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The dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) was a Spanish general and statesman. At the head of a military junta, in 1936 he engaged in a war against the republican government, the spanish civil war, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. After the Nationalist victory in 1939, Franco assumed the title of Caudillo ("the guide") and ruled Spain with an iron fist until his death in 1975. The following year, the Franco regime which he had set up - authoritarian, conservative and Catholic - gave way to a parliamentary monarchy.
Franco's military career
Francisco Franco was born on December 4, 1892 in a family of Ferrol sailors. Trained at the military school of Toledo (1907-1910), he served from 1912 to 1927 in Morocco and was commissioned in 1920 to organize the Spanish Foreign Legion. His brilliant conduct during the Rif War, in particular during the landing in the Bay of Alhucemas (September 1925), earned him his appointment as general at the age of thirty-three. Commander of the Saragossa military school (1927-31), he was removed by the republican regime and appointed to the Balearics (1933). Recalled in the metropolis after the electoral victory of the conservatives, he participated in 1934 in the repression of the uprising in Asturias.
In 1935 he was appointed by Alcalá Zamora chief of general staff of the army. In 1936, after the victory of the Popular Front, he was again removed and appointed head of the general command of the Canaries. With Godet and Queipo de Llano, he then entered a plot led by General Sanjurjo. When the nationalist uprising broke out on July 17-18, 1936, he flew into Spanish Morocco, gained control and took command of the insurgent forces in southern Spain.
In the Spanish Civil War
Following the accidental death of Sanjurjo, he was appointed generalissimo by the military junta of Burgos (September 12), then head of state (September 29, 1936). In this post, while personally directing the military operations which ended, in March 1939, in the defeat of the Republicans, the "caudillo" laid the foundations of the new state by establishing a single party (April 1937) and a state labor organization. . Supported by the Spanish right, including the phalanges of Primo de Rivera, he begins a victorious march, sowing terror as far as Madrid, with the famous "Viva la muerte!" As a battle cry. ". It benefited from the military support of fascist Italy and Hitler's Germany, and even before the end of the civil war obtained diplomatic recognition from France and Great Britain, soon followed by that of the United States.
In 1939, cumulating the function of head of government, he found himself the undisputed master of Spain, which he undertook to rebuild on the basis not of fascism, but of an authoritarian, Catholic and corporatist state. Despite the help he had received from the Germano-Italians and his adherence to the Antikomintem Pact (March 1939), Franco proclaimed his neutrality at the start of World War II, then, after the defeat of France, he passed to “non-belligerence”, occupied Tangier (June 1940) and claimed Gibraltar. However, he resisted pressure from Hitler during the Hendaye interview (23 Oct 1940). In 1941 he agreed to send workers to Germany and a Spanish contingent, Azul's division, to the U.R.S.S., where it fought alongside the Germans.
From 1942, with the prospect of an Allied victory, he began a slow liberalization of his regime (institution of Cortes, July 1942; replacement of Serrano Sufter by Jordana in Foreign Affairs, September 1942), returned to neutrality (Oct. 1943) and withdrew the Azul division from the Eastern Front.
The Franco regime
Very isolated however after the collapse of the fascist powers, condemned by the U.N. (Feb. 1946), he was able to mobilize Spanish national pride in his favor. The development of the Cold War allowed him to benefit from the Marshall Plan (March 1948) and made him a valuable auxiliary for the Americans (economic-military agreements of September 1953). In 1955, he was able to get Spain admitted to the UN. Although the 1947 Succession Law defined Spain as a kingdom and Prince Juan Carlos was officially designated as the future King of Spain, the "caudillo" retained power as a sort of regency for life.
As Spain entered a phase of economic boom from 1955, Franco presided over the gradual replacement of the old guard resulting from the Civil War by new ministerial staff of technocrats, often close to Opus Dei. However, Franco maintained until the end the fundamental bases of the regime he had established at the time of the civil war, and his last months in power were marked by a fierce repression against revolutionary activities and against Basque autonomy, repression accentuated by the assassination by ETA of its second Luis Carrero Blanco in December 1973.
Dictator in the most classic sense of the term, Franco therefore established an authoritarian regime radically different - by the absence of a doctrinal basis - from the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s. Placed at the head of a country without a real democratic tradition and where the strength of the hierarchies of traditional powers (Church, army, land oligarchies) made demands for social justice all the more extremist, he was able to govern in a rather cold manner, pragmatic. Relying on pressure groups and instrumentalizing them, he was able to run the country; but on one sine qua non condition: the paralysis of democratic debate for 36 years.
Franco's impossible legacy
De Franco therefore remains an ambivalent image. There is first that of the fine tactician on the international level, who succeeds, while maintaining an authoritarian power and in defiance of the elementary rules of democracy, to reintegrate the concert of nations. On the other hand, there is the image of a man without qualms, basing his power on political repression and the muzzling of all forms of freedom of expression; which allows, ultimately, to give little credit to those who believe that the Franco of recent years wanted - even if he no doubt did foresee it - a transition to democracy after his death.
He died on November 20, 1975 after a long agony and was buried next to Primo de Rivera and the victims of the civil war in the Los Caidos valley in a monument built ... by thousands of political prisoners. As expected, Juan Carlos I succeeded him and began the democratic transition of Spain, which led to the coming to power of a socialist government in 1982. Forty four years after the death of General Franco, his body was exhumed on 24 October 2019 following a law passed in 2017, and his remains transferred to Mingorrubio cemetery. The heated debates and the legal battle that took place on this occasion proved that the wounds left by Franco and his regime are still not closed in Spain.
- Francisco Franco: Crossed Biographies, by Paul Preston and Angel Palomino. Grancher, 2005.
- Franco, biography of Bartholome Bennassar. Tempus, 2002.
- History of Francoist Spain, by Max Gallo. Laffont, 1975.