(December 4th, 1892- November 20th, 1975)
Born in El Ferrol (Galicia), Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teoula Franco y Bahamonde (later known as Generalíssimo Franco or ‘El Caudillo’) went on to graduate from the Toledo Military Academy in 1910. Franco was promoted quickly for military duties he performed during his post in Morocco. In 1926, after serving as the Commander for the Tercio de Extranjeros, the Spanish Foreign Legion and a brutal military troupe, Franco became Europe’s youngest brigadier general. Franco returned from his foreign tours to Spain in 1927 to head the military academy in Zaragoza.
In 1931, the first democratic election for Spain in 60 years resulted in an elected republic, which forced then-king Alfonso XIII into exile. Franco’s right-wing monarchist political views were seen as a threat by the new left-wing government: he was quickly demoted and sent on foreign military duty. In 1935, José Maria Gil Robes, then Minister of War, appointed Franco as his chief-of-staff. From this position, Franco began his steady expulsion of republicans from the military hierarchy.
In 1936, Franco led a coup d’etat against the elected left-wing Popular Front Spanish government. Although the coup failed miserably, its immediate result became the bloody Spanish Civil War, which lasted until 1939. Franco then named himself dictator and maintained the title until his death in 1975. Franco quickly developed a reputation as a cruel and vindictive military leader. It is accepted that an estimated 200,000 political prisoners died as a result of starvation, overwork and executions. Even after multiple amnesties and pardons were granted in 1944, Franco continued to enforce his strict belief in ‘traditional’ values, especially those in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Franco also worked to suppress regional cultures in areas such as the Basque country (which led to the formation and rise of ETA) and Catalunya. Franco enforced a strict nationalistic code in which Castilian was the only official language. Homosexuals and communists were often forced into exile, and a heavily patriarchal society held control over social issues. Divorce was illegal because of the traditions of the Catholic Church, which Franco supported without question.
During World War Two, Franco maintained Spain’s neutrality much to Hitler’s great disappointment. This, in addition to Franco’s firm anti-communist stand, enabled Spain to join the United Nations in 1950. In 1953 Franco agreed to allow four U.S. military bases to establish themselves in Spain. For this agreement Franco received assurance from NATO that Spain would be protected from any foreign invaders. In 1969, Franco announced that his successor would be Juan Carlos, grandson of the last Spanish monarch. Franco died in 1975 after several weeks of intense medical issues. Within two years, King Juan Carlos I had dissolved most of the remnants of Franco’s authoritarian regime.