Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chargé in Spain (Bonsal)2

Following a conversation on other subjects the Foreign Minister3 and I discussed the Spanish political situation and the regime’s foreign relations. The Foreign Minister stated that the recent resolution4 approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York with regard to Spain constituted a set-back for those members of General Franco’s5 cabinet, including himself, who desired to secure some sort of evolution here. The attitude generally prevalent in the cabinet at present is that nothing which the regime could conceivably do internally would be apt to improve Spain’s international position. This applies not only to political developments but also to such matters as repatriation, Safehaven , etc. which involve concessions to the requests of the United States and Great Britain. (See other memoranda of this same date.6)

The Minister said, however, that he himself had every intention of continuing to press for evolutionary changes here since he is strongly of the opinion that the Government, in order to achieve stability, must rest upon institutions rather than upon one man, i.e., General Franco.

The Minister then spoke with considerable indignation of the way in which the Spanish problem has been handled in the United Nations. He said that it had been a sort of cat’s paw in the struggle between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and Great Britain on the other. Whenever the relations between East and West became tense the Spanish issue was apt to be dragged out and the Western powers were apt to make concessions to the Soviet in the form of attacks on the Spanish regime.

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In reply to this I endeavored to raise the larger issue of the attitude in general of the peoples of the Western countries and especially of Great Britain and the United States toward the Spanish regime. I said that we all considered that Spain belongs to our civilization and that therefore a regime which denies the basic freedoms considered essential to that civilization cannot hope for good relations with us. I pointed out that, viewing the situation wholly objectively, the recent action of the United Nations was merely a further step in a process which, if it were allowed to continue, could only result in a still greater isolation of Spain from the rest of the western world. I also ventured the thought that the longer this isolation continued the more apt would be the extremists to win out in Spain.

The Minister replied that he frankly no longer believed that there was anything within the power of the present Spanish regime to perform which would improve public opinion in general in the United States and Great Britain. He said, however, that he believed that in Spain’s own interest some sort of evolution is necessary. He said that he had been in frequent contact with General Franco on the subject and that he himself was advocating the preparation of a constitutional law which would set up a [“]Consejo del Reino” (Council of the Realm) which would provide for an orderly succession in the leadership of the State as well as public participation on a moderate scale in the work of Government. The Minister said that it was his idea that this constitutional law would be subjected to a popular referendum.

The Minister then referred to the demonstrations of December 9 against foreign interference in Spanish affairs. He said that the importance of this matter had been wholly and willfully neglected by the foreign press and that this neglect was a further contribution to misunderstanding of Spanish realities. He said that the Monarchists Shad been amazed at the evidence of the regime’s strength afforded by the demonstrations and he took occasion to say that he thought orthodox Monarchists rather weak and ineffective.

The Minister said that there was some sentiment in Government circles for the holding of a plebiscite in order to register support for Franco. In his opinion General Franco would win such a plebiscite overwhelmingly, particularly if Giral7 were to be placed on the ticket. However, the Minister said that in his own opinion it would be undesirable to have such a plebiscite since the objective toward which Spain should work, i.e., institutional normality, would not be furthered by voting at this time on personalities.

The Minister then returned to the handling of the Spanish question in the United Nations. He expressed great indignation at the difference [Page 1055] between the treatment accorded the Soviet Union and her satellites and that meted out to Spain. I said that we were endeavoring to carry out our obligations in regard to Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, etc. He said, however, that it was a farce for us, in view of our attitude toward the Soviet Union to maintain that we had fought and won a war for the overthrow of totalitarianism and that this justified our attitude toward the Franco regime. He said that there was considerably more personal liberty in Spain than in countries which we had mentioned.

The Minister then described the actual voting in the United Nations regarding the Spanish problem. He referred to the vote at San Francisco in the spring of 1945 when Spain was not even mentioned by name and when all of the members of the United Nations voted in favor of a vague condemnation of regimes brought into power with Axis assistance. He then referred to the General Assembly meeting in London in February8 of this year [1946] and pointed out that although the resolution on Spain obligated no one to take any action two American republics have voted against it. He then said that considering the prestige of Great Britain and the United States and the pressures which he assumed had been brought to bear that it was well worthy of notice that the resolution which had been voted in New York last month had received the negative votes of six countries and fourteen had abstained. He said that he himself had received the visits of certain representatives of countries which had voted in favor of the resolution and they had indicated that their delegates had had no choice in the matter although deploring this infringement of the principle of non-intervention. The Minister said that it was his own impression, apparently derived from the return from the United States of such travelers as the Bishop of Ciudad Rodrigo, that our public opinion was becoming more favorable or at least less hostile toward the regime and that with a Republican victory in Congress some change might be expected in our Spanish policy.

In closing the conversation I returned to the theme of the impossibility of Spain’s maintaining indefinitely a regime based upon principles wholly in disaccord with those which have been worked out by the countries whose civilization Spain shares and to which Spain has made important contributions. I again said that it seemed to me the longer the present situation lasts the more certain would be a violent overthrow. The Minister of course reaffirmed his own feeling as to the popular support of the regime. In the course of the discussion I had said that it seemed to me that the objective of evolution here would be to close the wounds of the Civil War and to establish a political system [Page 1056] within which both sides in that conflict might have some possibilities of free expression. The Minister conceded this to be a desirable objective and he agreed with me that the Government could not indefinitely be the sole property of those who won the Spanish Civil War. However, he made the point that the United Nations so far is being conducted by and for the benefit of those who won the World War.

  1. Transmitted to the Department as an enclosure to despatch 3315, January 3, from Madrid, not printed; received January 15, 1947.
  2. Alberto Martin Artajo.
  3. Resolution on Spain adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 12, 1946; see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. v, pp. 10801090.
  4. Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, Spanish Chief of State.
  5. Not printed.
  6. José Giral y Pereira was President of the Spanish Republican “Government-in-Exile” until his resignation on January 27, 1947.
  7. For text of the resolution on Spain adopted by the General Assembly on February 9, 1946, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. v, p. 1033, footnote 16.