Franco, Francisco (1892-1975)

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General and authoritarian leader (caudillo), who governed Spain from 1939 to 1975. Franco was born on December 4, 1892, in El Ferrol, Spain. After graduating from the infantry academy in 1910, he rose rapidly in the army, earning a reputation for efficiency, honesty, and complete professional dedication. He was named commander of the Spanish foreign legion in 1923. Franco became a national hero for his role in suppressing revolts in Morocco, and at the age of 33 he was made brigadier general. Having quelled a miners’ revolt in Asturias in 1934, he became army chief of staff in 1935.

Franco kept Spain out of World War II, but after the Axis defeat he was labeled the “last of the Fascist dictators” and ostracized by the United Nations. As the cold war gained in intensity, however, foreign opposition to Franco lessened. In 1953 the signing of a military assistance pact with the United States marked the return of Spain to international society. Franco’s regime became somewhat more liberal during the 1950s and ’60s. It depended for support not on the Falange, renamed the National Movement, but on a range of “political families,” running from those on the center right to extreme reactionaries. Franco balanced off these groups against one another, retaining for himself a position as arbiter above the affairs of day-to-day politics. Helped along by the general prosperity of Europe, Spain enjoyed rapid economic growth in the 1960s. By the end of the decade its previously agricultural economy had been industrialized. In 1947 Franco declared Spain a monarchy, with himself as a sort of regent for life. In 1969 he designated Prince Juan Carlos, grandson of Spain’s former king, Alfonso XIII, as his official successor. In 1973 Franco relinquished his position as premier but continued to be head of state. At Franco’s death in Madrid on November 20, 1975, Juan Carlos became king. No consensus has been reached on Franco’s role in Spanish history. His partisans point to the prolonged peace following the civil war and to the economic boom of the 1960s. His detractors stress the repressive politics of the regime and suggest that economic growth would have taken place even without Franco.