Franco-Era Spain and its Usage of Soft Power

There is no doubt that juxtaposing themes such as cruelty and mercy, fear and love present throughout life and media contributed to the two-dimensional divide between the hard and soft power theory, introduced by American Political Scientist Joseph Nye, that exists today. Whereas hard power is employed through coercion and force to achieve an objective, soft power is employed through persuasion and diplomacy.[1]  Perhaps the modern admiration for directness is the largest reason why soft power is not as prevalent in today’s media. Regardless, soft power is established throughout human (mostly contemporary) history, from the Cold War’s diplomatic battles to the growth of free-trade coffee.[2] Given that Nye’s soft power principles are political values, culture, and economic policy, however, it is evident that the quintessential example of soft power in recent history is present in Franco Spain.  Under the leadership of the decorated despot Francisco Franco, Franco-era Spain exemplifies the complexity of utilizing soft power, especially in a dictatorial regime.

The Franco regime emerged from the Spanish Civil War with triumph over the Nationalists. Franco then became recognized as the Spanish Head of State by other nations and

assumed the title of “Su Excelencia el Jefe de Estado” (“His Excellency the Head of State”) in

1939, accumulating the most power of any Spanish leader in history.[3] With this power, Franco was capable of drawing Spain into complete political and economic isolation after World War II.[4] Following the Franco regime’s support of the Axis Powers, Spain was excluded from the Marshall Plan and then pursued a policy of autarky. What followed was Spain teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, its turn to the free market economy, and its adoption of deep economic reforms which ultimately saved the nation from economic collapse. From there, Franco Spain was open to the world and ready to become a forefront power – especially in it eagerly adopting height-of-the-Cold-War soft power.[5]

        Much of this soft power derived from Nye’s first principle of culture. This culture didn’t derive from Spain itself, who enforced a national identity through the oppression of Catalan, Galician, and foreign cultures. Rather, Spain’s soft power was derived from one of the most notable cultural regimes of all: Hollywood. Nye claimed that Hollywood was one of “the United States’ best examples of soft power” in its ability to influence other nations and subsequently represent the United States’ reach.[6] Due to the rise of television and antitrust rulings in early 1960s America, however, “Hollywood studios [began relying] on independent producers who shaved costs by working outside of the United States” in attractive nations such as Spain.[7] Franco knew full well the economic and reputation-building benefits of film, and thus he welcomed the American filmmakers with an embrace. Movies from those filmmakers, such as Samuel Bronston’s The Fall of the Roman Empire and David Weisbart’s The Pleasure Seekers, all represented Franco Spain’s blossoming relationship with the United States and its film industry.[8]  With its widespread publication and audience, Hollywood films produced in Franco Spain were able to demonstrate the beauty of Spanish culture and scenery internationally with films that buried the tyrannical nature of the national government. In that, Franco evidently seized the opportunity to utilize America’s largest source of soft-power to the benefit of his regime’s image. 

While the scenes of Spanish sandy beaches and blue skies are exaggerated in Hollywood films, they still hold some truth to them. Franco capitalized on his nation’s scenery and sites by playing into international tourism in Spain’s postwar era, a form of soft power illustrated by Nye’s second principle of foreign policy. With the hopes of creating an appealing Spanish character and benefiting from a profitable industry, Franco abolished entry visas for tourists and devalued the peseta to make the country cheaper and more accessible for tourists. Working with American and European travel enterprises, Franco and his Secretariat General of Tourism invested in postwar reconstruction of parks and recreational sites. Their ends justified the means, resulting in a 43 percent jump in foreign visitors by 1960. With the additional construction of affordable hotels across miles of “virgin coastline”, Franco practically welcomed tourists with open arms.[9] In an interview with American journalist Merwin Hart, Franco masked his despotic personality under the smile of a travel agent, saying the “hospitable people, variety of climate, and natural beauties make Spain much loved by all foreigners who visit it.”[10] Franco’s words indicate that the usage of soft power through Spain’s investment in tourism played a role in constructing its favorable image and thus establishing formidable relationships with Western superpowers. It’s evident that tourism factored into Spain remedying its political relationships. It can’t be a coincidence that the Franco regime granted visas to American tourists in 1952 – seven years before the regime granted visas to any other European country – and that just a year later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Pact of Madrid with Spain in an effort to break its international isolation. From there, Spain joined the United Nations in 1955, exports and imports in Spain soured, and old alliances reformed.[11] Opening Spain’s border was a covert move to regain Spain’s honorable reputation in the world.

Outside of Hollywood and tourism, the relationship between the United States and Spain also helped the Franco government gain soft power founded on economic policy – essentially Nye’s third principle of soft power.  After  the United States helped Spain avoid bankruptcy by guiding Spain’s transition from an isolated to a free-market economy, Spain was able to demonstrate its willingness to freely trade with others and participate in collaborative economic organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The national essentially threw its arms open to the world and said, “We’re open for business.” Indeed it was, as it began benefitting from tourism and rapidly expanding trade that improved its once-struggling economy. With the success Spain began accumulating, other nations were convinced to begin investing in and supporting Spain; foreign investment grew in Spanish industries from 420 billion United States dollars in 1960 to 7.6 billion dollars in 1974.[12] In building an image of prosperity and demonstrating a willingness to collaborate with foreign nations through its economic policy, Franco Spain benefited financially and diplomatically from its new soft power strategy, cementing its status amongst Western Powers.

Francisco Franco died in November of 1975. Even with the successive spread of democracy, Franco’s regime and legacy did not die with him. With the cross of his burial site,

the Valle de los Caídos, looming over Spain and its tourists, it is evident that Franco’s use of soft

power wove his authoritative legacy into the tapestry of Spain and the world.


Works Cited

  1. Bosch, Aurora and Del Rincon, Fernanda. Franco and Hollywood 1939-1956, London: New Left Review, 1998
  1. Chislett, William. “Spain’s flourishing tourism: the mainstay of the economy,” Oxford University Press, Fundación Real Instituto Elcano, 2014.
  2. Collier, Paul. “On the Economic Consequences of Civil War,” Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University, 1999, pp. 168-183
  3. de la Cierva, Ricardo. “Agonia y Muerte de Franco,” Eudema Universidad, 1996.
  4. History.com editors, “Francisco Franco,” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009.
  5. Leon-Aguinaga, Pablo. “US Public Diplomacy and Democracy Promotion in Authoritarian Spain: Approaches, Themes, and Messages,” New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.
  6. Nye, Joseph. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, New York: Basic Books, 1990, p. 194
  1. Payne, Stanley G., and Jesús Palacios. Franco: A personal and political biography, University of Wisconsin Pres, 2014
  2. Pérez Puche, Francisco. “Cronología general de la Guerra Civil Española (1936-1939),” Oficina de Publicacinoes, Ajuntament de València: 53, 2016.
  3. Portland. “What is Soft Power,” Soft Power 30, USC Center on Diplomacy, 2019.
  4. Rosendorf, N. “‘Hollywood in Madrid’: The Franco Regime and the American Film Industry,” Franco Sells Spain to America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  5. “The Franco Era, 1939-75,” Country Studies, US Library of Congress.=

References

[1], 2 Portland. “What is Soft Power,” Soft Power 30, USC Center on Diplomacy, 2019.

[2] Portland. “What is Soft Power,” Soft Power 30, USC Center on Diplomacy, 2019.

[3] Pérez Puche, Francisco. “Cronología general de la Guerra Civil Española (1936-1939),”. Oficina de Publicacinoes, Ajuntament de València: 53, Oct., 2016.

[4] Payne, Stanley G., and Jesús Palacios. “Franco: A personal and political biography,” University of Wisconsin Pres, 2014, pp.

231-234.

[5] Collier, Paul. “On the Economic Consequences of Civil War,” Oxford Economic Papers. Oxford University, 1999, pp. 168-183

[6] Nye, Joseph. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, New York: Basic Books, 1990, p. 194

[7]  Rosendorf, N. “‘Hollywood in Madrid’: The Franco Regime and the American Film Industry,” Franco Sells Spain to America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 48-49.

[8] Rosendorf, N. “‘Hollywood in Madrid’: The Franco Regime and the American Film Industry,” Franco Sells Spain to

America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 48-49.

[9] Chislett, William. “Spain’s flourishing tourism: the mainstay of the economy,” Oxford University Press, Fundación Real

Instituto Elcano, 2014.

[10] Rosendorf, N. “‘Hollywood in Madrid’: The Franco Regime and the American Film Industry,” Franco Sells Spain to

America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 48-49.

[11] Rosendorf, N. “‘Hollywood in Madrid’: The Franco Regime and the American Film Industry,” Franco Sells Spain to

America: Hollywood, Tourism, and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 48-49.

[12] “The Franco Era, 1939-75,” Country Studies, US Library of Congress.

Viktoria Wulff-Andersen