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Agony and Death of General Franco

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During his early years in power, Generalissimo Francisco Franco led Spain into a level of starvation and disease unknown since the Middle Ages. Some 200,000 people died of starvation in the years (1940-1944) ensuing Franco’s triumphal but false declaration on 31st December 1939 that the problems in Spain were over because, “huge amounts of gold have been found in Spain.” It wasn’t clear whether he actually believed these claims about gold discoveries but Franco was prone to such swindles: the Austrian Albert von Filek convinced the dictator that he could make petrol from water and a secret plant extract. He was allowed to build a factory on the River Jarama and for a long time, Franco believed that his own car was the first to run on this new fuel.

His longevity, however, eclipsed these early erraticism and brutality. He positioned himself as a staunch anti-Communist, and won vital support and aid from the United States; the fact that his three foreign visits were to Hitler, to Mussolini and to Salazar were quickly forgotten. Finally conceding that he knew nothing about economics, Franco transferred economic management to technocrats who led Spain into Años de Desarrollo, the years of development from 1961 to 1973, when the Spanish economy grew faster than any nation in Europe.

Although he more and more delegated power as his health deteriorated, the old dictator proved to be as vindictive as ever even in his final days. In 1975, when faced with a Communist movement, he issued a harsh ‘anti-terrorist’ law and ordered that their leaders be arrested. Three were sentenced to death. Fifteen European countries recalled their ambassadors, and there were demonstrations and attacks against the Spanish embassies in Europe. Mexico demanded Spain’s expulsion from the UN. Ignoring calls for clemency from the pope and many governments around the world, Franco went ahead with the execution.

On 1st October 1975 — 39th anniversary of his ascent to power — Franco made his last public appearance. On the balcony of the Palacio de Oriente in Madrid, he appeared, looking very frail, and having difficulty speaking. He veered into his usual cliches, blaming the problem in Spain to a leftist Masonic conspiracy of politicians, terrorists, and communists. More touching was his goodbye to the crowd, in tears and with both arms raised. From this moment on his health was in terminal decline; exposure to winds on the balcony induced pneumonia and then a heart attack. Intestinal haemorraging and three operations followed.

The Spanish radio began playing mournful music. Newspapers, which until recently had been enthusiastically reporting El Caudillo’s good health and rigorous physical activities, began running daily maps of Franco’s body, as though it were a war zone, with arrows pointing to vital organs and other positions under siege. The press offered capital sums for photographs of the dying dictator; his thirty-two physicians refused, but it later turned out that his son-in-law, the Marqués de Villaverde, took one snapshot after another. The Marqués still insists that he never intended to distribute those photos and that the photos, which finally appeared in La Revisita in 1984, were stolen from him.

In theatrical gesture rather out of keeping with a life of decisiveness and iron will, Franco died protractedly and chaotically. In the US, his death was erroneously announced by ABC, prompting many parodies. ‘How difficult it is to die,’ whispered Franco but the old dictator was being kept alive by life-support machines at the insistence of the Marqués de Villaverde, who was also the family doctor. It was only on 20th November 1975, after thirty-five days of struggling against death, that the dictator’s coterie allowed him to depart. (The mummified right arm of St Teresa of Avila which always travelled with him, was on his bedside table).

Almost half a million people filed past his body, and El Caudillo was buried at the Valle de los Caídos, Franco’s own monument to his victory in the Civil War. Millions of Spaniards watched the ceremony live on television, as the man who had ruled them for 40 years was lowered into the ground. Although it can be said that Franco’s Spain had already ceased to exist even while he was still alive, now the four-decade long national nightmare was finally over. The last obstacle to a modern, democratic Spain was gone, but its transition would be bumpy, as we shall see tomorrow.




Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 1, 2011 at 1:23 am

27 Responses

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  1. A piker compared to the much beloved-of-the-left Mao and Stalin. Heck, if Che hadn’t been more incompetant that your average leftist he’d have surpassed Franco in South America alone after Castro (no stranger to death) kicked him out of Cuba!



    February 1, 2011 at 1:54 am

    • Well then I guess his defense in the after life will be that all the kids were doing it.


      February 2, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    • It’s a shame really, poor education probably, that you don’t know that Fascism is a Rightist belief system, not a Leftist.

      David Glenn Cox

      November 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      • While we have all been told how fasism is a rightist belief system, even a cursory examination of its theory and practice are suffice to prove it is clearly leftist and as close to communisim as anything else. Both closely control industry, oppress all opposition, and result in widespread misery and death for those unfortunate enough to be caught in their clutches. Facism in Germany was not termed the National Socialist Democratic Party for nothing. Facism is inherently a far left of center philosophy that tries to masquerade as something else by ostensibly allowing for private ownership while actually placing so much control over that ownership that these industries become de facto government owned.


        February 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by andré leão, Nice Links. Nice Links said: Agony and Death of General Franco http://bit.ly/hze7WE […]

  3. An interesting article. I visited Valle de los Caídos last year but couldn’t go in of course. I have been reading about Franco and the Civil War and I found your post very useful.

    Andrew Petcher

    February 1, 2011 at 9:34 am

  4. I am Spanish and I have lived long enough to have known what you call Franco´s dictatorship. All what you write are pure lies.

    Aurelio Santa Cruz

    February 1, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    • ALL he wrote about were lies?


      February 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      • Yes, all lies except the fact that this great soldier was an anti-communist who is now dead. No, I am not Spanish even if my surname is and I lived in peaceful Spain as a student 1949-1960. I know the History of the civil war and of Spain for that matter, conservatively, more than half the population of Spain alive today and I am sure the writer of these lies would not be interested in hearing about the massacre by the left in Paracuellos (and many others) of which communist Santiago Carrillo, now also dead, is responsible. What a shame that some people just cannot avoid twisting the History of Spain. The fact is that vandalism by anarchists, communists. socialists and falangists between 1936-1939 prompted the military to impose peace and order which effectively reigned for the next forty years.


        April 12, 2014 at 8:17 am

  5. I´m Spanish too, and some things you write sounds me weird.


    February 1, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  6. Thank you for this post, my country is still healing for this wound.

    José Antonio

    February 3, 2011 at 12:28 am

  7. […] (continued from yesterday) […]

    23-F Coup « Iconic Photos

    February 4, 2011 at 9:44 pm

  8. Hi, here is another spaniard: haw, haw…Where did you get that crazy informaton about Franco’s regime? Actually it’s incredible bunch of invented data and mad interpretation of facts. Anyway, yes: Franco was a nightmare for us.


    February 8, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  9. […] Photos, “Agony and Death of General Franco.” Posted: February 1, […]

  10. Hello from Madrid

    Thank you for your post, it is a pretty good history lesson. Franco ruled a dictatorship, nobody can deny it nowadays.

    When La Revista was launched as a new gossip magazine, it was a big success. But soon after they published Franco’s agony photographs, its circulation declined. The scoop was too much for its readers, and the popularity of the magazine dropped.


    February 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  11. francos dictatorship in Spain is it’s just punishment for having abused and stunted the new world in the form of 500 years of misery and death and plunder. colombus’s sword spread the seeds of franco which were irrigated by the blood of the inoccents.

    al rodrigo

    February 24, 2011 at 8:03 am

  12. Franco died of gunshot- I heard dull gunshots, then Franco saying to me on the phone: I have enjoyed knowing you. Then a door is slammed opened with quick loud gunshots in the room. About 20 seconds later somebody says to me on the phone: No more Franco. Signed- Bobby Dias

    Bobby Dias

    July 13, 2012 at 4:08 am

    • The person who said No more Franco to me was Carlos Arias Navarro.

      Bobby Dias

      September 1, 2015 at 9:03 pm


    tom de groot

    September 14, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    • Franco murio del SIDA, era maricon secreto.


      February 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      • Mi querido amigo Canco: Franco era el general mas joven en la historia militar de Espana. Muy bravo en la Guerra de Marruecos. Sino preguntaselos a los Marroquis. Redujo la revuelta de mineros en el Norte particularmente en Oviedo. Dirigio la guerra civil hasta acabar con la batalla del Ebro pasando for las batallas de Brunete, Casa de Campo y Teruel. Dirigio la Academia militar de Zaragosa, Estuvo al frente de la Legion. Ninguno de sus militares se atrevieron a rebelarse contra el. Apuesto una peseta a que Vd no tiene co…para llamarle maricon en su cara si estuviera vivo. Ah PD. Franco murio de vejez sufriendo pneumonia. Como ya digo, no soy espanol pero amo a Espana y la verdad. Y la verdad es que Franco no murio de SIDA.


        April 12, 2014 at 10:22 am

  14. Lived in Madrid 1957 through 1960. It was a 3-P state–police, priests, poverty–with plenty of fascist overtones. Saw Eisenhower shake the fat SOB’s hand–hard to imagine what he must have thought of the idea of touching the hand that had been extended to Hitler, Himmler, Mussolini. Good riddance to bad rubbish!

    R. French

    January 2, 2014 at 9:19 pm

  15. How many head of states can claim that 500,000 people lined up to pay their respect on their death??? Only Franco and perhaps Mahatma Ghandi. All these people commenting here with great insolence just shows what kind of people they are. Since the introduction of Republicanism in Spain with the Constitution of Cadiz in 1812, peoples lives had gone from bad to worst. Poverty during the Second Republic ending in 1936 was the worst. General Franco inherited all these in the same way the Right today inherited 5 million unemployed that resulted in the previous bad administration by the left PSOE led by Zapatero and Rubalcaba.


    April 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

    • Franco was the right man at the right time for Spain. Everybody should have a very strict and tough person in their life for at least a little time.

      Bobby Dias

      May 9, 2015 at 11:50 pm

  16. Just to point out one lie among the many by the writer of the death of Franco….. that Franco visited Hitler. The nearest that Hitler got to Franco was in the border of Spain and France in Irun. This was when Hitler wanted to convince Franco to join the Axis into war. Franco imposed such impossible conditions that it was reported That Hitler would rather visit his dentist than have another meeting with Franco. Again Franco never went to Italy to visit Mussolini. The meeting was at the border in Bordighera. Bah !! All lies !!! Another writer creating a Black Legend against Spain. For Pete’s sake be truthful just for once???


    April 12, 2014 at 9:07 am

    • Reminds me of when Ho Chi Minh introduced me to all the Vietcong clans in 1967. I made many friends- even delivered 7 of their babies, and had 3,000 Voit balls dropped on them by a US Air Force plane. But, in 1969-1970, to stop those same Vietcong from killing about 12 million in south-east asia, I created and engineered and directed a multi-nation force that resulted in 99% of the Vietcong dead- 306,000- 43% shot in the back by their own leaders when they tried to surrender. Like me, Franco saved many more than he killed.

      Bobby Dias

      September 1, 2015 at 8:57 pm

  17. […] On his ugly deathbed, Franco was already an anachronism, but his rule was widely seen as the sole unifier of the fissiporous Spanish nation. The experts worried that old hatreds and new violence would flare up. (Indeed in the elections of 1977, Spain voted along socio-geographical lines almost identical to the elections of 1936). The improbable transition was completed by two figures: King Juan Carlos — Franco’s designated successor and Adolfo Suárez. Four months after Franco’s death, the king signaled that the old order was ending by speaking banned Catalan language. He also engineered centrist Suárez to become Prime Minister. Suárez, Franco’s director-general of state broadcasting, succeeded in ridding the government of the last members of the old regime and forcing through a democratic constitution. […]

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