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Spanish Cinema During The Dictatorship

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

Published: Fri, 19 May 2017

Spanish cinema was highly affected by the effects of the civil war; private investment in the production of commercial films fell drastically. The country was divided in two areas which were facing the effects of having military forces. This situation was reflected specially in the movie industry because at the time no-one wanted to invest in any new projects. Nevertheless, movie theatres in the whole country were doing extremely well all through the war; they were screening local productions as for example, Florián Rey’s clichéd Morena Clara (1936) and also, they were importing popular American productions. The Republican, who had the control over the principal centres of urban movie-making, gave authorization for the production of more than 200 films during the conflict. However, at the beginning of 1938 it started to be perceived that the Republican government was going to be defeated and therefore several members of the film industry started to organize their departure; most of them were Republican supporters.

The directors Luis Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel, Carlos Velo, etc; also many actors as for example, José Luis Baviera, Margarita Xirgu, Ana María Custodio, Alberto Closes, Rosita Díaz Gimeno, Carmen Amaya; accompanied by a huge group of technicians such as the editor José Cañizares, the camera operator José María Beltrán and the majority of the team members who were in charge of André Malraux’s L’espoir: Sierra de Teruel, migrated from Spain to countries such as: France, Argentina and Mexico. These were countries in which Spanish speakers had the opportunity to continue their work in the film industry. The director Buñuel was the perfect example of someone that was able to adapt to a life forced out of Spain. After he was exiled in 1946 he decided to go to Mexico and in 1949 became a Mexican citizen. However a large list of film makers who had started their careers under the Republicans and were sympathizers of the democratic government stayed at Franco’s side for example, Juan de Orduña, Antonio del Amo, Benito Perojo, Florián Rey, Edgar Neville, Eduardo García Maroto, Rafael Gil, etc. The civil war finally ended on April 1939; afterwards Spain assumed a military dictatorship with General Franco in command.

Obviously, the new management of the Spanish cinema industry during the dictatorship had a very negative repercussion on the film industry and could only lead to the best opportunity for those who were in the power to commit several crimes such as fraud, patronage, use of favours etc.

It is important to highlight the fact that in 1940 three main official regulations were established and then submitted leading to the Spanish film industry to suffer the side effects of these intransigent regulations for many years.

These regulations were:

Compulsory dubbing

Official state newsreel

Film censorship

Spanish Cinema during the dictatorship: Film Censorship

Film censorship had been presented to Spain when the country was still facing the civil war in 1938; then in 1939 during the dictatorship of Franco it was stipulated all through the nation. During this period all film scripts had to endure a pre-censorship, shooting scripts had to be approved and Spanish films were required to have an exhibition licence, changes to image and sound tracks, cuts in completed movies were as well imposed and there was authorization of dubbing and subtitling.

Film censorship was characterised for its inefficiency, for not being consistent when making decisions, and also for being arbitrary in its choices. Nevertheless it is difficult to establish if censorship caused the same impact on Spanish cinema as compulsory dubbing.

Compulsory dubbing into Spanish and the taxation of all films that were imported from foreign countries were introduced by the industry and commerce ministry in April 1941. These two measures are normally seen as a consequence of Axis satisfactory results during the Second World War. However it seems to have more connection with Franco’s constant attempts to Hispanicize Spanish culture. At this time over 50% of the public couldn’t read or write and most of Spain only spoke Spanish and didn’t speak any other language and therefore Spanish film viewers soon got used to watching foreign films in dubbed Spanish. The film industry quickly realised that they could produce more profit from dubbed films than from using subtitles in films; as a result it was easier for censors to manipulate soundtracks and images. Nevertheless, compulsory dubbing drastically affected the country; economically and industrially. It caused a great damage to Spanish film productions; the main reason was that Foreign and Spanish films were in a position of equal accessibility to Spanish audiences and thus distributors and exhibitors abandoned essential elements in the effort to defeat international competition. Furthermore, the importation of international productions for distribution and even for exhibition was determined by the concession of import licences to national film producers. These licenses were given by official organisations to national film makers depending on the ideology of their productions.

It was typical that the producers who supported Franco’s regime who behaved in a moderate and morally acceptable way would obtain three or five import permits. However, there were some films for example; El davo (1944) directed by Rafael Gil and El escándalo (1943) directed by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia that won fifteen licences. Then these were sold for a lot of money, normally through the illicit black market, mainly to distributors from America who were based in Spain. The Spanish audience seemed to prefer foreign productions and therefore producers became very rich from selling import permits. This was also true for the distributers and exhibitors who also became very wealthy from screening foreign movies. As a consequence of this, for about ten years, the Spanish film industry was only used as a simply way of making very good profits from selling import licences.

Spanish industry started suffering the consequences of a new law: compulsory official newsreels commonly recognised as NODO which was presented in December 1942 and had to be screened in all cinemas in Spain. This was basically political publication; propaganda used by the regime that had as its main purpose to influence Spanish people by the use of inaccurate information. NO-DO which is the acronym for Noticieros y Documentales Cinematograficos was used instead of the Italian and the German newsreels in cinemas in Spain and was compulsory until 1976. Unluckily, the mandatory introduction of NO-DO newsreels in Spain efficiently excluded a large number of younger national film-makers from presenting their work to the public such as, animation, documentaries or shorts and this certainly discouraged others to study in these areas.

To lessen the gravity of the disastrous effects of the NO-DO policy, the regime presented a list of new protectionist measures that benefited the Spanish film industry. The following are some of these measures:

Revised classification schemes, screen quotas (initially one week of Spanish film for every six of a foreign film).

Official loans with which to finance up to 40 per cent of a film budget.

Official prize of 400.000 pesetas.

National interest awards for deserving films.

Until about 1945, the regime of General Franco had its favourite film genres, especially one called ‘cine de cruzada’ or films inspired by war, which also commemorated the Franco regimes victories in the civil war, disapproved the defeated Republican and celebrated the power of the armed forces, the religious, and colonialist values of the new people who ruled the country by that time. These films included: Escuadrilla (1941), Boda en el infierno (1942) and Los últimos de Filipinas (1945), all directed by Antonio Román. ¡Harka! (1941) directed by Carlos Arévalo, El crucero Baleares (1941) directed by Enrique del campo and Juan de Orduña’s ¡A mí legión! (1942). There was especially one film called Raza (The Race) (1942) directed by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia which was without doubt one of the more significant films for the genre. Towards the end of 1940 and As the nation came to terms with the dramatic repercussions of the bloody civil war that had just ended, and while the rest of Europe engaged in its own devastating conflict, Franco found the time to write a brief novella entitled Raza. Published under the pseudonym Jaime de Andrade, Raza was structured like a screenplay and clearly intended to be made into a film; a semi autobiographical film, reflecting aspects of Franco’s real life.

In 1945 with the foreseen defeat of the Axis, the descent in influence of Falange (Political organisation) and the ideology adopted by Franco of National Catholicism, the principles of the cine de cruzada was transformed into different nationalist genres. These also contained the period drama, the folkloric comedy, the historical movie, and the religious film.

Comedies seemed to be preferred by the box office, the reason being this genre of film was the most popular and therefore the most profitable; especially films directed by Edgar Neville, Rafael Gil and José Luis Sáenz de Heredia who produced many clichéd, bullfighting films and folkloric musicals. These types of films were characterised for their poor quality and being cheerful in nature and having low production values. However, these films were produced for easy viewing; also, audience had the opportunity to participate. These were vehicles which were created around the best singers of that time, for example, Juanita Reina, Carmen Sevilla, Lola Florez, Paquita Rico, Currito de la Cruz, and Conchita Piquer as in Florián Rey’ La Dolores (1940). Yet in a time in which international isolation and repression for its fascist supporters was very common, the regime encouraged film producers to use the great national symbols of old and resist using anti-Spanish symbols in a series of bulky over produced biopics, commemorating distinguished Catholic heroines as in Juan de Orduña’ Locura de Amor (Love Crazy) (1950) and La Leona de Castilla (The Lioness of Castille) (1951), and Reina Santa (1947) a film about a virtuous Spanish princess who becomes the Queen of Portugal directed by Rafael Gil. Along with these theatrical and historical films, we also see a strong Catholicism and missionary colonialism theme running through the cinema at this time, such as Misión blanca (1946) directed by Juan de Orduña, and then there were the prototypes for the sentimental, religious dramas of the early 1950’s with films like Balarrasa (Reckless) (1951), A man’s harrowing experience in war which turns him to God for salvation and he becomes a Priest) directed by José Antonio Nieves Conde.

It is worth mentioning that the same Falangist director, José Antonio Nieves Conde, directed Surcos (Furrows) (1951), dealing with the fatal repercussions of leaving the old country and implications of migrating to the city. This film seemed to symbolise the realist cinema which was more relative to daily life in Spain and to the Spanish people, issues of lower orders, and presenting social problems that were entirely absent from Spanish cinema screens. Surcos was also the cause of strong disagreements between Falangism and conventional Catholicism because in 1951 José María García Escudero who was the General Director of Cinema at the time, denied to give the national interest award to Juan de Orduña’s Alba de America (Dawn of America) (1951) as he preferred Surcos instead. As a consequence of this, Escudero had to leave his position as General Director of Cinema and Orduña’s historical epic was awarded instead. This was an indication of the regime position towards film makers who had the courage to defy the regime baring the less appealing, problematic side of social issues in Franco’s dictatorship. Realism had gradually returned into Spain through the weird example of Italian neo-realism and soviet cinema at the end the 1940s, it had sneaked into university film programmes. These types of films found great acceptance among some disillusioned Falangist film makers in the new, official film school, which was created by the regime and founded in 1947.

Originally, the regime permitted the establishment of the ‘Instituto de Investigaciones y experiencias cinematográficas’ (Institute for Film Research and Experiment) by means of forcing control on professional access to the film industry. In 1962 its name was changed to ‘Escuela Oficial de Cine’ (Official Film School) and represented its programme on the curriculum for the Italian Centro Sperimentale in Rome. The IIEC was known for its lack of good teaching standards, and poor resources. However, the IIEC acquired 109 students just in the first year of its foundation; many of these pupils played important roles in the film industry movements in the 1950’s and events which were organized to manifest cultural and also political opposition to Franco’s regime.

Spanish Cinema during the dictatorship: Neo-Realism (1952-1961)

Neo-Realist ideology started to be more obvious throughout the film industry in Spain almost immediately, not only in films by the young upcoming directors but also in those by followers of Franco such as José Antonio Nieves Conde, who with his controversial film Surcos, let Spaniards see some of the unpleasant aspects of urban life.

Luis García Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem were two disillusioned Falangists who studied at IIEC, they both were very important individuals in the attempt to renew Spanish cinema. These two men worked together with their own production company called UNINCI and in 1951 made Esa Pareja Feliz (That Happy Couple) (1953). The story was based on dreams of the working class about the improvement of the economy with parodies of CIFESA’s (Compañía Industrial Film Español S.A.) epic cinema and also the escapism of romantic comedies from Hollywood. Berlanga and Bardem proceeded with the same satirical style in the respected Spanish parody Bienvenido Mister Marshall (Welcome Mr. Marshall!) (1953).This production had a very critical edge and for that reason it obtained a very positive international recognition. Nevertheless, it was publicly and officially disapproved in Spain. Although the critics of his movies were softened by the parody and comic tone, Berlanga frequently had censorship and poor distribution issues. Juan Antonio Bardem was part of the illegal Communist Party and also one of the organizers of the Salamanca Film Conference in 1955. His career in the film industry in the ’50s and ’60s was interrupted with periods of imprisonment due to his political actions against the regime. Among his works were Cómicos (Actors) (1953) and Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) (1955) in which Bardem emphasises in a critical perception of the bourgeoisie in Spain and showed some short images of people living in extreme poverty in Spain, this film gave Bardem substantial international recognition (Winner of the 1955 FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival).

The introduction of new ideas from international lands caused great fervour and strong feelings of change among filmmakers and the general public alike. Public discussions were due for the first time in Spain’s old University City Salamanca lead by Basilio Martín Patino and sponsored by the Universities film club, the first National cinematographic conversations called the attention of professionals in the Spanish film industry, scholars, critics and writers who were there to represent a vast range of ideologies, these conversations took place between 14th and 19th of May in 1955. There was an opened document declaring the meeting which was signed by directors such as Bardem, Patino, Muñoz Suay, etc; these recognised personalities of the film industry along with many others discussing a number of topics, for example the censorship criteria, film distribution, and protection quotas. They also mentioned that it was crucial to include a member of the film industry in the censorship team and wanted that point to be considered.

The discussions in Salamanca caused a minimum reaction for which many of their supporters thought the talks had been a failure. The fascist government opposition said the talks were an opportunity given to the regime by a bourgeois organization to sharpen its manipulation by the use of censorship criteria. Conservatives said the talks were proof that communist were infiltrating; some other people said that the discussions were clear evidence that the film industry in Spain was in its infancy, but for others of its history and maturity. Nevertheless it is important to say that the talks had helped the awareness of Spanish cinema on a national level and due to some insecurity in the government eleven months after the Salamancan talks the general director of film and theatre was substituted by José Muñoz Fontán (Whose career would later be destroyed by Buñuel’s controversial Viridiana (1961)). The most obvious evidence of official reactions was that the film industry was in complete silence following the talks and the Franco Government quietly turned its back. Although censorship had caused an artistic void in Spain, the new emerging and inspiring ideas being introduced into Spain had created new blood with young home grown directors such as pioneers Luis Garcia Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem (Who both helped to create la estética franquista, a film style which ironically defined Spanish film during Franco’s reign).

Spanish Cinema during the dictatorship: New Spanish Cinema (1962-1968)

Spain made its first attempt to be part of the European common market in 1962; the country wanted to prove that Spain was not the fascist, retrograde it used to be; Spain was going through a new phase of liberalization. The moderate García Escudero who was dismissed 10 years before for supporting the film Surcos was brought back to accompany the director of cinematographic and theatre position. Garcia participated in the discussions in Salamanca and was aware of the disappointment and frustrations of those people who were attempting to make films during the dictatorship of General Franco and therefore when the repression caused by the use of censorship temporally down the pressure on the film industry in 1962, José María García Escuderos started to revise the points discussed in Salamanca which after seven years had not been even considered.

One of the hardest aims for García Escudero to achieve was to update the censorship system. In this attempt he was attacked by constant criticism, especially by members of the church and the right wing who accused him of being a repulsive freak of a promoter. Forth revised codes were stipulated in 1963, which were strongly attacked with the only purpose of bringing back many of the strictly controlled measures.

Although several of the new film makers were clearly part of the opposition, the dictatorship found the way to silence their voices. José García Escudero did not find enough political support to cause any serious alteration to the censorship system; however, in 1962 he managed to create a new category for special interest films. This category was very significant for new professional film makers from The ‘Escuela Oficial de Cinematografía’ (EOC), to work in a film industry in which they had never been allowed to be involved in unless they were only apprentices.

As a consequence of the special interest category a new genre in the film industry appeared. This new genre was films that showed the problems of Spain, especially with criticism towards the social situation of the country, for the first time realistic narratives of Spain were screened in cinemas along the country. This type of cinema was called by critic Juan Francisco de Lasa as New Spanish Cinema.

The new cinema in Spain was known for its use of metaphor showing social criticism which was prominent in the 1950’s especially by directors Luis García Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem who were well respected at the time and classed as the best of their era and genre. Nevertheless new directors focused more on the 1890’s literary generation. Spanish writers like the likes of Antonio Machado, Miguel de Unamuno and Pío Baroja were attempting to find answers to national issues in its literary, historical and also geographical past, the new directors in the 1960’s were more interested in analyzing and criticizing social traditions in Spain in an attempt to form an image of Spain in which the country is seen for what it really is, instead of for what it was in the past or people thought it would be in the future.

Despite the special category which allowed new Spanish productions to work as films of special interest, young Spanish film makers were still being attacked by censorship, as seen in Miguel Picazo’s La tia Tula (1964), that had a cut of over four minutes and then there was the confiscation of certain scenes from Carlos Saura’s Llanto por un bandido (1964) which were eventually destroyed by the censors. Manuel Summers Juguetes rotos (1964) recalls the heroics of a boxer, a bullfighter, and a soccer player, showing the contrast between the opportunities of youth and the loneliness of advancing age still had its problems with the censors with the director receiving a long list of prohibited shots, including the following.

A child begging

A group of girls in bikinis

Dialogue saying “Cualquier Español puede ser torero” (Any Spaniard can be a bullfighter)

These frequent restrictions caused an enormous frustration among many promising film makers. When the regime realised that the new Spanish cinema was being used in opposition, the government designed a system which allowed control over film distribution, making sure that these films were seen only by a chosen few; new Spanish films were screened exclusively in a system of art theatres for a very small educated audience.

The arte y ensayo system started in January 1967 with the following restrictions:

380 theatres

Only in urban areas (cities of over 500,000 inhabitants)

Cannot seat more than 500 (By law)

The distributors at first thought it was great to be able to offer films shown for the first time in Spain but because the audiences were small, exhibitors advertised promising them fruto prohibido (films prohibited or censored elsewhere). While this was correct, most of the public had misinterpreted it and would come looking for lewd material. Most previously censored films were not necessarily sexually explicit, censored more for political or social reasons such as Jean-Godard’s A bout de soufflé (1960), Luis Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel (1962) and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966). The public became totally disillusioned and because of the years of censorship was completely unprepared for the new developments in films. By 1972 the art theatre ceased because it proved to an unsuccessful experiment. The special theatres were created not so much for the benefit of the Spanish film industry but so that foreign tourists in Spain could see movies in their native language. The ‘New Spanish Cinema’ was being exhibited mostly in the art theatres but after a mere five years, Spain’s New Cinema did not have an audience in its own country and they were all abolished. The whole movement had attracted nothing but problems from the start due to the total lack of film culture in Spain. Directors of New Spanish Cinema created films which felt out of date to the foreign audiences. Basilio Martín Patino’s Nueve cartes a Berta (1966) was entered into Cannes by José María García Escudero but straight away rejected; Patino’s honest and naive film felt dated to an international audience with their advanced understanding of cinema. To be fair to García Escudero he had accomplished a lot between 1962 and 1966, over forty new directors had made their first film. This wasn’t enough for him to keep his position of director general of Cinematografia y Teatro, and he was dismissed for the second time in his career. There were two reasons given, the first was economic; the second was for The Primeras Jornadas Internacionales de Escuelas de Cinematografía (First International Film Schools’ Discussions) and his lack of control over a new and important presence in the Spanish film world, a group of students and young directors who were presided over by the respected film critic Ramón Gubern and in part by director

Joaquim Jordà who is quoted saying:

“Today is impossible to speak freely of reality in Spain, so we are trying to describe its imaginary life”*

This group organized the only public discussion of film in Spain for the last twelve years. These discussions were held between 1st and 6th of October 1967 in the Catalan beach town of Sitges. Attended by students, critics and young filmmakers, the Sitges conference provided a unique space for anti-Franco protesters, revolutionaries and supporters of experimental film. The Catalonian film director, Jordà presented a manifesto for the Barcelona School that became widely known as the Sitges Manifesto. This manifesto provided a clear focus for debates on questions of film principles and political ideals, as well as new ideas for production and exhibition of work outside Franco’s restrictive regime. Jordà’s drafted the manifesto with a Marxist tone and could not be further from the New Spanish Cinema if it tried, with demands to end all censorship and state subsidies of any kind. Furthermore it called for the replacement of the Sindicato Nacional de Espectáculo (State Entertainment Union) which would be able to supervise the production, distribution and exhibition of film. The Sitges manifesto rejected any possibility of working with the system and would only agree to a film industry totally independent of the state. By the time the Franco regime noticed what was going on in Sitges the conference was coming to a close. Nevertheless police interrupted the end of the event and arrested participants. Jordà sought refuge in Rome and classes were briefly suspended at the National Film School. García Escudero was finally dismissed in November 1967. After the regime’s reaction to the conference in Sitges, the Spanish film directors’ union (Agrupación Sindical de Directores-Realizadores Españoles de Cinematografía (ASDREC)) was planning to continue the debates at their own convention, scheduled on the 23rd of November in 1969. A group of professional directors proposed that they carry out a study of the main problems of Spanish film and publish the findings. Some of these findings, including eliminating film censorship, had been taken from Sitges. Officially the ASDREC convention was prohibited due to its controversial tone, but this didn’t stop them. After many preliminary talks between directors discussing the topics most relevant to the industry, the main meeting was eventually held in March 1970.

* Higginbotham, V. (1988). Spanish Film Under Franco. Texas: University of Texas Press. p66

Spanish Cinema during the dictatorship: The decade of Franco’s death (1969-1975)

With the demise of García Escudero and the New Spanish Cinema and the breakup of School of Barcelona with its avant garde views, Spanish movie screens were full of foreign Spy movies and spaghetti westerns. The decade of Franco’s death (November 20th 1975) had started badly for Spanish film, with huge debts for the industry and the best of its new films were hardly shown on Spanish cinemas screens. 20 percent of world cinema had been banned in Spain since the Civil War and by the 1970’s it had risen to over 50 percent of films made abroad that couldn’t be seen on Spanish screens. If most of the world’s greatest films couldn’t be seen in Spain, at least it wasn’t being so strong on letting them be filmed there, even if it brought controversy. One of the most important (and controversial) events for Spanish film during the later years of Franco’s reign was Buñuel being granted permission to film Tristana (1970) in 1969. Tristana, definitely one of Buñuel’s finest, is a great example of why his films, although banned and not well known to the Spanish people, were considered by Spanish Directors in the know as National treasures. In total contrast to most of the Spanish films made during the dictatorship, Buñuel’s vision of Spain seemed and felt more authentic. With the use of real people where possible as in Viridiana (1961) where he selected a group of beggars straight from the streets of Toledo and Madrid, and then there is the title character from Nazarin (1959) who is a typical anarchistic Spanish clergyman (many were murdered on the suspicion of being Communist sympathizers during the Civil War). Buñuel’s return to Spain was also the start of a new era in Spanish film, in the next five years leading up to Franco’s death there were some great films to come out of Spain. Carlos Saura (after Buñuel is Spain’s most important director during the post-war era) managed to create some great films even though his films were criticized by both right and left wing equally. He had the power to irritate and inherited Buñuel’s ability to cause trouble and whose films also managed to disturb the uneasy calm of the Franco camp. Films included Los golfos (1959), Ana y los lobos (1972), La prima Angelica (1973) and Cria cuervos (1975) the title in Spanish stems from the phrase “Raise ravens and they’ll pluck out your eyes” and the equivalent phrase in English would be “you reap what you sow”. Filmed the year before Franco’s death, it makes clear how the regime, through an out of date religious education, making certain that the young do not grow into cuervos (ravens) and rebel the fascist myth.

Last but definitely not least is the most highly acclaimed film in the history of Spanish cinema, El espíritu de la colmena (Spirit of the Beehive) (1973) one of the most beautiful and poetic films ever filmed, a film which has been haunting audiences both Spanish and abroad since it first premiered in Madrid in October 1973. A young Victor Erice (he was 33 years old when he directed his master piece, 3 years younger than Orson Welles when he directed Citizen Kane (1941)) was in search of new myths and turned to classic horror films for inspiration and he found Frankenstein’s monster to represent Spain and its problems. After seeing James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) for the first time, seven year old Ana becomes fascinated with the monster, she becomes obsessed with finding him, and transfers this onto a wounded army deserter, who she is convinced is the monster. As a metaphor for Spain, the monster is a ghoulish collage of a man, a monstrous figure constructed by the sinister creator, Dr. Henry Frankenstein. Even the Doctors name sounds very much like “Franco”. With its reference to the myth of Frankenstein, Erice found an uncanny metaphor for Franco’s Spain. The monster was reborn and had no memory like a new born baby, he has no moral sense and so can behave kindly, then kill (by accident or otherwise). Frankenstein’s monster being a literary myth himself suitably represents the final result of the so called Franco myth.

Chapter Three

Spanish Cinema back to Democracy

General Franco died on the 20th November 1975, and with his death died 46 years repression, a new phase of history was about to be born in Spain. It was the time for freedom which would give strength and new backbone to the Spanish cinema. It was as if Spain finally had democracy, liberalism, explicitness and experimentation all at once. Directors were now creating without the pressure of all those previous prohibitions. Franco before he died had designated as his successor Juan Carlos of Bourbon, who was the grandson of the last king of Spain. For the first time in over 40 years, a free election took place on June 15, 1977 and


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