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He’s still dead…

1 October 2006

THANKS, Francisco!

Today is the 70th anniversary of Franco’s assumption of power as head of the Army and Head of State in Spain. This was one of the great tragedies of the last century, but Europe’s loss was Mexico’s gain.

Mexico was still recovering from the Revolution in 1936. Pre-revolutionary Mexico had depended on outside expertise for much of its industry and commerce.

Mexico’s extremely liberal asylum policies (if you could find a job, and you were fleeing political persecution, you were welcome to stay as long as you liked) and the Mexican government’s anti-fascist tilt (you can still claim automatic immigrant status if you’re fleeing a fascist state), meant Spain — and Europe’s — loss was Mexico’s gain. It wasn’t just artists and intellectuals like Luis Buñuel, but businessmen and engineers and ordinary workers arrived bringing needed skills at a time when the whole world was in a depression.

And they continued to come until Franco was dead. I had a student whose dad had come from Catalonia at 16 to avoid the draft. Santa Maria la Ribera, my Mexico City neighborhood, went from a conservative to a leftist stronghold, thanks in good part to cheap housing available in the 30s, and the large number of Spaniards (and later German, French, Polish and Dutch refugees) who found apartments in the neighborhood.

In the Franco Era, Mexico City was the center of Hispanic culture and arts. The Colegio de Mexico and Fondaction de Cultura, originally “Spanish Republican” institutes in exile, are major publishers and academic insitutes. It would be impossible to name all the Spanish cafes, publishers, art galleries dating from the Francoist era.

Mexico’s support for the Republic went beyond the “good Mexican bullets” Ernest Hemingway wrote of. The Republic still existed — as a government-in-exile in Mexico. The photo below has nothing to do with Mexico, but it shows the stupidity of that regime. Eva Peron, hardly a democrat, adn not the smartest economist on the planet still knew the basics. She was trying to sell Argentine wheat to Spain. “What for?” asked el caudillo? “So there’s something edible in your bread.” Evita replied.

For many years, Spaniards could receive Republican passports upon arrival, no questions asked. And come they did. Some were just hungry, and couldn’t afford Argentine wheat. Some, like Opus Dei supporters, wanted to implant Francoismo in Mexico. The county has become more conservative, but I have to admit that their flagship, Universidad de Anahuac, does turn out some smart alumni. Some — like Vincente Fox’s mother — were Basques who saw no future in Francoist Spain.

Basque culture survived, more, sometimes in Mexico than in the Basque country. In Mexico, Basques kept the language in literature alive. In the Basque country, persecuted beyond all reason, they became what are now called “terrorists”. However, the “Basque Terrorists” did the world a great favor. In 1974 when they blew up Franco’s successor, Luis Carrero Blanco, with a hundred kilos of dynamite under his armored Dodge Dart. Launched five stories straight up, and coming down on an apartment house, Carrero Blanco became Spain’s first astronaut. Thankfully, he didn’t survive the experience, and neither did Francoismo. There is some suggestion that Mexican Basques were involved in the operation.

Modern Spain is progressive (Franco probably hasn’t stopped spinning in his grave from the marriage of two gay air force officers — by a mayor who belongs to the successor party of the Falange earlier this year)and wealthy. The huge change it underwent after Franco’s death is due to two factors — my buddy, King Juan-Carlos took good advise, and the Mexico’s tolerant and liberal social (not political) climate kept Spanish culture alive during the 40 years of darkness.

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