The Day Eisenhower, ‘Architect
of Peace,’ Visited Franco
By Israel Viana
Translated By Adam Zimmerman
21 December 2009
Edited by June Polewko
Spain - ABC - Original Article (Spanish)
More than 500 foreign and Spanish journalists, 10 buses, 15 broadcast booths, 110 telephones, seven lines for transmitting photographs, dozens of movie and television cameras, and 1.5 million people were present for President Eisenhower’s historic visit to Spain on Dec. 21, 1959. The meeting with the political-military leader is often seen as the moment of consolidation of the Franco regime and definitive proof that the dictator had managed to emerge from the isolation he suffered after the defeat of the Axis in World War II.
That emergence led to an unprecedented period of development during the 1960s — “the Spanish economic miracle” — which began with the signing of the 1953 treaty with the United States. This was followed two years later by Spain’s entry into the United Nations — an organization that shortly before had condemned the Franco regime — and was finally cemented with the visit by Eisenhower, the “leader of the free world,” the “architect of peace.”
“When the names ‘Ike’ and Franco burst into the air, the Spanish people showed their gratitude to Franco for the visit, as well as to Eisenhower for honoring Madrid with his presence. And all this for peace, for justice, for freedom of the people, ideals rooted in the soul of Spain and the United States,” described ABC in its Dec. 22, 1959 issue, in which it dedicated over 20 pages to the event — the first visit ever made by a U.S. president to Spain.
The meeting was a turning point in the history of the dictatorship: Spain went from being one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a per capita income below some Latin American countries, to having an economy with a 7 percent average growth rate during the 1960s — second only to Japan. This gave rise to the transformation of Spain from an agricultural to an industrial economy.
The reason for the “sincere and friendly” welcome, the “warm and affectionate” embrace between the two heads of state, Democrat and dictator, was also the establishment of new U.S. military bases on Spanish soil, as pointed out by Franco at Eisenhower’s arrival: “This base in Torrejón, built with formidable support from the United States, housing Spanish and American wings in close camaraderie, is a symbol of our friendship, and stands under a motto, surely beloved by everyone: ‘Peace is our profession.’”
Besides military cooperation between Spain and the United States, both leaders discussed the Atlantic alliance crisis and the Spanish economic situation. According to ABC, this was not “merely a gesture of protocol, but a political act meant to maintain the Spanish-American alliance at an appropriate level of activity and effectiveness.”
The image of Madrid cheering for the president of the United States was emphasized in headlines by the New York Times (“Madrid Provides Warm 'Saludos'; Crowds for President are Largest Since New Delhi's”), Columbia Broadcasting (“One of Most Important European Meetings Held by Eisenhower”), the Washington News and other major American newspapers. The Washington Post opened its extensive coverage with: “Franco and Madrid Crowd Welcome Ike, Who Recalled Spain’s Role in Founding New World.”*
The ostracism and autocracy of the first 20 years of dictatorship gave way to a consumerism more typical of a “Western” lifestyle. In 1959, only a few privileged families could brag of a car and television. But at the end of the decade, 40 percent of Spaniards had a car and 85 percent had a television.
The cultural, economic and political changes of that decade began with Eisenhower’s visit and helped usher in the triumph of the Spanish transition.
[*Editor's Note: Columbia Broadcasting and Washington Post headlines could not be verified.]
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