Francisco Franco

4 Dec 1892
20 Nov 1975
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Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde (4 December 1892 – 20 November 1975) was a Spanish general and dictator of Spain from 1936/1939 until his death in 1975. Coming from a military family background, he became the youngest general in Spain and one of the youngest generals in Europe in the 1920s.

As a strong conservative, he was shocked when the monarchy was removed and replaced with a republic in 1931. With the 1936 elections, the conservative Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups lost by a narrow margin and the leftist Popular Front came to power.

Looking to overthrow the republic, Franco and other generals staged a partially successful coup, which started the Spanish Civil War. With the death of the other generals, Franco quickly became his faction’s only leader.

Franco’s ultranationalist faction received military support from several fascist groups, especially Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy, while the Republican side was supported by Spanish communists and anarchists. It also received help from the Soviet Union, Mexico, and the International Brigades.

Leaving half a million dead, the war was eventually won by Franco in 1939. He established an autocratic dictatorship, which he defined as a totalitarian state.

Franco proclaimed himself head of state and government under the title El Caudillo (the Chief), a term similar to Il Duce (Italian) and Der Führer (German). During the Francoist regime, only one political party was legal: a merger of the monarchist party and the fascist party that helped him during the war, FET y de las JONS.

Franco led a series of politically-motivated violent acts, including but not limited to concentration camps, forced labor and executions, mostly against political and ideological enemies, causing an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 deaths, depending on how death in the more than 190 concentration camps is considered.

Franco’s Spain maintained an official policy of neutrality during World War II, with the exception of the Blue Division. By the 1950s, the nature of his regime changed from an extreme form of dictatorship to a semi-pluralist authoritarian system.

During the Cold War Franco appeared as one of the world’s foremost anticommunist figures; consequently his regime was assisted by the United States, and was asked to join the United Nations and come under NATO’s protection. By the 1960s Spain saw progressive economic development and timid democratic improvements.

After a 36-year rule, Franco died in 1975. He restored the monarchy before his death, which made King Juan Carlos I his successor, who led the Spanish transition to democracy. After a referendum, a new constitution was adopted, which effectively created a democratic regime in Spain.

Franco was born at half past noon on 4 December 1892 at 108 Calle Frutos Saavedra in Ferrol, Galicia. He was baptised thirteen days later at the military church of San Francisco, with the baptismal name Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo; Francisco for his paternal grandfather, Paulino for his godfather, Hermenegildo for his maternal grandmother and godmother, and Teódulo for the saint day of his birth.

His father was of Andalusian ancestry.[note 1] After relocating to Galicia, the family were strongly involved in the Spanish Navy, and over the span of two centuries produced naval officers for six uninterrupted generations, down to Franco’s father Nicolás Franco y Salgado Araújo (22 November 1855 – 22 February 1942).

His mother was María del Pilar Bahamonde y Pardo de Andrade (1865 – 28 February 1934). He had two brothers, Nicolás (1891–1977) and Ramón; and two sisters, María del Pilar (1894–1989) and María de la Paz (1899–1903).

The Civil War had ravaged the Spanish economy. Infrastructure had been damaged, workers killed, and daily business severely hampered. For more than a decade after Franco’s victory, the devastated economy recovered very slowly. Franco initially pursued a policy of autarky, cutting off almost all international trade. The policy had devastating effects, and the economy stagnated. Only black marketeers could enjoy an evident affluence.

On the brink of bankruptcy, a combination of pressure from the United States, the IMF and, most importantly, the technocrats from Opus Dei, managed to convince the regime to adopt a freer market economy. Many of the old guard in charge of the economy were replaced by “technocrata”, despite some initial opposition from Franco. From the mid-1950s there was modest acceleration in economic activity after some minor reforms and a relaxation of controls. But the growth proved too much for the economy, with shortages and inflation breaking out towards the end of the 1950s.

When Franco replaced his ideological ministers with the apolitical technocrats, the regime implemented several development policies that included deep economic reforms. After a recession, growth took off from 1959, creating an economic boom that lasted until 1974, and became known as the “Spanish Miracle”.

Concurrent with the absence of social reforms, and the economic power shift, a tide of mass emigration commenced to other European countries, and to a lesser extent, to South America. Emigration helped the regime in two ways. The country got rid of populations it would not have been able to keep in employment, and the emigrants supplied the country with much needed monetary remittances.

During the 1960s, the wealthy classes of Francoist Spain experienced further increases in wealth, particularly those who remained politically faithful, while a burgeoning middle class became visible as the “economic miracle” progressed. International firms established factories in Spain where salaries were low, company taxes very low, strikes forbidden and workers’ health or state protections almost unheard of. State-owned firms like the car manufacturer SEAT, truck builder Pegaso and oil refiner INH, massively expanded production.

Furthermore, Spain was virtually a new mass market. Spain became the second-fastest growing economy in the world between 1959 and 1973, just behind Japan. By the time of Franco’s death in 1975, Spain still lagged behind most of Western Europe but the gap between its per capita GDP and that of the leading Western European countries had narrowed greatly, and the country had developed a large industrialized economy.

In 1969 Franco designated Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón, who had been educated by him in Spain, with the new title of Prince of Spain, as his heir-apparent.

This designation came as a surprise for the Carlist pretender to the throne, as well as for Juan Carlos’ father, Don Juan, the Count of Barcelona, who had a superior claim to the throne, but was feared by Franco to be too liberal. By 1973 Franco had surrendered the function of prime minister (Presidente del Gobierno), remaining only as head of state and commander in chief of the military.

As his final years progressed, tension within the various factions of the Movimiento would consume Spanish political life, as varying groups jockeyed for position to control the country’s future. The death on 20 December 1973 of prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco in a spectacular bombing by ETA eventually gave an edge to the liberalizing faction.

On 19 July 1974 the aged Franco fell ill from various health problems, and Juan Carlos took over as Acting Head of State. Franco soon recovered, and on 2 September he resumed his duties as Head of State. One year later he fell ill once again from more health problems including a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. On 30 October 1975, he fell into a coma and was put on life support.

Franco’s family agreed to disconnect the life-support machines, and he died just after midnight on 20 November 1975, at the age of 82—just two weeks before his 83rd birthday—the same date as the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange.

However the historian Ricardo de la Cierva claims to have been told, around 6 pm on 19 November, that Franco had already died. After Franco’s death, and according to his own wishes, he was buried at Valle de los Caídos, a colossal memorial built by the forced labour of political prisoners to honour the Francoist casualties of the Spanish Civil War.

Franco’s funeral was attended by Prince Rainier III of Monaco, the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who revered Franco and modelled his leadership style in Chile in the way Franco led Spain, Bolivia’s dictator General Hugo Banzer, Jordan’s King Hussein and US Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

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