POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 11th August 2008

Surrounded by intrigue

While Franco believed he had all the hatches of his regime so “well lashed down” that no-one would be able to undo it after his death, the Franco die-hards, known as the Bunker, were not so sure. In the months leading up to his death, they made as much mischief as possible for Prince Juan Carlos and the reformists who supported him and they kept a close eye on Prime Minister Carlos Arias Navarro who was aware that some reforms were necessary, but was determined to keep them to a minimum. There was intrigue everywhere in Spain, and quite a lot abroad too, where the exiled opposition parties was feverishly preparing for Franco’s death. Even the US got a look in. In May 1975, President Gerald Ford paid a two-day visit to Spain and spent more time with the Prince than with the ailing dictator, indicating that the most powerful country in the western world was keen to lead Spain back into the democratic fold. Meanwhile, the Communists had founded the Junta Patriotica in Paris in June 1974, which spurred the other main opposition party, the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, PSOE, to join forces with a group of Social and Christian Democrats to form the Plataforma de Convergencia Democratica (Democratic Convergence Platform) in June 1975. At about the same time, more than 100 liberal opponents of the Franco regime were meeting with Prince Juan Carlos’s father, Don Juan de Borbon, at his home in Estoril, Portugal. Don Juan complicated matters by reaffirming his rights as heir to the throne, called for the democratization of Spain and asserted his commitment to human rights. This created a difficult situation for the Prince, who told one of the few men he really trusted, Lord Mountbatten, that he was very embarrassed by this undermining of his own position. He was also worried about the effect it would have on Franco. However, when he broached the subject with Franco two days after Don Juan made his views known, the old dictator dismissed it, saying: “We have come through similar circumstances in the past.” Nevertheless, four days later Franco signed an order banning Don Juan from entering Spain, just as the latter was about to set out on his summer sail round the Mediterranean, during which he normally docked tied at several Spanish ports. At the same time, Franco also put a brake on the ambitions of a rising young politician called Adolfo Suarez, second in command to the Secretary General of the Falange Movement, Fernando Herrero Tejedor. In December 1974, Franco had given the Movement the responsibility of administering the Law on Political Associations to make sure than none of them ever developed into fully-fledged political parties that would endanger the regime. When Herrero Tejedor was killed in a car crash on June12th, 1975, Suarez would have been his logical successor. However, Franco chose to interpret the accident as a providential sign that the experiment with political associations did not have divine approval. Several of his advisers had also poisoned him against Suarez, who Franco now regarded as an ambitious traitor. Another man was appointed to take over the Movement, forcing Suarez to resign. In his farewell speech on July 3rd, Suarez confirmed the old dictator’s suspicions of him by courageously calling for “the construction of a democracy that manifests the legitimate pluralism that exists within society and the establishment of the social justice that is the basis of every democracy”. He added: “The monarchy of Don Juan Carlos de Borbon is the future of a modern, democratic and just Spain.” The speech delighted the Prince, who immediately showed his gratitude. He asked Luis Maria Anson, the editor of the popular weekly magazine, Blanco y Negro (Black and White) to do something for Suarez, who was made “politician of the month” shortly afterwards. The Prince also asked the Interior Minister to give Suarez a good in the State telephone monopoly. What Suarez may or may not have known was that, thanks to his speech, the Prince-soon-to-be-King had marked him down as a future Prime Minister. However, just then the Prince had a much more important battle on his hands. In the remaining four-and-half-months of the dictator’s life, he spent as much time with him as possible, to counteract the drops of poison that members of the Bunker were constantly dripping in the old man’s ears. One little gem was that the Prince had promised Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the exiled Communist Party, that he would the legalise the party once he was king. But even that didn’t turn Franco against the Prince, who many believe he looked upon as the son he never had, a sentiment many Spaniards held against Juan Carlos. But the Prince held steady to his own vision for his country’s future and was already contacting the people who would play a key role in his plans weeks before Franco’s death, knowing that his problems were only just beginning. To be continued

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