Not So Fast, 13 & 14. Lessons of Yesterday.

Eighty-five years.

That's how long it's been since a rebelious faction of the army made a failed coup against a democratically elected government. It failed because it did not fulfill its intention of bloodlessly taking over the government. Instead, it created a civil war that ravaged the nation for three years, and ended in bloodshed and humiliation that stretched until after the dictator had died in his bed. 

On the evening of 17 July, at five in the afternoon, the leader of the troops in Melilla realized that his plans to take over the garrision the following morning, had been discovered, so he went ahead and took over key points of the city, and shot the mayor and all those who resisted. In Ceuta and Tetuán, the Spanish Legion took over the main government buildings, and shot the mayors and prominent leaders, including union leaders. 

On the mainland, radio broadcasts mentioned the disturbances in the African cities, but reassured everyone that things were under control. However, by the following morning, all of Spanish Africa had fallen to the rebels, and General Francisco Franco boarded a plane in the Canary Islands, where he had been stationed to avoid creating trouble, and flew to Casablanca, from where he then travelled to Tetuán on the nineteenth, where he proclaimed himself the head of the Spanish army in Africa. (The airplane, by the way, was rented by Juan March, a banker, and one of the richest men in Spain of the time, who also bankrolled most of the uprising and Civil War against the Second Republic.)

On the eighteenth, newspapers didn't mention much until the evening editions. Even then, they were very optimistic. In the paper, El Eco de Santiago, was written, in a stop-press article, "...puede considerarse desarticulado el movimiento sedicioso que, contra el régimen republicano, intentaron parte del ejercito que el Estado español sostiene en nuestra zona del protectorado de Marruecos cuya sedición no fue secundada por ninguna de las guarniciones de la peninsula." (...the seditious movement, that part of the army the Spanish State stationed in our zone of the Moroccan protectorate attempted against the Republican regime, can be considered wiped out, and this sedition was not seconded by any of the garrisons of the Peninsula.) Unfortunately, this optimism was short-lived, as in the following days some garrisions rebelled and controlled part of Spain, failing to take control of Madrid and most of the important cities, transforming the coup d'état into a full-fledged civil war. 

The war had been a long time coming, and grew out of the habit of military uprisings since at least a century earlier. Spain had been a military dictatorship in the 1920's, with General Primo de Rivera appointed dictator by King Alfonso XIII. After Primo de Rivera stepped down, the king attempted to continue with another two dictators, both drawn from the armed forces. But, in 1931, the last one was to continue in power only until the general elections that were to follow the local elections in April, 1931.

The results of the elections of 12 April were overwhelmingly in favor of republican candidates in all the major cities, where interference with voters was much less probable than in the countryside (the local landowners were notorious for telling town and village dwellers how to vote). Neither the King, nor his last government, decided to wait for the general elections, and the King decamped in the night for exile. The Second Republic was announced. 

It wasn't perfect. It suffered from a coup attempt in 1932 by General Sanjurjo, against the liberal reforms the government was trying to bring about. He went to prison for a while, and then was exiled to Lisbon, where he created the small group of military men who would bring about the attempted coup of 1936. (Sanjurjo was killed in a plane crash as that coup was starting.) It suffered yet another attempt in October of 1934, but this time from anarchists and communists who felt that the reforms weren't going far enough. No one gave the new republic a chance to fully cement its reforms and finish bringing Spain into line with the rest of Europe.

The conservative elements that were trying to destabilize the Republic were united in their efforts, using the time-proven method of fear. The right wing parties of the CEDA and the Falangists, urged their thugs in the streets to act against those they considered left wing, anarchist, or otherwise radically opposed to conservative beliefs, using inflammatory language in sessions of the Congreso. That engendered more violence in retribution. Then, after the spring elections, in which the conglomeration of  left wing parties were elected under the name of Frente Popular, pamphlets began circulating, advising of "discovered" documents stating that the government was going to hand the country over to communists, with the help of Stalin. Selective assassinations were done. The one of a Guardia Civil, who was killed for being a Socialist, led to the murder of José Calvo Sotelo, congressional leader of the right-wing party Renovación Española (Spanish Renewal), and former finance minister during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. That death, on 12 July, was the kick-off to the coup, six days later.

Even with all the fear-mongering, the majority of the Spanish people did not support the Falangists and the coup Franco and the other generals initiated eighty-five years ago, today. The major cities of Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Valencia resisted against those troops that wanted to join the rebels, while other troops continued to defend the Republic. The rebel generals had thought that they would all rebel with them, and that the populace had been won over, or would simply surrender. But they were wrong, and with that mistake, they began a civil war whose shadow still covers us, almost a hundred years later. 

Life continues.



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