History Unknown: The Assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco
How the ETA sent fascist Spain up in smoke
Hey folks! This is the first installment in a new series I’m calling “History Unknown.” It’ll explore lesser-known historical events and explain how they shaped the modern world. As we all know, history is written by the victor, which gives us a very warped view of the past. It’s important to learn about undiscussed events so we can accurately understand our world, how it came to be, and what we need to do to build a better future.
This article was unlocked for all readers on 12/20/23 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination. If you enjoy it, please subscribe.
In Solidarity — Joe
On July 17th, 1936, the Spanish army attempted a coup d'état against the Second Spanish Republic. The coup came after years of tension and clashes between fascists and socialists throughout Spain. A few months prior, the leftwing coalition The Popular Front had won the February general election. With a mandate from the people, The Popular Front began instituting socialist policies and establishing connections with the Soviet Union.
Wanting to stop the country from “going red,” the Spanish military brass orchestrated a full-out military assault on Spain to seize control from the democratically elected government. Though the coup failed, it started the Spanish Civil War, which raged until 1939. When the dust settled, the fascists had won, and General Francisco Franco was in power. For the next 36 years, Franco ruled as a dictator, quashing any dissenters, persecuting socialists and anarchists, and imprisoning labor advocates. As Franco’s Falangist form of fascism drew heavily from Catholicism, one of Franco’s first moves after winning the war was giving police powers to the Catholic Church, which cracked down on abortion and the rights of sexual minorities.
Following World War II, most of the world was happy to know the threat of fascism was behind them. Of course, this was not the reality for the Spanish people, who suffered under the Francoist regime for nearly four decades. But in 1973, a daring mission brought the beginning of the end for Spanish fascism and paved the way for the restoration of democracy.
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In 1973, Franco was dying. Unable to rule, he relied on Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco to run the country. Like all other official positions under Franco, the prime ministership was a hollow title. Its only true power was doing whatever Franco wanted. But, his appointment six years earlier made it clear Franco was choosing Blanco as his successor.
As is common under any authoritarian regime, many separatist and anti-fascist paramilitaries rose to fight against the tyrannical state. The most prominent was Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, commonly called the ETA, a leftwing group that fought for the independence of the Basque region, which is located on the French border. Much like the Catalonians, another group who sought independence from Madrid, the Basques had fought on the side of the Republic during the Civil War. When the war was lost, their causes for independence joined with anti-fascism.
In the summer of 1973, recognizing Franco was not long for this world, a group of ETA engineers rented an apartment across the street from the church Prime Minister Blanco attended. Over the next five months, they dug a tunnel from the basement into the street. When the landlord inquired about the noise, they claimed to be university students working on a science project. When the tunnel was finished, they laid explosives stolen from a military base under the street and waited.
On December 20th, at 9:36 in the morning, the Prime Minister’s iconic Dodge Dart turned onto the booby-trapped street and made its way to the church. Posing as city electricians, the ETA men were ready and waiting. Months of work and a lifetime of risk came down to this moment. When the Blanco was on top of their tunnel, the lookout gave the signal and the bomber threw the switch.
Earth and fire filled the air. Concrete and shrapnel rained down on what had been a quiet Thursday morning. The Dodge Dart was launched upward, flying over the church and landing on top of a second-floor apartment. Shockingly, Blanco survived the fiery acrobatics but was pronounced dead an hour later. The only other casualties were his driver and bodyguard.
A month later, with their operatives safely out of the government’s reach, the ETA released the following statement taking credit for the attack:
“The execution in itself had an order and some clear objectives. From the beginning of 1951 Carrero Blanco practically occupied the government headquarters in the regime. Carrero Blanco symbolized better than anyone else the figure of “pure Francoism” and without totally linking himself to any of the Francoist tendencies, he covertly attempted to push Opus Dei into power. A man without scruples conscientiously mounted his own State within the State: he created a network of informers within the Ministries, in the Army, in the Falange, and also in Opus Dei. His police managed to put themselves into all the Francoist apparatus. Thus he made himself the key element of the system and a fundamental piece of the oligarchy’s political game. On the other hand, he came to be irreplaceable for his experience and capacity to maneuver and because nobody managed as he did to maintain the internal equilibrium of Francoism”.
Following the assassination of Blanco, the Francoist regime was in turmoil. Their leader was dying, there was no heir apparent, and political infighting ensued. Oddly enough, the democratic cause got support from where it was least expected — the monarchy.
In a misguided attempt to recall Spain’s historical glory, Franco had declared Spain a kingdom back in 1947 and named Juan Carlos of Bourbon to become king after his death. It’s likely Franco intended Juan Carlos to be a powerless figurehead, but when Franco died in 1975, and with the Francoist factions still in disarray, Juan Carlos became the head of state. Though he was expected to continue the authoritarianism of his predecessor, Juan Carlos moved the country towards democracy. He oversaw the 1978 referendum, which approved a new constitution declaring Spain a democratic constitutional monarchy.
The history of Fracoist Spain has gone undiscussed for far too long, namely because it reflects poorly on the United States and its Cold War allies. Though a Nazi-aligned fascist, Franco was supported by the U.S. and Britain. Both countries listed the ETA as a terrorist organization, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was en route to meet with Prime Minister Blanco when he was assassinated. Both in life and death, Franco was hailed as a hero amongst the American Right. Conservative icon William F. Buckley famously declared “General Franco is an authentic national hero” and routinely celebrated him in his magazine, National Review.
While many in the American political establishment would like to forget the country’s historic support for this Nazi ally, that is a grave mistake. By omitting Franco from the historical narrative, it leaves the impression that the United States and its allies were fundamentally opposed to fascism. But as we know, that is untrue.
This story is also worth studying because it reminds us that the modern world is a product of human action. Without the ETA’s assassination of Prime Minister Blanco, it is possible Spain could be ruled by a fascist regime today. I wanted to cover this story not because I’m trying to scare you, but because I want you to remember that history is not passive. The world we live in is a result of the choices made by people — both the powerful and those who oppose them.
Thankfully, the ETA decided it would not allow Spanish fascism to continue unchallenged. For that, the modern world is forever in their debt.
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