A social movement has been growing in Spain, breaking the 30-year pact of silence on the enormous atrocities and genocide carried out during and after the fascist coup led by General Franco. The coup took place in 1936 with the active support of the Catholic Church and the Spanish Army, and made possible by the assistance of Hitler and Mussolini and the cowardice of the western democracies, including the U.S., which at that time did not dare to offend Hitler and Mussolini by sending arms to the democratically elected Spanish government. The coup was resisted, however, by the majority of Spain’s population, which is why it took three years for the fascists to succeed. They won by imposing extremely repressive measures on the population. Terror became an explicit policy of the new regime. General Franco and other generals spoke frequently of the need to kill everyone who had supported the Popular Front, the alliance of left-wing and center parties that had won by large majorities in the last elections in Spain. As part of that repression, more than 200,000 men and women were executed by the fascist regime, and another 200,000 died in the Army’s concentration camps and in the villages, subjected to hunger, disease, and other circumstances. And 114,266 people simply disappeared. They were killed by the Army and the fascist party, la Falange, and their bodies were abandoned or buried without being identified. These bodies were never found.
When democracy returned in 1978, an informal pact of silence was made – an agreement to cover over the enormous repression that had existed under the fascist dictator. The democratic transition took place under conditions that were highly favorable to the conservative forces that had controlled Francoist Spain. It became obvious to the leadership of the former fascist state, led by King Juan Carlos (appointed by General Franco), and Suarez, the head of the fascist movement (Movimiento Nacional), that the fascist regime could not continue as a dictatorship. It was a corrupt and highly unpopular apparatus, facing the largest labor agitation in Europe. In 1976, a critical year after the death of the dictator (the day he died, the country ran out of champagne), 2,085 workdays per 1,000 workers were lost to strikes (the average in Europe was 595 days). The dictator died in his bed, but the dictatorship died in the streets. The level of social agitation reached such a point that Franco’s appointed monarchy was in trouble, and the state leadership was forced to open itself up and establish a limited democracy, under the watchful eye of the Army (and the Church). The left was strong enough to force that opening, but it was not strong enough to break with the old state. The Amnesty Law was passed in 1977, which protected those who had committed politically motivated crimes (a law that was of much greater benefit to the right-wing than to the left-wing forces). The repression during the Franco years was enormous. Even in his bed just before he died (1975), Franco was signing death warrants for political prisoners.