303. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Post-Franco Spain

You recently asked CIA Director Helms to take a look at the prospects for post-Franco Spain. He has now provided the memorandum attached at Tab A.2

The immediate outlook when Franco, now in his 79th year, passes from the scene, is for Prince Juan Carlos to assume titular head of a regime dominated by the Spanish military (the Army in particular). This transition itself will most likely be non-violent but will begin a period of fluidity and shifting alliances among and within various groups, some of whom are now counted as part of the regime and others who may be viewed as the opposition.

Though the situation is rather complex, in essence there are generally three groupings into which the various interests may be placed: those who believe that virtually any change threatens the nation; others who seek the easing or elimination of the more harsh restrictions of the past years; and those who will attempt to seize the opportunity for mischief-making.

The Communists, Anarchists, and Basque and Catalan separatists will undoubtedly seek to exploit Franco’s passing. They may attempt to link with labor, students and some elements in the Church to provoke demonstrations marked increasingly with violence. At the other end of the spectrum, the senior Army officers, the diehard Falangists (Franco’s old political party), some members of the Church’s hierarchy, and some businessman, will probably attempt to take all measures to preserve the form and stability of the regime. If they perceive too strong or violent a threat of change they may very well act with great force and repression.

The great bulk of Spanish life falls into the middle ground, desirous of evolutionary change and continued modernization. The Opus [Page 935] Dei group (including Foreign Minister Lopez Bravo) is representative, but following the recent financial scandal and their role in the Burgos trial,3 they are vulnerable to political attack from the right. They also lack popular backing, being essentially a wealthy elitist group. Perhaps half of the Spanish Church is now on the “liberal” side, favoring separation of Church and State and a stronger more independent voice for Spanish labor. Many in the business community and the lower officer corps strongly favor gradual economic and political liberalization.

In short, for a period of a year or so following Franco’s departure, there will probably be a move to the right—dominated by the Army—while pressures build for a gradual liberalization in the economic and, perhaps the political areas. The general estimate now is that events will then proceed fairly gradually toward this liberalization.

The consequences, over time, of a liberalizing trend are hard to gauge now. If the movement is gradual and relatively controlled and combined with increasing association with a more cohesive Europe, there is a fair chance of political stability, though almost certainly well to the left of the present situation. US-Spanish relations might under these circumstances experience some problems. Spain will probably step up its “even-handed” international game and, economically, it would become part of our overall problem with the European Communities. In addition, there is a possibility—perhaps a probability—that the various factions in Spain will try to use, or abuse, the US in their domestic power struggle, and the US military role in Spain could become a target for the frustrations and defeats of the contending factions. On the positive side, however, there may well be a much better chance to get Spain into NATO with resulting longer term benefits for us.

The basic left-right conflict in Spain could cause serious problems, perhaps in two stages. In the early post-Franco period (1–2 years), when the regime will have moved to the right, and when the extremists (far left and separatists) may foster violence and encourage others to join—the key question will be the way in which those in authority react to this violence. If the reaction is too repressive and too broad (covering groups beyond the extremists), Spain could again plunge into a spiral of violence. We saw a hint of this possibility, albeit with a happy solution because of Franco’s moderate decision, in the Burgos trial.

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On the assumption that the regime weathers this period by successfully containing violence from the extreme left without employing widespread counterviolence, then we can expect a period of a gradual liberalizing trend. The pressure will be eased. However, extremists might then try to hurry this movement and push it too far left—again, perhaps through tactics of violence. The military might at this point feel constrained to enter, and restore Spain to the right. While this course of events is possible it becomes less likely with each year of post-Franco stability.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 705, Country Files—Europe, Spain, Vol. III. Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” The President wrote at the top: “Helms, Excellent analysis.” An attached note to the NSC Secretariat reads: “Per Dr. K’s office, Dr. K has already called Mr. Helms and passed on the President’s remark ‘excellent analysis.’”
  2. Not printed. The memorandum is entitled “Post Franco Spain,” March 12.
  3. Apparent reference to the Maltesa financial scandal in which a Barcelona-based textile manufacturer was changed with diverting government credits for illegal use. Lopez Bravo, the Minister of Industry at the time, was accused of turning a blind eye to the scandal while two former Ministers and Opus Dei members were formally charged with involvement. The reference to Opus Dei and the Burgos trials was not identified. Catholic ecclesiastical leaders led by Pope Paul VI had urged Franco to show clemency for the Basques.