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Dispatch From the Valley of the Fallen

Franco’s Legacy: A scared right, an exhilarated left, a rookie for a king

Francisco FrancoFrancisco Franco

Francisco Franco (1892 - 1975) Spanish general and dictator who governed Spain from 1939 to 1975, lies in state at the Pardo Palace in Madrid, November 24th, 1975.

Central Press/Getty

A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own. —Thomas Mann

The macabre series of tubes, pumps, wires and clamps connected to Francisco Franco miraculously pulsed and wheezed throughout much of the month of November. In taking so very long in dying, Generalissimo Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, the Caudillo de España, by the very grace of God was effectively unweaving a great deal of the heavy matting which had held Spanish society in a political stasis for some 40 years.

Franco had sought to construct a society blessed by an apolitical serenity. Spain was to be an outpost of hope in a ridiculous world that still believed politics to be a matter of popular concern. But one of the wiliest and most vicious Machiavellis ever to wield a scepter was finally dying, and neither his 32 doctors nor the grace of God was going to save him.

Only six floors above Franco, in the very same hospital, another man lay near death. Juan Alberto Sevilla, a 25-year-old engineering student at the University of Madrid, had somehow survived ten days of inhuman torture at the hands of Spanish police. Many of his bones were severely broken; his face had been completely disfigured by hundreds of cigarette burns; his kidneys had ceased to function properly from being so barbarously stomped and there was doubt as to whether he would ever leave the dialysis machine. His tongue had been all but burned out of his mouth.

After he had been missing for some eight days, authorities contacted Sevilla’s family and said that Juan had been taken ill and was being treated. Under the new antiterrorist laws in Spain, an individual may be detained for ten days without being charged. Sevilla was never charged.

“He had been arrested before,” his brother said in the lobby of the hospital, “but only for an hour or two. He wrote some light political commentary in the university-sanctioned student newspaper. We couldn’t even get him to the hospital until we came up with a 200,000-peseta [about $3400] fine.” The brother was smiling. It was a common smile among the young of Spain; combining an awareness of impossible absurdities and a painful resignation to the immutability of their existence. Juan Sevilla was dying of a bad case of political repression.

Going south out of Bordeaux, in southwestern France, one finds that the flat Bordelais vineyards soon yield to the soft protuberances of the Basque hills. The Pyrenees roll in the distance as you work your way down the Côte Basque: past Bayonne, through Biarritz, St. Jean de Luz, then Hendaye and eventually to the Spanish border. This is the border between information, memories and active political thought on one side, and a veritable political vacuum on the other.

Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have been forced to live in France over the last 40 years. They are refugees from the Spanish Civil War, political exiles of Franco’s regime or economic victims of the pervasive poverty of Spain during the Fifties. They live in Toulouse, in the Quartier St. Michel in Bordeaux, and dominate the population of Bayonne. Some of them have never given up their citizenship of the Republic of Spain. They have waited 40 years for a change in the system that forced them to leave their homes.

Then there are the Basques: even the failing godling in Madrid is believed to fear the power of their will to independence. People here think about Franco often. This was the best vantage point from which to watch Franco die.

The smoldering political passions which lie under the beautiful landscape of this area became apparent during the summer of 1974. It was then that Franco suffered an acute attack of phlebitis (known officially in Madrid as the “the crisis”), almost died but didn’t (“the miracle”). While his condition worsened the bars and cafes in these towns and villages submitted the largest orders for extra liquor that the region had ever seen. Now they had waited more than a year to have that party.

It’s a strangely beautiful area. The broad beaches are marked by massive German blockhouses from World War II. The French government tried to blow them up after the war but the thickness of the walls made the cost of demolition outweigh the immediate desire to rid the area of the ugly shrines.

Jay Gould, the notorious 19th-century American magnate, used to live here. So did Juan Carlos, Spain’s new king, until someone told him that it was politically unwise to vacation in the area.

The famous city of Biarritz is considered off-limits to political activists, although there was a killing in the main street several months ago. The European rich still come to Biarritz in the summer to gamble in the casino or hit floating golf balls into a lake. Latter-day Hemingways stalk the streets looking for Sonny’s Bar. It was closed last year. Only the scratches on the walls remind you that Biarritz is right in the middle of the Basque country. They say, “Franco au Garrot, Franco Assassin.”

The most apparent change in a city like Bayonne, three miles north of Biarritz, is in the quality of the fear. Revenge, violent revenge, has become a way of life for some of the exiles and for all of the Basques. Old friends will talk only if names are never used. Some won’t talk at all.

At dinner in Bayonne, the Spanish radio station announced that Franco had survived another operation and was rallying. An old man closed his eyes.

It had been a hell of a life. He had been jailed for his union activities in 1934 when the nascent Spanish Republic reacted to activities from the left. Then he had fought for three years for that republic against Franco, “bad years.” Then three more years fighting Hitler as a member of the French underground — then ten months in Buchenwald. After that, he worked 30 years as a second-class citizen of a country he had never considered his own.

“You know that I only cried once,” he said. “That was after I got the news about Potsdam. All that time I truly believed that the Allies would liberate Spain and empty the jails as they’d emptied the camps, but they didn’t.”

The conversation moved back to Franco: a few Franco jokes ensued. All Spaniards tell Franco jokes. None of them are funny. It’s the iconoclasm of it all; like Pope jokes or dead baby jokes.

Someone noted that a doctor had said that Franco was dying a painful death, a bad death.


It was the daughter speaking. With an almost supplicant gaze she repeated it, hissing, “Soufrez, soufrez, soufrez!”

In a little village outside Bayonne, a group of Spanish workers assembled for one of their regular meetings. There are many groups like this in France now. Some of them are active Spanish Communist party militants, others are simply trying to maintain the cultural and political ties which bring them hope. Their numbers have been greatly swelled by the latest wave of arrests in Spain and the attendant fears of the Spanish left.

The discussion ranged from the American imperialistic presence in Spain, in the form of military bases and capital investment, to the expectations of the group for a new Spain after Franco:

“Power in Spain must now come from the united workers,” a man said. “There are certain things which must come immediately, such as total amnesty. Otherwise it’s to the streets.”

“Yes,” a woman named Carolina was saying, “but no more killing?”

“No more killing?”

As the dialectical verbiage became increasingly boring, some of the emotions and memories began to emerge. Sitting around a small kitchen table with this woman, and with these big men with gigantic forearms and soiled hands, I sensed the mood change. Then the stories came. Carolina continued:

“You have to understand that in every Spanish family there is a drama of misery and poverty, scars from the Civil War. I was seven. My father had been killed by Franco’s troops; my mother was dying in jail. My other relatives had fought for Franco. I had to live in the street and my uncles and cousins would walk by while I starved. I was little and didn’t understand. Franco’s system won’t die, it must be killed, but too many of us remember the hunger.” She clasped her hands as if to snap herself out of a daydream.

“Franco is dying,” a man said, “now Francoism must follow.”

Even the children carry a vivid picture of the Spanish Civil War. Every Spanish family absorbed a loss. Everyone has had a relative in prison. The war lasted for two and a half years after the day that a young general named Franco launched an attack on the Spanish Republican government.

Seven hundred thousand people lost their lives in battle, another 50,000 died in air raids. Some 400,000 people went into exile. They say that Franco held 300,000 in prisons after the war; by 1942 two-thirds of them had been executed or had died in prison.

The Civil War was the world’s first chance to see its new weapons in action. Hitler tested his Stuka dive bombers and incendiary bombs on cities like Guernica. Mussolini sent in his tanks and more than 75,000 men. The war ended in total defeat for the Republic. Despite their repeated requests for a negotiated peace with the nationalists, Franco crushed them in the final months. Three thousand Americans fought in that war.

In Guernica the emotions have long since transcended verbal expression. Franco’s condition brought back the memories. Guernica had been the capital of the short-lived, independent Basque Republic before the bombing and the war; it still suggests some unfinished business for the powerful movement for Basque nationalism.

The Basque country includes four provinces in Spain and three in France. There are just over 2 million Basques, the great majority of whom still live in Spain. The enigma of their origins has had anthropologists theorizing for years. Some even believe them to be the Lost Tribe of Israel. The Basque language bears no resemblance to any extant spoken language. They even have a separate blood type.

Their present quest for national autonomy is particularly intimidating for Spanish authorities because of a variety of endemic abilities and traditions. For one thing, they are historically fierce and efficient fighters. For another, there is an established tradition of border running through the Pyrenees. For years, the Basques ran huge smuggling organizations over a variety of frontiers. It is a matter of pride. The border, they believe, is a phenomenon wrought by the French and Spanish and should thus have little effect on the Basques’ ability to cross it. A bartender friend named Felipe crossed the border every weekend to see his girlfriend. When I asked him if the fact that there was a price on his head scared him, he laughed. That was a year ago. The Spanish police eventually arrested his girlfriend. Felipe gave himself up.

The recent spate of police violence in the Basque country has caused many of the more conservative Basques to support ETA, a separatist, paramilitary grouping of young Basques. The group has gained both fame and numbers since an ETA bomb blew Spanish president Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco to bits in December 1973. The urban underground in Spain considers ETA a bit primitive but there is a tacit respect for their unmitigated gall.

“You want to know something about that Carrero Blanco bomb?” This was a high-ranking ETA operative. Official permission had been granted for an interview.

“The international press all thought that the Russians were supplying us with sophisticated electronic detonation systems. It was just some guy standing there with a switch.”

Throughout the period of Franco’s illness, ETA had been surprisingly inactive. Late in September two of their members had been executed with three others for terrorist activities in Spain. The execution had international repercussions. It is common knowledge in the Basque country, and this is corroborated by journalists, that the fingerprints found in the car of the alleged terrorists bore no relationship to those of the five dead men. But still ETA waited. A two-day general strike was called in certain Basque regions but there was none of the usual vengeance. There is a reason:

“They have our people. We have been specifically warned that prisoners will be butchered the day that Franco dies if we resume activity. We can’t do that. Besides, there is some hope for an amnesty after Franco is gone. We can wait.”

There is also the recent offensive by right-wing terrorists on the ETA operatives in France. The Guerrillas of Christ the King (GCR) are a group of wellarmed and suspiciously well-informed men who have launched up to 30 bombing and shooting attacks so far. The man who was authorized to speak for ETA had his entire cafe blown into the street last summer. A good friend of his was injured, as were his children, after a bomb exploded in their car on the morning of our first interview.

“What about the fear?”

His young son hung joyfully on his neck. He said something in Basque and the boy left.

“Whenever I get scared I think about the importance of it all.” He threw a photograph of a gentle-looking man on the table top. “My brother. He was never involved in politics. He ran a little bar in Bilbao, worked hard, loved his family. All the Basques knew him. Then I was sentenced to 100 years in prison. After I escaped through the mountains, the GCR walked into his bar and killed him. It was just to get at me. Now what do you want to know about fear?”

The ETA chieftains estimate that there are as many as 3000 active members now. Some of them are much too hot to enter Spain while others can’t even show their faces in Bayonne. They still believe that they can rally a million Spanish Basques if necessary.

Their arms come from all over the world and from all sides of the political spectrum. Pistols from Spain itself, some explosives from Ireland and the Middle East, submachine guns from Czechoslovakia. They even make weapons at home.

The Basques feel so cut off from mainstream opposition politics that the Spanish left only nominally considers them viable members of a cohesive opposition. “I am simply not Spanish,” one man intoned. “A little democracy in Spain will open things up for us. We are united with a group like FRAP [the Maoist underground urban units in Barcelona and Valencia] only insofar as we all hate Franco and his system. But I am Basque.”

The radio in the corner reports that Franco needs a third operation. The odds are 100 to 1 against success. There are smiles all around. “Maybe tomorrow we drink champagne.”

Just across the border is Irun. It is separated from the French city of Hendaye by only a narrow canal. The Spanish border guards have developed an expertise in picking off swimmers headed for France. Hendaye is of symbolic importance to the Spaniards. It is here that Franco met Hitler in 1940. There is a famous photograph of the two of them smiling knowingly.

At the airport in Irun a woman with the Basque name of Miranchu talks of the passive grace with which Spaniards are accepting the Caudillo’s illness:

“All is calm here. There is no opposition. In 1936 everyone was hungry. You must understand the Spanish mentality.” She points across the canal. “There you have trouble, the French. The economy is good here. All is calm. You won’t find your violence to write about.”

The economy, in fact, isn’t in good shape. Unemployment has become a big problem despite laws forbidding layoffs. Inflation hovers at around 20%. Wage settlements were up by about 25% last year while production fell by more than 9%.

On November 12th, Francisco Franco was having trouble breathing. They inserted another tube and began blowing in air to keep his lungs working.

On the same day, five ETA members were arrested in Pamplona. Three of them were women. Most ETA people winced at this news. The torture of women in the northern jails is especially cruel. There is a theory that many of the SS elite found refuge in Spain after the war; thus there is widespread use of drugs, electrical shocks, burning and general mutilation.

Certain of these specialists have gained fame in the underground. One, an interrogator for the brigada social, the political police, is known as Billy the Kid. He has blond hair and looks to be around 12. His specialty is applying cigarettes to nipples. Milder treatment includes head shaving and old-fashioned bull-whipping. In October a man and a woman were thrown to their deaths out of a police station window in Bilbao.

The police activity in Spain began to pick up by mid-November. Nearly 500 official arrests had been made. Twenty people were accused under the antiterrorist laws, which carry an automatic death sentence after a trial that includes no real defense arguments. Two priests were arrested for telling their parishioners that it wasn’t necessary to pray for Franco. Seven people were arrested in San Sebastian for “improper respect for the military authorities” after they protested the beating of a young boy.

By November 18th, doctors had lowered Franco’s temperature to the hibernation level to stop his internal bleeding. There was talk of freezing him for a few months. Three generals volunteered their hearts if that would help.

The fact that what was left of Franco was legally still alive started bizarre guessing games in the hospital lobby (“See that nose, it’s the Caudillo”). Franco had used up enough blood to sustain ten other men and the hospital was running out of his type. His 32 doctors sedulously continued to keep him going.

So it persisted: the frustration and the fear of an interminable wait. He was going to take the fun out of it. It was going to be the last thing he ever did, but those who hated him would have to live with the possibility of his recovery for more than five weeks, and the ones who loved him would squirm too. They all worried and wondered about their future. Franco was going to show them all how much he’d meant to them.

The death of Francisco Franco was going to be the first substantive historical event for some 25 million of Spain’s 35 million people. Amazingly, nothing had happened between 1939 and 1975 that in any way had an immediate effect on the lives of the Spanish people.

The programmatic yearnings of the various opposition groups on the left are noble, yet almost childlike in their idealism. The socialists are prepared to give monarchy a chance, while the highly organized Communist party demands free political parties and elections within 12 to 18 months.

The groups are presently converging around two political poles: the Junta Democratica, which is dominated by Communists, and the Convergencia Democratica, which is a rather amorphous mixture of social democrats, Christian democrats and socialists. There is said to be a large number of politicized labor groups — but no one can see them. The all too obvious question is whether parties which are organizing on an electoral line can ever hope to budge a political system which has been unencumbered by a single general election for 44 years.

At 4:40 a.m. on November 20th, Franco was dead. The American Armed Forces radio network solemnly announced a program of martial music. The old ones walked the streets of Madrid with tears in their eyes.

A woman on the street told me that her father was dead. An American correspondent looked at his article and said that the story had been ready for five years. In a note from the Caudillo which was read to the country on television, Franco asked forgiveness.

The body lay in state all day Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the Spanish government television network reported that millions of Spaniards were waiting in the cold to say goodbye. There weren’t anywhere near that number in line. On Saturday, there were millions of Spaniards waiting to see the body. They knew what it meant to be a bad Spaniard and it really wasn’t too cold to be a good one.

Porfirio Esteban, an 88-year-old war veteran, waited 12 hours in the dampness to pay his respects. As he approached the coffin, he stopped, stared at that hoary and wizened little face, snapped a violent fascist salute and dropped dead — right there amid the marble and the glory. They carried him out and the line continued. It was the closest that most of these mourners had ever gotten to Franco.

Then everyone told the old stories. About how he’d executed a man for dirtying his uniform; about how no one could speak in a ministerial meeting; about his obsession with Napoleon. He went to Mass every night and always stood by his family. A large percentage of his daughter’s assets has, it is said, been moved to the Philippines — just in case.

Upon examining the record, you have to admit that he wasn’t a fascist — not analytically anyway. He never had a book. Technically, he was a conservative-nationalist dictator. He was also an accomplished manipulator of human beings, a brilliant tactician and a student of the failings of the human spirit.

History may well show that he bore a similar relationship to his people as de Gaulle did to his. De Gaulle loved France but hated the French; and when they asked him what France would do when he was gone, he said that they would simply have to find another de Gaulle.

Back in Bayonne they were drunk. Every one of them was as drunk as any of them had ever been. It was that pervasive, saturated kind of total drunkenness that comes from drinking all day. The drink is some green fissionable material called Izzara, a Basque drink. They weren’t so much dancing in the streets as rolling along the walls of the narrow alleyays. The noise was deafening, bouncing off the walls and coming out of the windows. The parties and the drunken cafe scenes spilled together in an effluvium of joy.

An ETA contact rolled up and just smiled, tried to talk and then rolled on. A man was singing a song about the death of Carrero Blanco at the top of his lungs. That song would have got him killed on the other side of the border. Red, white and green Basque flags flew defiantly from the homes in Hendaye.

They ran out of liquor across the border in San Sebastian, but theirs was a quieter and more determined kind of drunkenness. The streets were lined with hundreds of gray-coated Guardia Civil police. It was quiet. It had to be.

The day before the funeral an interview was arranged with two active anarchists in Madrid. The bulk of the guerrillas had cleared out of Madrid the day Franco died. These two men were scared and it was contagions. They ran down a series of statements that reeked of memorization.

They did say that they were part of a working group of about 40 people. Thirty others were in prison. That group was divided into smaller sections for weapons procurement, international contacts and propaganda distribution.

Theirs is a syncretic form of anarchism in the old tradition of European radicalism. It is a violent fanaticism which can only survive in the aura of hate and oppression that has always accompanied totalitarianism. There is no support of any identifiable plank. “The political mentality of Spain has been castrate,” one man said. “You don’t patch that up immediately with a new system, the institutions and the system must go.”

They wouldn’t outline which specific activities they had been involved in previously but did say that bombing and assassination were part of the show. The rather hackneyed phrase “There are no innocents” sounded like a real threat here.

“There is only a loose confederation on the extreme left,” the anarchist said. “The Catalonian groups are more cohesive. There is a large anarcho-syndicalist element in the labor movement. The problem is the ones you can’t pin down, the anarcho-hippies.”

Then he whispered, “There is a meeting at the beginning of December, I can’t tell you who will be there but there is a meeting and its purpose is to discuss coordinated action.”

His eyes were darting from side to side.

“Would you bomb the funeral tomorrow?”

“The funeral?” He looked at me as if I were crazy.

“Well, it would run with your line.”

“Man, do you know that Rockefeller will be there?”

The famous Plaza Mayor was deserted by one o’clock that night, save for three policemen kicking the shit out of a drunk. In every alley or doorway where there wasn’t a policeman, couples, some of them older than teenagers, stood necking in the shadows — a symptom of this most repressive of social orders.

And everywhere, but everywhere, there were guns. The entire Guardia Civil, the 85,000-man army that can only jokingly be considered a police force, had been issued lightweight, snub-nosed submachine guns. They stood at every corner, behind doors and on rooftops. They looked nervous and, worst of all, they pointed the damn things at your belly, and sometimes they smiled.

The Spanish authorities can be the most officious in the world. Their bureaucracies beget bureaucracies until the system itself has turned in on people’s ability to act. Madrid is a city which oozes with the accouterments of stability. When you make a religion of order, then the ministry becomes a temple and the police the priests.

When Pope Paul VI called the execution of five terrorists “murderous repression,” he was censored.

To be a journalist from another country in Madrid you need a signed statement from virtually everyone you have ever known to get the proper credentials.

The Spanish media treat the Spanish people like a group of children. A minister recently gave an impass oned speech calling for more sports and less “destructive” education. The newspapers are all sanctioned and censored by the National Movement, the only legal party (though the word “party” is proscribed in Spain). Their format is usually based on equal parts of high society news and advertisement — with four pages of real news in the center.

On the day of Franco’s funeral, one large Madrid daily included its regular Sunday color supplement. It included gossip about the relative fervency of Loretta Young’s Catholicism, pictures of John Wayne with the Russian cosmonauts and a three-page article entitled “What I Think of Sports” by Gerald Ford. In the Basque country they call him Juan Carlitos el Corto — Juan the Brief. No one can ever say that the freshly dead paladin never left Spain a living legacy. He made them a king. Juan Carlos’s credentials include the fact that he was a member of the 1972 Olympic sailing team; he was “King for a Month” in August 1974; he cuts ribbons beautifully; and he happened to be the personal tutee of Generalissimo Franco.

The elections of 1931 which brough a Republican government to power in Spain also deposed the Bourbon family of which Juan Carlos is a member. He says that his present mandate comes from a highly questionable national referendum held in 1974. In fact, it comes from Franco.

Juan Carlos was made king of Spain before the Spanish Cortes [parliament] the day before the funeral. He has a number of hurdles to jump before he’ll acquire any semblance of security. His amnesty proposal is just the kind of thing that will stir up subliminal Spanish passions. By releasing any prisoner he will enrage the far right; by releasing only a few, he will incite the left. He has already dealt with the replacement of the speaker of the Cortes, an old Falangist named Alejandro Rodriguez de Valcarel. But his prime minister. Carlos Arias Navarro, remains. Like de Valcarel, he is a relic of Franco’s “bunker,” the rightist establishment.

Whether the institutions such as the miltary or the church will help Juan Carlos remains to be seen. Too much is unknown even to try to envisage a scenario. All that is known at this point is that he certainly looks like a king.

While thousands of people still waited in the street to catch a glimpse of the corpse, the coffin was moved to the Plaza de Oriente for an early morning Mass. People wept and waved white handkerchiefs. The sermon was short and sweet. At the end, the loudspeaker announced that the authorities were sorry but there would be no sacrament due to the size of the crowd. There was a moaning sound that droned throughout the assemblage.

Then the procession started. The burial was to be 35 miles away at the famous Valley of the Fallen. First came the motorcycles, then hundreds of horsemen with colorful capes and tall lances, then a formation of ludicrous-looking minibuses with piles of gaudy flowere sticking out the windows. And finally, sitting starkly on the back of a big flatbed military truck, the polished wooden coffin. As the crowds along the road pushed to get a glimpse, they started to cheer and yell, “Franco, Franco, Franco.” A sword and a scepter were balanced precariously on the coffin.

At the Valley it was different. The people who waited outside the crypt had been there for much of the night. The road from Madrid was closed. An estimated 70,000 people stood in the wind. Here was the Falange. They stood in formation with their blue uniforms, black ties and bright, red berets. In the front were the old Camisas Azules, tattered old men who all appeared to have seen a day when they were strong and hard, They had fought with the Nazis during the war at Franco’s request. One man told me so, hardly able to contain his pride.

There were children too. The young Fuerza Nueva, fascist troops of boys in shorts and the same red berets. They had been called from the countryside to honor their fallen leader — or so it seemed.

Everyone waited for Franco to arrive. A formation of priests and altar boys moved to a prominent rock and looked at the road. The priest held a ten-foot jeweled cross. The bitter wind lifted their white vestments to reveal skinny ankles.

This valley means a lot to Spanish fascists like the members of the Falange. Their leader, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, is buried in this very crypt.

Franco played Pharoah in building this monument and he was completing the role by being buried here. It was built by captured Civil War prisoners. Countless numbers of them died while trying to bore the basilica some 1000 feet into the rock face and while trying to construct the obscene 495-foot-high cross.

An overpowering paradox exists in this valley: with the 495-foot phallus, the fascist guard at the tomb of one real fascist and one megalomaniac, a place built by slaves — it is Godforsaken.

The entourage appeared in the distance. As the coffin approached, the moaning and droning of the morning’s Mass resumed but it was louder, much louder. The wind was whistling by at a good clip and helicopters hovering overhead added to the undertone. The Falangists started cheering and crying and snapping fascist salutes. When they picked up the coffin a man screamed over a microphone:

“El Caudillo de Espana!”


They all were thundering in response. The voice urged them again. In the background was a hoarse and painful “FRANCO, FRANCO, FRANCO, FRANCO.” They all kept saluting and screaming and crying, then they broke into “Face of the Sun,” their anthem, as the arms kept snapping into the sky like so many knives.

Then they moved simultaneously into an “ARRIIIIIBA FRANCO! ARRIIIIIBA FRANCO!” It was utterly deafening, overpowering. Suddenly it was clear. They were turning this man’s funeral into a political field day. This was a rally at Nuremberg. A band suddenly struck up a march, hopelessly out of tune. One man yelled to another, “Franco would have had them shot.”

When the noise hit its peak, the frenzy and the twirling and the tears and the memories, it was a bad eschatological Franco joke. The Caudillo was going to stand up all dripping with embalming fluid. He was going to mount that cross with tubes in his orifices. spit out some foam rubber and yell, “Viva España!”

The chill didn’t leave for days.

For years Franco had only called on this type of show of force by the Falange when he was in trouble. After the executions they had staged a rally in the Plaza de Oriente to support the generalissimo. These men see themselves the victors of a civil war that has to be fought forever. They are present in the government in great force although their dominance was seriously impaired by a 1969 cabinet reshuffle.

The real threat to peaceful change in Spain may well come from the right. The lunatic groups to the right of the Falange are numerous and active:

Fuerza Nueva is the most prominent. Its leader, Blas Piñar, is a powerful demagogue. Piñar hates capitalists, Marxists, religious freedom and, if it helps our international ego any, Americans.

The Guerrillas of Christ the King are extremely restless. There is great fear of their attacking prisons in order to get at incarcerated leftists. They know that a right-wing military takeover can only occur if they help create the violence.

There are a variety of groups to the right of that. The PENS, the Spanish National Socialist party, specializes in attacking bookstores, students and Jews. Another group, the CLA, specializes in attacking art galleries in order to get at the work of a famous political exile, Pablo Picasso. If you are a king who seeks a modicum of change and you know that the right wing includes the mainstay of the army, all of its veterans, the wife of the former Caudillo, a group of young fanatics (many of whom are policemen during the day) and an 85,000-man paramilitary police force, you may know that you have more than a “conservative element” on your hands.

Watch Spain. She’s an orphan now, a jaundiced political anachronism afloat in a time warp. Lassitude and ebullition are squaring off and their jaws are squeaking like the Tin Man’s.

A scared right, an exhilarated left and a rookie for a king:

Some of them will spend weeks recovering from the shock of a new dawn. Franco couldn’t deal his way out of one last commitment. He bequeathed his people a structure and a pervasive and logical aura of fear — nothing more. Franco probably never intended La Paz to extend past his lifetime. It was his peace, his own monogrammed millennial peace.

If you ever have doubts of that, travel to the Basque country, then to Madrid. If there are still doubts, go to the Valley of the Fallen.

In This Article: Coverwall, Politics


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