Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador in Spain (Armour)26
The Foreign Office had advised me that Sr. Martín Artajo26a would receive me at 4:30 this afternoon, and I called at that hour.
The Minister opened the conversation by extending his congratulations and expressing his satisfaction over the news they had just received of the Japanese Government’s offer of surrender.
He then passed on to immediate problems. The Foreign Minister told me that he had spent Saturday afternoon, August 4, and most of Sunday with General Franco, during which time he had had an opportunity to discuss matters very fully with him. I asked the Minister how he viewed the situation. He said he felt the Spanish Government’s position had been misrepresented in the press and radio abroad, including the United States. However, before giving me his views he would like to have my own.
I began by saying that I presumed he was aware of my Government’s position as I had set forth very frankly in discussions with his predecessor, Sr. Lequeriea, and in the two conversations with General Franco. However, I then reviewed for him our position along the usual lines, concluding by saying that so long as the present regime continued unchanged I felt there was no possibility of improved relations between our two governments.
Referring to the Potsdam Declaration, I said that I could not believe this had come as a surprise to his Government, in view of the position my Government had consistently taken. Furthermore, it was a reaffirmation of the position taken by the fifty nations represented at the San Francisco Conference more than a month earlier. He must know the strong feeling of opposition that existed in the United States towards the present regime in Spain, a sentiment which, far from becoming less, was, I felt, steadily on the increase. In this connection, I mentioned recent radio broadcasts by two prominent United States senators, advocating a break in relations with the Franco regime (the Minister indicated that he had heard of this). In view of all this and similar feelings in other democratic nations of which he must be aware—I mentioned specifically the recent action of the Peruvian Congress in recommending the suspension of relations with the present regime in Spain—I hoped that his Government realized the seriousness of the situation and was prepared to take a realistic attitude. Unfortunately, I could see no evidence thus far of this. General [Page 685]Franco’s speech of July 17 had stressed that any evolution that took place must be within the framework of the Movement (Movimiento) and inspired by the spirit of the Falange. There had, to be sure, been changes in the cabinet but, while the Ministry of the Movement had been suppressed, Sr. Arrese had been appointed a member of the Junta Politica, while Sr. Girón, a well-known Falangist, remained in the cabinet and Fernandez Cuesta, one of the original Falangists, had been appointed to succeed Sr. Aunos as Minister of Justice. One of the factors in the present situation in Spain which had caused the most painful impression in my country was the continued holding in prison of so many political prisoners. According to reliable reports executions were also still being carried out. Admitting the bitterness the struggle had engendered, it seemed to many of us that General Franco could have done far more than he has done to heal the breach. Referring again to the Potsdam Communiqué, I pointed out that the Spanish press had not been allowed to publish the text of that portion referring to Spain while, on the other hand, all of the Spanish papers had been required to publish the note of the Spanish Government and, subsequently, evidently inspired and provocative editorials had come out, setting forth the Government’s attitude. All of this, I felt, had created an increasingly unfavorable public opinion in my own country and I believed in the other countries. In this connection, I referred to the references in these inspired articles to the Non-Intervention Committee. Calling attention to this episode could only have the result of recalling painful memories and be used against our Government by those elements in our country favoring strong measures against the present regime here.
Finally, I could not see that the evolution proposed by Franco, even if carried out immediately, would essentially change or modify the opposition in our country to the present regime. Unless and until a substantial proportion of the Spanish people were given an opportunity freely to decide on the form of regime they desired, there could, I believed, be no final solution to the problem. We all, of course, realized their difficulties and no one wished to see Spain plunged again into civil war. It might be said that all of this was an internal matter, but as I saw it the time had come for them to decide how much an improvement in relations with the United States, Great Britain, and other democratic countries meant to them. This, I believed, was one of the questions on which they must make up their minds without delay.
The Minister listened attentively and, when I had finished, expressed his appreciation for the frankness with which I had spoken. He insisted that he had accepted the post only because he believed that Franco intended to carry out a real evolution and that it was his plan [Page 686]eventually to restore the monarchy. In the meantime there would be liberalization of the press, although here they would have to proceed carefully since the public had been so accustomed to believing that everything the papers said was inspired by the Government that too sudden liberty of expression might give rise to misunderstandings. Furthermore, General Franco intended to call municipal elections along the lines set forth in his program and, while these would not be on as broad a basis as he himself might have wished in view of his own liberal leanings, nevertheless he thought that it would be a good start. Furthermore, he hoped that, as a result of these elections, a new Cortes might later be formed with a broader basis of popular support. The important point was that these steps should be carried out without impairing the central authority, since anything that would run the risk of bringing about disorders or lead even to civil war must be avoided. He had himself been a prisoner of the “Reds” during the first six months of the civil war and he knew from personal experience from what a real catastrophe the country had been saved by the victory of the elements fighting for decency and order. Nothing, he repeated, must be done, in effecting the evolution, to weaken the central authority to a point where it might plunge the country again into civil strife and bloodshed. The Minister said he believed General Franco had in mind the analogy of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera.27 Once the strong hold was relaxed disintegration set in. The monarchy fell shortly thereafter, then came the Republic and the gradual chaos that finally resulted in the civil war. The Minister then entered on a long dissertation on the character of the Spanish people which made it impossible to have here anything such as had occurred in England during the recent elections when, overnight, the Conservative Government was turned out and a strong Labor majority brought in, without disorders or trouble of any kind.
They desired, he said, nothing more than to have the best possible relations with the United States, Great Britain and the other democratic countries. Here the Minister referred to the position General Franco’s government had taken during the war, giving the usual explanation as to why it had been necessary for Franco to do certain of the things that were now being held up against him. The Minister insisted that the regime was not Fascist in character and that even the Falange had represented in its ranks many of the so-called working classes. However, so far as the Falange was concerned, he could assure me that it was now “out” and that Franco had every intention of separating it completely from all participation in the Government. It was also his conviction that both the Junta Politica and the Consejo [Page 687]Nacional would be suppressed. As to the appointment of Sr. Fernandez Cuesta to the Ministry of Justice, Cuesta was no longer an ardent Falangist. He personally had always found him to be a man of moderate views, and he felt sure he would do his utmost to remedy certain of the features I had referred to, although he, the Minister, himself believed that the figures of the number of political prisoners still held in custody had been greatly exaggerated.
When the Minister finished, I said that I could only reach the conclusion from what he told me that it was evidently the intention of General Franco to continue along the lines set forth in his July 17 speech and that, if this were true, I could see little hope of any real improvement in the present status of our relations: in fact, given the increasing feeling of opposition in my country, I had serious misgivings as to whether it would be possible to maintain even the status quo unless something far more radical than what he had outlined were done to change the present character of the regime.
- Copy transmitted to the Department in despatch 753, August 16, 1945, from Madrid; received August 27.↩
- Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, succeeding Lequeriea on July 19, 1945.↩
- Miguel Primo de Rivera established himself as military dictator of Spain on September 13, 1923; his dictatorship lasted about two years.↩