My mother and father were leaving Spain to go back to England by plane, and the Spanish customs officials beckoned them over to a desk to have their hand luggage checked.
One inspector went through each bag meticulously. When he came across a packet of soft Spanish cheese he froze. “Sir, you cannot leave with cheese in your hand luggage. It is prohibited!”
My father looked him directly in the eyes, grabbed the cheese, and threw it up in the air. Simultaneously, he jumped high from the ground. When the cheese dropped, his full weight came down on it, and he shouted, “Viva Franco!”
The customs officials looked at each other and burst out in laughter. My mother, also couldn’t control herself from giggling aloud. My father has subsequently passed away, so stories like these help me appreciate the great man he was and will always be to me.
Francisco Franco was a general and the leader of the Nationalist forces that overthrew the Spanish democratic republic in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39); thereafter he was the head of the government of Spain until 1973 and the head of state until his death in 1975.
Although Franco had desires to restore Spanish grandeur after the Civil War, in reality he was the leader of an exhausted country that was still divided internally and impoverished by a long and costly war. The government’s stability was made more precarious by the outbreak of World War II just five months later.
In spite of sympathy for the Axis powers, Franco at first declared Spanish neutrality in the conflict. He approached Hitler when France fell in June 1940. Franco then indicated his willingness to bring Spain into the war on Germany’s side in exchange for extensive German military and economic assistance. Hitler was unable or unwilling to meet all his demands.
However, Franco’s government remained relatively sympathetic to the Axis powers while carefully avoiding any direct diplomatic and military commitment to them. Spain’s return to a state of complete neutrality in 1943 came too late to gain favorable treatment from the Allies.
Nevertheless, Franco’s wartime diplomacy, marked as it was by cold realism and careful timing, had kept his regime from being destroyed along with the Axis powers. The coalition headed by Germany, Italy, and Japan that opposed the Allied powers in World War II.
In his farewell message to the Spanish people upon his death in 1975, Franco referred to "the great task of making Spain united, great and free." Spain, great! Spain, free!
Written by Carl Boniface
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