Sunday, April 2, 2017

Franco rules

In 1936 a group of Army officers organised a coup against the elected Spanish Republican Government and started the Spanish Civil War. Three years later the rebels, the Nationalists, won and Francisco Franco emerged as their leader. As the guns went silent Spain was in social and economic ruin. It fell to Franco and his allies, many of whom were members of the Falange, an extreme right wing, fascist, social and political movement, to rebuild it. The onset of the Second World War just months after the Civil War ended added to the complication of rebuilding the shattered country.

The Civil War was over but Franco exercised political and economic repression against anyone who had been on the losing side or who came from social or religious groups that he mistrusted. By 1941 half a million people had fled Spain to escape possible reprisals. Another 380,000 were detained in concentration camps. Summary executions were common and around 35,000 people were killed in peacetime as Franco tried to ensure that there could be no organised opposition to his government.

At the end of the Second World War no European power wanted anything to do with Spain; the country was left isolated. This economic sending to Coventry meant that the Spanish economy stagnated as the country tried to survive solely on its own resources.

As Cold War tensions increased the United States recognised the strategic importance of controlling the way in and out of the Mediterranean. In return for building military bases in the South of Spain the US agreed a deal worth around for $200,000,000 in economic and military aid to Franco. This was an enormous boost to the impoverished Spanish economy. Embassies re-opened and ambassadors returned as country after country followed the US lead and re-established diplomatic and economic links with Spain.

Despite the American money Spain was still in dire financial straits way behind its European neighbours in everything from infant mortality to income. Inflation soared, shortages were common and food was rationed right through to 1952. In the face of such a miserable existence economic migration was commonplace and the black market flourished setting a pattern for corruption, backhanders and cronyism which still echo in today's Spain

Spain was a country mired in the past. Whilst the rest of Europe installed fridges and washing machines Spanish women made do with larders and communal washhouses. Nobody, except the very rich or the very well connected had cars. Then in the 1960s things began to change as the Francoist Government started to market Spain as tourist destination. French, German, British and Swedish tourists flooded onto sun soaked Spanish beaches and brought their money with them.

The change was patchy and unequal, Swedish tourists in Benidorm made little impact on the peasant farmers of Palencia but change was in the air. This was the time when the first SEAT 600s appeared on the roads and gas cookers replaced wood burning stoves.

Social and political freedoms did not accompany this economic development. Franco's repression continued. People who spoke out against the government were arrested. Torture was still commonplace. Public meetings were prohibited but, despite strict control of the media, Spain was no longer completely isolated and social change in other countries influenced what happened inside Spain.

Women were systematically discriminated against during the dictatorship. Women could not work without permission from their husband or father. Women who married had, by law, to leave their jobs. Women were not allowed to work in public companies or public administration. This often meant that women looking for work had to take any job no matter how terrible the conditions or how low the pay

In the last period of Franco's life, between 1969 and 1975, repression tightened in the face of growing opposition from many sections of society. There were protests in the street, there were strikes and all sorts of political and social mobilisations. The challenges to government were so widespread that the authorities found it impossible to punish, or even control, everyone.

When Franco died in 1975 nobody was quite sure what was coming next but, forty plus years later, you know how it all turned out.

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