Article by Rob Russell. Edited and researched by Rob Russell.
On Thursday 20th December 1973 the Spanish Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco was assassinated in Madrid. This was an event which in my humble opinion had huge ramifications for Spanish History and the wider world; it also quite coincidently fits nicely into my specialist area of history.
As with all short articles context is of the upmost importance, especially when describing an event with such seismic consequences. Luis Carrero Blanco was General Franco’s anointed successor to carry on the nationalist military dictatorship which had ruled brutally since the Spanish Civil War’s conclusion in 1939. The Franco dictatorship had come at a time when the rest of Europe modernised in the aftermath of World War Two, borne from an epoch where fascism and nationalism were rife, obvious examples being Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. Francoist Spain continued to exist in the era of democracy, easily outlasting the Italian and German regimes which had helped it emerge victorious from the Civil War (1936-1939) with their military and fiscal support. The longevity and relative success of Franco’s forty year rule is something often overlooked as a result of other events in the twentieth century, but the continuation of a non-democratic regime in central Europe up to the 1970s is noteworthy. Thus by the 1970s with an ageing Franco affected by Parkinson’s disease and growing opposition to the authoritarian regime, the regime lacked stability. Carrero Blanco himself an outspoken critic of the rising tide of protest and the stirrings for regional autonomy from Catalonia, Asturias and the Basque Country, offered the only real hope of continued repression.
The assassination itself must go down as one of the most successful and brutal in history, the expression overkill truly is appropriate. On his way back from daily Mass at around 9.30am, Operation Ogro, organised by the pro-independent Basque terrorist organisation ETA, achieved its objective. The Prime Minister’s car was sent spiralling into the air by some explosives detonated under the street. The operation clearly drew its inspiration straight out of the Guy Fawkes handbook, as the four ETA activists had rented a house on the street months prior to the assassination and under the clever guise as student sculptures had dug a tunnel under the street and planted 80kg of explosives. If you are unsure whether this would be enough explosive material, the fact that the Carrero Blanco’s car was sent flying 20 metres up into the air, over a five storey building onto the NEXT street onto a rather unfortunate second storey balcony of a nearby Jesuit college, should clarify and doubts you harvest.
Notwithstanding the ‘Expendables’ style assassination, the actual consequences of the event, more than qualify Luis Carrero Blanco’s assassination as a Day That (quite literally) Shook The World. The assassination immediately gave ETA the publicity that they craved, and made the world aware of their fight for independence, whilst simultaneously making ETA one of the most feared terrorist organisations in the world. More importantly for Spain it destroyed the myth of vulnerability surrounding the Franco regime and gave hope to those resisting the dictatorship.
The most obvious effect of ETA’s successful assassination was their disruption of the Francoist succession plan. With his deteriorating illness Franco gave his all important blessing to Carrero Blanco and despite a somewhat formal personal relationship with the Admiral, he appointed him as Prime Minister and slowly began transferring power towards his confidant. The fragmentation of political and military support behind the Francoist regime further exacerbated the problem. With Carrero Blanco’s assassination, Franco’s hopes of succession to someone he truly trusted to carry on his oppressive measures died as well.
Ultimately Carrero Blanco’s death lead to the democratisation of Spain, a country we nowadays take for granted as being a modern democratic country and a major European power. As ever Spain’s dark history is overshadowed by events of World War and other right wing dictatorships of more notoriety. That however does not make Spain’s transition any less important. Upon the death of Carrero Blanco, Carlos Arrias Navarro was appointed his immediate successor and in his very first speech as Prime Minister spoke of the need for reform in Spain. The rest of the story is as the cliché states history, and for another article, as King Juan Carlos I led Spain towards a Parliamentary Democracy some two years after Carrero Blanco’s death.
On some levels the very concept of a singular ‘Day That Shook The World’ is a notion to be challenged, especially when personal preferences and subjectivity affect any decision a historian may make. If however, we put this problem to one side and allow ourselves to indulge in some history of grand narratives and lord forbid ‘turning points’ then the 20th December 1973 is a date of interest to me. Not only did one of the most extravagant and violent assassinations of all time take place, but Spain a country close to my own heart made a significant step towards democracy, modernity, and crucially ridding itself of an oppressive dictatorship which had starved the country of life and joy for over forty years.
- ETA was established in 1959, and his since declared a number of ceasefires many of which have been broken: 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2006. Their most recent ceasefire in 2010 has however been upheld to date.
- Jose Miguel Benaran Ordenana is the only know member of the ETA cell which assassinated Carrero Blanco, was himself assassinated by a far right organisation from within the Spanish Navy in 1978.
- On 22 November 1975, Juan Carlos I was made King of Spain two days after the death of General Franco, which slowly ushered in a period of democracy in Spain, culminating in the 1978 Spanish Constitution.