintegration once again, and cynics began referring to the king-to-be as Juan Carlos, El Breve (“the Brief”).

King Hassan of Morocco chose this moment to launch his “Green March” of unarmed civilians against the phosphate-rich Spanish territory of Western Sahara, in order to press claims of sovereignty over the region. Spain tactfully withdrew, and Morocco inherited a colonial war against the area’s independence movement, supported largely by neighbouring Algeria.

The nation’s seeming decay was matched by that of Franco himself, suffering from several ailments in addition to old age. In September 1975, the trial and execution of several terrorists created an inexplicable international scene, with the temporary withdrawal of ambassadors and other measures. Soon after, Franco had his last hurrah at a huge rally in Madrid’s Plaza de Oriente. The old dictator, his hands shaking and his voice shrill, rallied the sea of supporters by blaming the uproar on a conspiracy of freemasons, communists, and other enemies of order. It was his final speech.

For the next five weeks all Spain - and half the world - watched Franco’s inevitable decline. In a desperate effort to keep him alive, doctors (led by Franco’s son-in-law) connected him to every life-support device imaginable, and he was heard to mutter “Why is it so difficult to die?” Like a true soldier, he bore the pain and endless operations with famed Spanish stoicism, the mantle of the Virgin of Pilar and St. Teresa's severed hand by his bedside. Finally, the pattern of brain waves recorded on a bedside graph flickered and stopped. The age of Franco was history.