The Chargé in Spain (Culbertson) to the Secretary of State


No. 82

Subject: Liberalization of the Franco Regime

Sir: I have the honor to refer to telegram no. 520 of February 7, 1949, 9 p. m. (no. 5 to Madrid)1 from the Embassy in Paris to the Department, and to report that the difference of opinion between the Director of the European Section of the French Foreign Office and the French Delegate in Madrid regarding the Spanish problem is about a matter which has been the subject of considerable discussion in this Embassy, in the light of the Department’s directive that we emphasize in Spain the need for measures of political liberalization.

It is noted that the Director of the European Section of the French Foreign Office stated that no real progress could be made until there are changes in the Spanish regime which, although superficial, might at least be played up as representing evolution in the direction desired by the Socialists of Europe. Franco may well make a few moves in the direction of liberalization, such as granting a limited amnesty, modifying censorship rules, and relaxing some of the police vigilance over former opposition elements. However, he probably has some qualms as to whether his regime could withstand the effects of going too far along these lines and, with more reason, whether the Socialists of Europe would be satisfied with anything less than his abandonment of power.

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Prior to the meeting of the United Nations Assembly in Paris in September 1948, it was announced that municipal elections would be held in November. It was felt then in this Embassy that, in the Government’s statements regarding the elections, it was making a bid for the approval of Western European and American public opinion. The elections were held while the United Nations Assembly was meeting in Paris, but they were so far removed from a democratic process in any sense of the term that even the Spaniards did not play them up very much in their propaganda aboad. Perhaps this marked a change in the propaganda line of the Spanish Government. In any case it now seems to be making little pretense of adopting any democratic institutions.

This cannot be explained precisely by saying that Franco thinks the Western world needs him and must take him as he is. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that he has asked himself what he can gain by gestures in the direction of liberalism. He has some reason to feel that Spain’s entry into the United Nations or participation in the Marshall Plan is impossible as long as he is in power in Spain and the Socialists in power in other Western European countries. His principal aims now are (1) to obtain a reversal of that part of the 1946 resolution of the United Nations which has to do with Chiefs of Mission, and (2) to secure economic assistance from the United States, independent of our aid to other countries. The first aim receives its impetus mostly from that pride which plays such an important part in the make-up of every Spaniard, and this same pride frowns on making concessions to get satisfaction. Members of the Foreign Office have told members of the staff of this Embassy that the Government’s directive to its diplomats in the field is that they should concentrate on obtaining repeal of the clause having to do with the Chiefs of Mission rather than on the one excluding Spain from United Nations technical organizations, even though it is recognized that the latter would be more apt to succeed with the Socialists of Europe. If the necessary two-thirds majority is not obtained in the Assembly voting, or if the Spanish question is stricken from the agenda, the Spaniards believe that a sufficient number of delegates will make declarations to the effect that they are not bound by the 1946 Resolution to enable a vast majority of countries to send ambassadors to Madrid and to render that part of the Resolution inoperative; and even this would offer some satisfaction to Spanish pride. The problem of obtaining economic assistance from the United States probably seems to the Spanish officials to be only slightly related to political liberalism. They have been encouraged in this view by statements of our officials, such as those to the effect that political reform is needed principally to satisfy Western European opinion. Praise of their regime by many visiting Americans, [Page 729] especially the military minded, have moreover encouraged a feeling that they are a better financial risk with a “strong” government than with one “weakened” by reforms “encouraging to troublemakers.”

In conclusion, it seems to the writer that there is little prospect that the Spanish Government will in the near future inaugurate any very important political changes in the direction of liberalism. The economic difficulties which the country is facing are forcing the Government to tighten its controls and to try to consolidate its position with its proven supporters—the Church, the Army, and the Falange party. What may be the political consequences of failure to handle a serious economic crisis is another matter and not within the terms of reference of this despatch.

Respectfully yours,

For the Chargé d’Affaires a.i.
S. Walter Washington

First Secretary
  1. Not printed.