Rags to Riches

The War of Spain ended in 1939. Fascism enslaved the nation for decades. Eisenhower visited Franco 1953. Spain was received in Free World: NATO will follow: foreign investment, tourists; Spain dramatically changed: for better or worse?

From Rags to Riches

Fernando García Izquierdo

The War of Spain ended in 1939 with the victory of the fascist rebels. There followed a period roughly of thirty-five years during which the immense majority of the people were deprived of the most elementary human rights and all the things that are essential for a decent life in any civilized society.

It was the visible head of Spanish reaction, Generalísimo Francisco Franco who was in charge of announcing on the air (April 1, 1939) to the nation: “Españoles, la guerra ha terminado.” (Spaniards, the war is over.) There had been a million dead, during the three-year conflict, and the country was in utter ruin. For a few weeks after the fall of Madrid in March the victorious fascist army and air force had been engaged in the task of mopping up the remnants of the republican army now trudging along the roads of the north-east, Catalunya, hoping to reach France. Mingled with the fleeing soldiers and militia units was a trail of human misery painfully moving along the same dirt roads and mountain paths, all those who had rather confront adversity abroad than forever live under the boot of fascism.

Those who survived the onslaught and reached the border were received by the French army and gendarmerie with a show of animosity unworthy of a nation pretending to be “l’origine des droits de l’homme et du citoyen”. The refugees were led straightaway to concentration camps which the authorities had prepared for them on their side of the border. The exhausted escapees were thrown on the sands, enclosed by barbed-wire barriers, there to live or die, as the Lord might decide; without help, food or medical assistance… on the beach, early spring, facing the snowed peaks of the mountains just traversed. The very people who three years earlier had given Europe and the world the alert of what was coming, the fascist danger that was approaching.

One of those Spaniards to die in such conditions was Laureate Poet Antonio Machado, who ceased to exist immediately after crossing the border, in Colliure, Roussillon.

By the way, the people, so badly received by their French cousins at the end of the Spanish war, joined in great numbers the French “Résistance” when the Nazi Wehrmacht occupied and subdued France shortly afterwards. And it was a Division constituted by these Spanish fighters that first entered Paris “à la libération”.

But for the Spanish nation there was no liberation. In 1945 the world had been fighting for five years a war against oppression in order to liberate mankind from the evils of fascism, nazism, imperialism. The war had been won, and Spain was abandoned by the world.

The Spanish dictator (El Caudillo, as he sometimes was called) was the third man in the alliance of the Axis, the evil forces fighting against Democracy and Reason. He had sent an army division to fight against communism on the eastern front, and had met the Führer in person, in occupied France, during which meeting plans for the Wehrmacht to cross the Peninsula and conquer Gibraltar for Spain were discussed. Moroever, the Cuadillo (Franco) had been known to be a stooge of that same Hitler, Der Führer, as well as of Il Duce (Mussolini) ever since the Melilla putsch by the Spanish colonial army in 1936. It is true that the assault on Gibraltar, which could have tipped the balance of the war in favour of Germany and Italy, did not materialise (for the Stalingrad horror was beginning to show signs that the Soviets would win); but the plans were there and Franco’s army was going to take part in it.

It happened that Franco the anticommunist, by no means a stupid fellow, forgot his pledges when it appeared to him that perhaps he had been backing the wrong horse all along. Besides, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of the United Kingdom, intervened at the crucial moment, sending emissaries to the Generalísimo.

All this, in a way, constitutes for me personal remembrances. I now recollect having seen, as a teenager, playing with other boys in the Plaza de la Moncloa, in the west of Madrid, the motorcade that came (it was said) from the British Embassy and took the road to El Pardo, where the Generalísmo lived. Anthony Eden was the Foreign Secretary then, and he brought guarantees from London that, after the war, if he broke at once with Hitler and Mussolini, the Spanish regime would not be molested. However it may be, the fact is that, contrary to what happened to his Italian and German pals, Franco survived, and Spanish fascism (this is now history) was to be extant for another thirty years.

In effect, when in 1945, the Soviet Union urged its allies, after the defeat of Germany and Italy, to turn against the Spanish regime, both the United Kingdom and the United States came up as stark defenders of General Francisco Franco and the Falange Party. The motion was taken on to the newly constituted United Nations Organisation, and the said western powers imposed their veto in the Security Council. The Spanish dictatorship was not to be touched.

In consideration of which, and as a concession to the Soviets, those masters of deceit and unfair play who were the British politicians and others of that ilk put forward a plan to punish Spain as a whole without touching the regime. And it came to pass that the General Assembly of the United Nations voted the motion. Spain and the Spaniards were condemned to be isolated from the rest of the world. A pariah nation!

A boycott, that was the idea and that was the world’s decision. No credit, no international trade, exchange (sports, culture, education, nothing.) In short, no help, collaboration or dealings with the civilized world. The nation which had known a devastating civil war, had witnessed a world war raging at its borders for five years, was now isolated from the rest of the world, was not to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

I saw people literally dying of hunger in the streets of Madrid; tuberculosis was a plague hard now to be imagined, and all sorts of evil were threatening the people besides. Only Peron’s Argentine came out against the boycott. The Argentine dictator even sent his Evita to Madrid, and with her came several hundred refrigerated containers bringing to the miserable starving masses frozen meat. It was the year 1946, as I have said. Most countries in Europe had been devastated too (this time by a world war); but they received help from the United States. It was urgent for capitalism to feed central Europe, where the starving masses could turn revolutionary.

All this suited the régime inside, and (as we have just hinted) the imperialists outside; for the exploiting minority in Spain could now stir up chauvinistic feelings in the people. The most retrograde instincts were fomented in the hungry masses, always pointing a finger at the supposed enemies of the nation, the communists, who were, besides, the enemies of Our Lord God. And so, until 1953.

In the spring of that year, the president of the United States of America, General Dwight Eisenhower, visited General Francisco Franco, in his palace outside Madrid, and formally gave him the accolade. From that moment on, Spain was given entry into the Concert of Civilized Nations. Into the Free World at last! Spaniards, the wild, the uncouth, the disinherited of whom Winston Churchill had said, jokingly, in 1946, that “They got the government they deserved”, were welcomed (the same old fascist regime still extant) with all pomp and ceremony by the succesors of that same Churchill. The country’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was assured. At that time there was only one highway in the Peninsula (Madrid-Coruña): and that, because Franco’s motorcade took that road and back, in July-August, during the Dictator’s summer holidays.

I have mentioned highways because that was one of the reasons for Eisenhower’s trip to Spain. It is difficult now to imagine the enormous fear of the Soviet Union felt even by the middle class in the Free World those days, instigated of course by corrupt intelligence agencies and other instruments of imperialist propaganda.

The communist party was then the most popular one in Italy, even though in power there was a Demo-Christian government (with links to national and international criminality, by the way.) And in France the communists were also the biggest party at the general elections and the best organised political group. If the Soviets overran the Continent, down to the Pyrenees, as it was feared, US marines would have to be able to cross from the Atlantic ports of Spain and Portugal right to the French frontier (to push back the Soviets, they announced.) Narrow old roads and dirt tracks had to be transformed into double-carriage roads and motorways.

For the Spaniards the way to prosperity was now assured, as we have intimated. A real freeworld country. Capital, labour, enterprise, production of commodities, wages and profits… Markets! like in the rich countries. In a few years everything was to be according to rule. The principles of capitalist economics were well implanted and implemented.

Another thing, which affects me personally. As from that spring ’53, our frontiers, which had been closed since the beginning of the dictatorship, were re-opened. Until then, young Spaniards who wanted to go and breath the free air abroad had to cross the Pyrenees on foot, preferably in winter, and always taking the risk of being shot by the frontier soldiers or civil guards. I was one of the beneficiaries of the new-found “liberty”, one of the first (students) to cross the frontier by train. I still had to fulfill certain requirements and get certain papers; but, with the help of my father, who had friends in the Administration, I obtained a passport, exit visa, permission from the Army, clearance from the Office of Prisons (“penados y rebeldes”), foreign currency from the Instituto de la Moneda Extranjera, and a certificate of good conduct from the parish priest, as well as (since I planned to do some studies abroad) a certificate from the Faculty of Law in Madrid.

What would not be my surprise (on arriving in London that spring), when British students and intellectuals, who generally asked about Franco and his regime (and I told them what it was), invariably commented: “Yes, but put it this way. He saved you from communism. Didn’t he?” Such was the stupid feeling that pervaded the Free World those days after nine years of Cold War propaganda.


Others too went abroad, of course. Suddenly the farming lands (agriculture having been nearly the only productive employment in Spain till then) were left to waste; for the peasants departed forever in order to do menial jobs in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, the houses of the rich… or in the factories and mines, in France, West Germany and Belgium… all over western and northen Europe.

And another godsend. In a few years the newly built roads, specially along the Mediterranean coast, became full of foreign cars and caravans, bringing precious tourists by the thousand: even the workers in Europe were wealthy enough to take the journey! Some of them bought villas in the Costa Brava, Benidorm, Alicante, Costa del Sol, etc.

Tourism, catering for the rich northerners, the selling of real estate to them, abundant foreign investment, the money sent by our men working abroad (who, as a rule, had left their families behind), all that meant lots of foreign currency entering the country those years. For capitalism was indeed flourishing in the Free World, and our own country, it seemed, would soon join the mad race. Maddening was the race of course; but what did it matter when we were marching forward? Progress, progress…

And “la construcción” was one of the manifestations of that progress. Not only housing, villas and skyscrapers, but also hotels, swimming pools, golf links, bullrings, football fields for the “aficionados”. Hardly a piece of land was left untouched along the sunny coast that went from the French border to Gibraltar and beyond.

Besides, Spain was soon to be received, after some initial hesitation, then precipitation (as has often been the case with our “Europe”) into the Common Market, which would then be renamed European Economic Community, etc. Moreover, from the moment we “entered Europe”, little Spain was pampered by the rich powers of the West as no other country ever was, and Spain became in a few years the favourite of Goddess Fortune.

  • But let us go back to the years following General Eisenhower´s visit. Spain, a country which had not changed a jot (the same politicians, more or less, were at the helm) these last ten years, became an example of freeworld prosperity. Why?

Money, of course. The most precious commodity! It entered the Península massively those days, and the Multinationals with it. There came a good deal of American advisers, business men, film stars and producers, world-known artists, scientists and researchers who gave lectures at university, as well as members of societies, the recently founded Lyons’ Clubs and similar organisations.

I often visited Spain those days. My friends, whom I now revisited, were most proud of our country’s new-found prosperity. “They have come to realise,” they said, meaning the Free World, “that we are the best.” It’s always the same with us.

“The best? Look at a map of Europe,” I replied. “The Peninsula is the best chunk of all the Continent; for military operations, I mean. It’s that, and not any sign of our superiority, that first brought capital into Spain: the Cold War, of course.”

As for the way that abundant fresh money circulated in the Peninsula, the answer is: the Banking Industry.
Money was freely made in the Costas: the sunny beaches, to begin with. Casinos, wine, dancing, women and song. All this, of course, also brought employment for our workers. But with tourism criminality came bouncing forward. And there we had something.

Contrary to what happened to the Poles, Latvians, Cypriots, etc. when they too became “Europeans”, later on…, when we entered the Free World (and Europe with it), we continually received help from Brussels. That is to say, all kinds of handouts were forthcoming all the time. In fact, there was no end to the amount of money we received in cultural, educational and administrative matters, shall we say: going from the rebuilding of churches and old monuments, to helping universities and the building of village sports grounds and swimming pools. Merely as an anecdote, I shall refer to a discussion I overheard in a country tavern in Castile. The peasants (whose lands had for years lain fallow to satisfy some Brussels requirements) were quarrelling because each one of them wanted to get a bigger chunk of euros (handed down by Brussels) than his neighbours.

With so much money coming in, the country was for many years the Moving Fiesta of Europe, receiving tourists, now, from all over the world. Everyone of them loved our way of life, enjoying the late hours and entertainment offered, our “tapas” and our intoxicating drinks, all at very low prices. Music, music, music! Dancing, informal wear, sex and all other kinds of fun always available! Particularly after Franco’s death in 1975. On the beaches nice looking French girls were now seen in bikinis, in the dance halls miniskirts, flimsy blouses, some very sculptural women in them, strip-tease: in the streets and promenades the golden thighs of the German, and Swedish sculptural beauties. Palm trees and lovely summernights. Captivating young ladies all over, the handsome blond men.

The bishops and other hierarchy of the Church were torn. I remember to have gone to Mass one Sunday, with some friends, in a small Mediterranean town, and the priest officiating the service, turned round at the Evangile, inviting the congregation to pray, asking God to send us many tourists (that yes!), but at the same time not to allow those nudes and bikinis to appear on our beaches and nightclubs.

All the regions of Spain benefitted from the “Milagro Español”, specially the coastal areas, where politicians of both parties were making money. Some crooks. There has always been an abundance of crooks in Spain; but now they were everywhere.

And money laundering. In a country where a lot of dirty money had to find the right “channel of circulation”, one necessarily thought of the Banking Industry. The national banks, and specially the cajas de ahorro, would know how to handle the new Wealth of the Nation.

The Building Industry was the centre around which much life and money circulated. When I talked in the seventies to my friends in Madrid about this new wealth, so many building-sites, so much activity… and I asked: “But, this capital (for building) where is it to be found?”, I received from the frowning Spaniards the following reply: “The land, of course. The land is very valuable now in Spain.”

But the land in itself does not produce any wealth, except in so far as the farmer grows some goods. It is the work of man that produces value. “You know,” I said, “Land, Labour and Capital. Where does Capital come from, that is the question”

There was tourism (the Costas) and with it, criminality, drug trafficking. Capital circulation came next. There were the banks, the cajas de ahorro. In some Costas, the visitor only saw (apart from the taverns) souvenir shops, boutiques and then, to a proportion of two to one, the banking joints.

And so, “la construcción”. At a really maddening pace. Then the real estate built had to be sold. All right where thousands of foreigners bought along the coast, but there was no stopping “the building”. Who was going to buy all those thousands and thousands of apartments created in the new buildings (sometimes skyscrapers) now seen everywhere?

One thing was that at this time people were in employment, generally. Workers and employees were anxious to become proprietors, like the rich. Schemes were organised. Mortgage contracts were drafted which gave the purchaser ten, twenty, even fifty years to pay back the debt. Sometimes, to make things easier, a couple’s children were embodied in the contract, longevity! I have known of a baby-in-arms having been made a party in the purchase of real estate. Spaniards became overnight (practically all of them) proprietors. They only had to pay a moderate sum every month and (in the future) the house, flat or whatever would be theirs. This attitude became “a national vice”. The peseta was such a feeble currency!; to purchase real estate became a sure way of beating inflation (more, devaluation.) Two flats would be bought, a sure way of saving. The secondary flat could be rented out and, besides, in three or four years it would have doubled in value, any real-estate property would. Until one day everything went to rot. Total collapse.

What had happened? Why did a whole nation suddenly become an indigent people, so unexpectedly? There was the world crisis that started in New York in September 2008.

But is that all?

Fernando García Izquierdo
9, rue Vernet
78150 LE CHESNAY, France



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