Courtesy Reuters

In the Twilight of the Franco Era

The importance of southern Europe to the balance of power in world affairs has been underlined by the continuing crisis in the Middle East, the growth of Russian power in the Mediterranean and President Nixon's diplomatic journey in the autumn of 1970. The earlier renewal of the Spanish-American military pact, followed by Nixon's visit to Madrid, once more called attention to the role played by the Spanish government. At the same time, the future of the Franco régime has raised more questions than at any time in the past two decades, if only because of the fact that Franco himself entered his seventy-ninth year at the close of 1970 and in the preceding year took the unprecedented step of officially designating a successor, Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón, as heir to the Spanish throne.

The Franco régime has been in power for more than 30 years and is the longest-lived one-man dictatorship in the world (with the possible exception of the Tubman government in Liberia, depending on one's political definitions). Perennial statements of surprise over its survival have in recent times given way to a kind of acceptance of its durability. So many people have so often been mistaken in predicting the imminent demise of the régime that such voices are now heard less frequently, even though Franco's days are now obviously limited.

During the past decade both Americans and other West Europeans have had much more contact with Spain than at any other time in the past. Even though the immense majority of such contacts are superficial, they have to some extent increased knowledge of Spanish affairs on the common level. Franco of course still remains a bugbear for the leftist intelligentsia throughout the Western world, and even professional scholars often remain dominated by the ideological passions of the 1930s. However, the expansion of research during the 1960s on the politics and government of modern and contemporary Spain, particularly in the United States, has made much clearer the background,

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