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Post Angel Vinas's "Sobornos"; Corruption under Franco
Created by John Eipper on 10/25/16 11:49 AM

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Angel Vinas's "Sobornos"; Corruption under Franco (Jordi Molins, Spain, 10/25/16 11:49 am)

Sobornos by WAISer Ángel Viñas is a fascinating book to read about the Spanish Civil War. But I am not going to describe how well-written the book is, or how many references it contains. Not being a professional historian, I am not the right person for such a task. Having said that, reading this book has led me to an intellectual uneasiness I would like to share with WAISers:

I am interested in the Spanish Civil War, having read several on the subject, and following attentively what the distinguished WAIS historians have to say on the matter. My family suffered under the Franco dictatorship. But I have to acknowledge, and this creates some pain in me, that internally I did not believe that the Franco dictatorship was corrupt. I have found out that, without realizing, the propaganda of the Franco dictatorship had been able to led me to think (better: not to think, but to feel) that Franco and his friends had been brutal, probably, but full of good intentions, and quite moral in their actions.

Ángel's book has shattered that idea into pieces. The enormousness of the corruption of the Franco dictatorship is outstanding. It is surprising, and probably quite telling about the situation of Spanish society, that small levels of corruption (being paid for travel costs to meetings, for example) in recent times are punished quite heavily, but that the massive amounts of corruption elegantly described by Ángel in his book do not induce any kind of public outrage, even though many people still enjoy the perks and benefits from that corruption nowadays.

My question to WAISers is then: how can we know that when we are told about anything (the Syrian war, the US elections or whatever) that the information is correct or not? If it has happened in the past that a massive amount of corruption has been, inadvertently, outside the radar screen of the public opinion for decades in Spain.  Why could this not happen anywhere else, with any other type of subject? What is the position of historians on this issue?

JE comments:   I haven't read Ángel's book yet, but the notion that Franco was "harsh but squeaky clean" has probably been dashed for good.  Jordi Molins's other question is worth a deep discussion--how do we know that what passes as "information" really is (information)?  A case in point:  Mr Trump's allegations that the entire election process is rigged.  Robert Whealey (next) has a comment on this topic.

I'm very happy to hear from Jordi Molins, by the way.  After Istvan Simon, Jordi is the second dormant WAISer to contact us today.  It's been a very good day.


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  • Corruption Under Franco; Hillary v Trump Summed Up (Enrique Torner, USA 11/01/16 6:22 AM)
    I'd like to go back to Jordi Molins's post of October 25, in which he offered his reaction after reading Ángel Viñas's book Sobornos.

    Jordi expressed his despondency at finding out that everything he had been taught in the past about Franco from school and family was actually a lie. I had the same experience after reading David Pike's Spaniards in Mauthausen. In this spellbinding book, my friend David shows vividly all the horrors that Spaniards and people from other countries experienced on their own flesh. He also shows the active role that Franco played in the deportation of more than 7,000 Spanish Republicans from France to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Since the time I read that, I have kept studying the Spanish Civil War through the latest, non-Francoist, sources, like Paul Preston, Ángel Viñas, Southworth, and others. The conclusion? Franco and his men constructed the most elaborate and amazing cover-up in the history of Spain, using Ricardo de la Cierva as starting point (I learned this from Paul Preston: thanks, Paul!).


    I was schooled by the Jesuits during Franco's dictatorship, and they, as all the textbooks we used, presented Franco as a hero who first rescued us from communism, later from WWII, and subsequently "astutely" gave Spain an ideological and political makeover (the so-called "chaqueteo") in order to deceive the allies and win their favor. Ángel Viñas also demonstrates that it was not thanks to Franco that Spain did not join WWII, but rather, despite his attempt to convince Hitler to let Spain play an active role in the war. I also learned--from Ángel Viñas and Paul Preston--that we did not owe the prosperous 1950s and '60s to Franco.  The fact is that he was a very bad economist, and Spain was not as prosperous as it was portrayed. Ángel Viñas is an amazing "desmitificador" of the "facts" that Franco and the Francoists tried to sell us. So, yes, I have suffered a great "identity" crisis on finding this out, similar to Jordi Molins's experience.


    Continuing with Jordi's argument, I, like him, have come to question whether we should trust any information that is given to us as "facts." This brings me to the subject of our current elections in the US, which is turning out to be more suspenseful than a Dan Brown thriller! This election has had more turns and twists than many of the mystery novels I have ever read. In addition, it has forever changed my previous impression of the US being an example of truthfulness and integrity. Let's recap what we have lived so far in these elections, with all their 180-degree turns. First, Trump announced he would run, as he already had many other times in the past, but never did. This time, in fact, he really ran for the Republican nomination. With him not being a politician, besides the fact of his reputation as arrogant, bossy, and bad-mouthed (to name a few of his negative character traits), nobody expected him to win the nomination, but he did! Later, as he started his campaign, he surprised everybody by how much support he was winning; at some point in time, he was almost tied in the polls with Hillary, even ahead according to some polls (oh, surprise!).


    Then came the Billy Bush video leak, and a bunch of women accusing him of sexual abuse. A bunch of Republican politicians withdrew their support for him, as well as many people, including me. We all thought Trump was done for good. However, slowly, Trump recovered some ground by denying all the accusations as "locker talk" and lies, having his wife forgive him, and, above all, having an Englishman show up and state that he was right there, by Trump, in a plane, when he supposedly committed the improper "touching." The Englishman, not only denied that, but said that it was the woman who was actually trying to get his "attention"!  However, the polls started showing that Hillary was gaining points in the polls.


    Meanwhile, Wikileaks have started pouring in. Oh, so maybe there is still hope for Trump! However, most of the media ignore all these leaks, preventing Hillary from losing her advantage. However, incredible as it might seem, Hillary keeps getting ahead in the race, more or less depending on the polls. Then, last Friday, the big news that the FBI has reopened Hillary's e-mail case comes out, with only 12 days left! Now, I thought, Hillary is coming down and should be done for good, maybe going to jail, as Trump said in the last debate. Incredibly, however, the media is acting as if this is not important, it's just another political move by the FBI, probably influenced by the "corrupt" Republicans. The news reports are  saying that the race has tightened again, but they are saying that Hillary still has a 90% chance of winning, while Trump has 10%.


    How on earth can this be? Well, those e-mails could actually mean nothing, the Democrats are saying. Besides, what Comey did was against Federal law! So, what's going to happen tomorrow (today)? Will Comey come out and show everything he has discovered, and the importance of it? Will this discovery lead to Hillary's destruction? Or will there be something else come up that will destroy Trump? Or maybe both Trump and Clinton will be so discredited that one of their vice-presidential nominees will have to take over and become the next president? Mystery, oh mystery!


    However, in the end, we are discovering that there is as much corruption in this country's politics (as Trump has said) as in a third world country! Who knows how many cover-ups there are in this election alone? Nixon's Watergate was a joke in comparison with what Clinton has become involved with! Trump is not an innocent angel either! This doesn't seem like the honest country I have been defending for the last almost 30 years! Let God have mercy on us and bring us back to Him!


    JE comments:  I'll second Enrique Torner's multiple "!"  At least, in one week's time, this--whatever "this" means--will be over.  Things may be worse on the morning of November 9th, but "this" (I repeat) will be over.

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    • Corruption Under Franco (Angel Vinas, Belgium 11/02/16 8:56 AM)

      I should like to complement some of the thoughts expressed by Jordi Molins and Enrique Torner in their posts about corruption in Spain during the Franco years. But first of all let me express my heart-felt thanks for the kind remarks addressed to me.



      Corruption was inextricably enmeshed in the dictatorship´s DNA. It couldn´t be otherwise. Franco´s regime was built on repression, mythography and the manipulation of public opinion. There was no free media, no political parties, no countervailing judiciary and Franco himself was the ultimate source of law. This provided for a very fertile ground in which corruption flourished unabated. However, two facts must be additionally considered.



      Repression was not only physical. It was also economic. The vanquished were widely expropriated under cover of draconian laws. Those who remained in Spain found no voice in fighting the ubiquitous application of the 1939 Law of Political Responsibilities. Those fortunate who were able to flee into exile, lost everything.



      The second fact is that Spain´s economy had nothing in common with a capitalist, market-oriented system between 1936 and 1960. On the contrary, it was a highly regulated economy in which one needed authorization for the simplest of transactions. In order to get those authorizations, one needed to grease palms and hearts. What with? With whatever was at hand: money, goods, favors, political and ideological fervor and... sex.



      Corruption was simply stated a way of living. So wrote Ridruejo, who knew the system from the inside. Corruption acted as a trickle-down mechanism from the elite down to all social classes.



      Franco himself was corrupt. So were his generals. So was the Army with its exorbitant privileges. So were business people and so were the common folk. One had to survive somehow.



      Unfortunately, empirical research on corruption is a highly complex and difficult endeavor. Much evidence has been destroyed. Would you believe that the masses of documentation of the regulatory bodies such as the military ones reporting to the Presidency of the Government or substantial files from the Ministry of Commerce have vanished?



      My thesis is that Francoism utterly and thoroughly corrupted Spanish society and, in particular, the moneyed classes. No wonder it has raised its ugly head as soon as conditions permitted.


      JE comments:  An excellent point from Ángel Viñas:  How do you quantify corruption?  Or even prove it, when the whole point of corruption is to cover it up?


      Corruption, as we're now learning yet again, never goes out of style.


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      • Thoughts on Corruption (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 11/06/16 6:49 AM)
        I have read recent WAIS posts about the Franco regime's corruption (Enrique Torner, Jordi Molins, Ángel Viñas) and I can´t say I was surprised. Like Enrique and Jordi, during my childhood in Spain I was subjected to the regime´s propaganda about the honesty, disinterestedness, generosity and many other virtues and merits of the Caudillo and his acolytes.

        I must admit that it was not until many years later that I found it hard to believe these myths and lies. I recall the Lord Acton dictum was a revelation, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  This maxim expressed and revealed to me clearly the high risk of corruption derived from authoritarian or absolutist regimes. More recently, I have had the opportunity to live with such a situation currently in Venezuela.


        Incidentally, this famous statement is almost the philosophical principle for my Anarchist sympathies. Not even the most democratic societies are free from the risk of corruption.


        JE comments:  Has there ever been an absolutist or near-absolutist regime that wasn't vilely corrupt?  I'm going to scratch my head on this for a while.  In the meantime, what do WAISers say?

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        • Mussolini Was not Corrupt (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/27/16 7:27 AM)

          Commenting on José Ignacio Soler's post of 6 November, JE asked: "Has there ever been an absolutist or near-absolutist regime that wasn't corrupt?"



          If you consider Italian Fascism to be a near-absolutist regime, then the answer is "yes."


          In spite of the many laws for the purge of Fascists, the first on 9 August 1943, and the Commissions to Investigate the Profits of the Fascist Regime, including the ridiculous work of the Allied Control Commission, no corruption was found.


          When Mussolini when was hung by his feet, no coins fell out of his pockets, and no funds were ever found. This is also the case for the major Fascist figures. Arnaldo di Crollananza, minister of Public Works and builder of the new towns of Littoria, Sabaudia, Pontinia, Aprilia, Pomezia, Carbonia, etc., did not even own a house.


          At a time in which we are dealing with a series of horrible earthquakes in Italy, we may remember the one of 24 August 1930 at Vulture with a magnitude 6.7 and 1404 deaths. The reconstruction of 3746 houses and the repair of 5190 other houses was ready by 28 October of the same year, and well under budget. In 1980 another earthquake hit the same area, and the "Fascist" houses did not collapse. Only those built after 1945 collapsed.


          The town of Littoria (name purged in Latina) was constructed in 6 months.  See The National Geographic of August 1934, with photos, one of which has the following caption: "radiant and confident, colonists' children pass in review in the city that was wrested from a swamp."


          Now, in this Italian republic (lay, democratic and antifascist, born from the resistance), the bridges are collapsing one week after dedication. Just see the Scorciavacche bridge at Palermo, inaugurated on 23 December 2015. It fell down on 1 January 2016, and of course the construction cost far more than the original budget. The famous autostrada Napoli-Reggio Calabria, started in 1961, will reportedly be completed on 23 December 2016. The amount spent over these 55 years is practically impossible to determine, especially the significant part that ended up in personal pockets.


          JE comments:  This one from Eugenio Battaglia arrived a couple of weeks ago, but the US election intervened.  My thanks to Eugenio for his patience.  Eugenio:  I know Mussolini made the trains run on time, but how could he reconstruct an entire town in two months?  Even if you send in the Army, it sounds impossible.  I'd be interested in the logistics.

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          • A Tale of Disaster Relief in Mexico; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 11/28/16 11:58 AM)

            Gary Moore writes:



            Here's an odd sequel to Eugenio Battaglia's (November 27) recollection of the Mussolini
            government rebuilding an earthquake-ravaged town in two months: In April 2007
            a freak EF3 tornado devastated a remote portion of the US-Mexico border, hopping
            disastrously through the Rio Grande cities of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras,
            Mexico, the latter in the border state of Coahuila. FEMA deployed into the US-side ruins, but soon was embarrassed, for while talking and plans proceeded in Eagle Pass, the
            Mexican state authorities over on the other side had already cleared away their debris--and were offering to come across the river and help the US do likewise.


            A small army of
            volunteers, composed largely of Coahuila state employees turned responders, did cross
            and help, in one of the signature efforts of cross-border cooperation. The Coahuila
            state governor, Humberto Moreira, came off as the can-do cutter of Gordian knots,
            along with his brother and adviser, who was heavily involved. I was in a position, in
            that time and place of ironies, to delve into the mysterious lag that made US efforts
            slow: It was because FEMA, unlike authorities in Mexico, was constrained by US checks
            and balances, and had to individually obtain permissions from all the different property owners
            from whose land debris had to be removed. Mexico simply went in and did it--the opposite
            of the initiative picture in the stereotypes, with their lagging Mexico and snappy US.


            In this peculiar tale are an infinitude of lessons, cautions and hidden snares, one of the
            smaller of which was that at that time, in 2007, Piedras Negras prided itself as the "white city"
            that was free of Mexico's then-emerging drug-cartel violence, if for no other reason
            because it was so far away from anything else. You could drink--or sing--in the landmark
            watering hole in Piedras Negras where John Wayne had hung out during filming
            (another irony) of The Alamo, and then you could walk the streets of Piedras at any hour
            unmolested. I never dreamed what was coming.


            A few years later the Zetas expanded
            west from Nuevo Laredo. Coahuila was engulfed by such human storms as the Allende
            massacre (my previous post). Now the miracle-maker, Humberto Moreira, is in exile
            in Spain, after arrest for awhile for involvement with the gore of organized crime.
            What does this say about rebuilding villages in record time? Maybe it says that in the
            real world there really are ways to make the trains run on time--but it's dicey business,
            on both the front end and the back, and deals with many tornadoes.


            JE comments:   Eugenio Battaglia sent in a correction:  the Vulture earthquake occurred on July 23rd, 1930.  Still, rebuilding a town in three months might only be possible through the strong hand of authoritarianism.  Or consider China's ability to construct massive high-speed railways in record time.  Gary Moore gives us another example, from Mexico.

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