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Franco and Fidel united by the past

FRANCO AND FIDEL UNITED BY THE PASTIn absolutely opposed ideological camps, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz and Francisco Franco Bahamonde had something else which brought them closer.  Not their common Galician roots, but ancient traumas lived through by both Spain and Cuba.

1. The death of Francisco Franco in 1975 opened the way for the transition to a democratic system in Spain.  It marked the end of a period of an authoritarian government with tones of nationalism and fascism, which had been in power since the traumatic victory in the Civil War of 1936 - 39.  Spain at this time had been perceived as the Nemesis of democracy and of European progressive ideas, and so for the democrats and the socialist-communist parties, the end of the Francoist period was a moment for great rejoicing.   In Cuba, one of Spain’s old Caribbean colonies, Fidel Castro, who had overthrown the pro-American Fugencio Batista, was at the dawn of his prestige as an international marxist revolutionary, but that did not prevent him from discreetly decreeing three days of national mourning for the death of Franco.

2. The improbable funereal honour for a dictator with fascist sympathies suggests a surprising closeness which ignored the ideological barriers of the Cold War.  But Hispano-Cuban relations were marked not only by a hidden proximity in a pragmatic logic of shared interests.  There were also turbulent misunderstandings.  The best known and most bizarre case occurred in 1960.  The Spanish ambassador in Cuba, Juan Pablo Lojendio, burst in on a live broadcast in the Cuban state studios, calling Fidel a liar because Fidel had accused the Spanish embassy of anti-revolutionary activities. The ambassador was expelled from Cuba.  Returning to Madrid, Franco told him that as a Spaniard, he had acted well, but as an ambassador, very badly.  The position of Spanish ambassador in Havana remained vacant for some years, but political contact and commercial relations continued.  Taking into account the US embargo, Spain was Cuba´s most important commercial partner in the capitalist world.

3. Cuba has a special place in Spanish history.  On 28 October 1492, the fleet of Christopher Columbus made landfall on the island to mark the beginning of the Spanish empire in the Americas.  But Cuba was also linked to the death of this empire.  Unlike the generality of Spanish possessions in Latin America which became independent in the decade of the 1820s, Cuba continued as a Spanish colony.  In 1898, it fell into the hands of the United States after the defeat of the Spanish colonial army.  This episode (little known in Portugal) had an enormous impact in Spain.  The shock of the disaster of 1898, which led to the loss of not only Cuba, but also Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other Spanish colonies [Guam - PKB]  was comparable with the British Ultimatum of 1890, which ended Portuguese hopes of occupying and annexing the territories between Angola and Mozambique.  For Portugal, this episode was the most important event in discrediting the monarchy, and in opening the route for republican ideas.  In Spain’s case, it was a hard blow to the prestige of the monarchy and to popular support for the king.  There followed the traumatic military campaigns in North Africa (the Rif wars in Morocco in the years 1910 -1930) which culminated in the Civil War.

4. The 1898 war produced an anti-American feeling in Franco’s generation, born of resentment over US action in Cuba.  The intervention had trumped the efforts of the independence movement of José Martí (1853 - 1895), poet and originator of the war of independence against Spain because the independence movement was ignored by Treaty of Paris in 1898 which brought the Hispano-American war to an end.  The common history of Spain and Cuba helps us to understand their proximity at the time of Castro and Franco in spite of their inimical ideologies.  Something very similar happened in the case of Portugal and Timor-Leste.  The independence declared on 28 November 1975 by FRETILIN (a pro-Marxist party) was usurped by the invasion and annexation by Indonesia.  Resistance to the Indonesians led to alliance between Portuguese and Timorese.  From their own experience, Portuguese realise that a common history can unite peoples and overcome ideological divisions.


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