Saturday, December 18, 2010

Minister of Information under Franco threatens ArtTraveler after leaking plans for Juan Carlos' succession

I would never last long as a native journalist in the Soviet Union (even today's Russia) or Franco's Spain.

And by native, I mean born there. I came very close to being arrested in Madrid for my misbehavior. I was both naive and risk aversive and wanted to see what authorities would do in Madrid if I violated one of two sacred rules of self-censorship.

This happened when my boss, the Aussie managing editor went down under for a well deserved vacation. I was now in charge. I knew the rules. You could print nothing about the university riots in Madrid or Barcelona.

The Arrest of Tony Combrero by John Barrett Acrylic on canvass and wood: 80 cm X 80 cm.
People were being jailed, maimed, sometimes killed by the much feared Franco henchmen, the Guardia Civil.

Initially, enthusiastic as a journo, I wanted desperately to cover the riots as an experienced photojournalist until my Phillipino-American photog mate said the Guardia on horseback would bash in my head without thinking twice.

I only thought about it once and decided to keep my head working as well as possible.

However, the second rule was more delightful and I thought less onerous: nothing could be printed about who would succeed Franco. This was incendiary stuff at the time as monarchists and other factions of Franco's fascist coalition all wanted a piece of his posthumous action.

Along comes a Reuters wire short of about three inches with credible sources strongly suggesting that the current King Juan Carlos would in fact succeed Franco after the latter died in 1975, which happened. King Carlos surprised allot of rightwingers when he fully endorsed a democratic parliamentary state with him more titular than dictatorial like his vengeful predecessor.

After putting the paper to bed with the Spanish printers at about 11 p.m., I waited to see what would happen.

Two things: The Guardia Civil confiscated all papers, or so I was told, before they hit the streets. But as James A. Michener writes in Iberia, although allot of Spanish journos went to jail for this kind of thing, the printers always kept a few copies clandenstinely for themselves as a money maker.

They would make photo copies, and much like the samisdat  or underground pamphlets or circulars of dissent spread like cancer especially among young Russians before 1989, so the Spanish printers managed to get out the word anyway and make a few pesetas on the side. I know this doesn't make me Julian Assange but it feels good to know I leaked this vital information.

I didn't know this at the time, since I had not read Michener's book, as it was published in 1968, the year I worked in Madrid. The book still serves as an excellent current understanding of the Spanish psyche, including Michener's love of bullfights.

Nonetheless, the Minister of Information wrote me a nasty letter threatening jail if I transgressed again. The letter was on his official stationery.

Ironically, the same official owned the Spanish Daily News, now defunct. 

I suspect I was spared only because I was an expat American at a time when Franco was pushing tourism hard in the States, the UK and northern Europe.

Please check out John Barrett's website in progress to see an array of his excellent works from "Lorca: A Dream of Life," and "Lorca: Poet in New York."

I think you will be extremely impressed with his visual  interpretations of Federico Garcia Lorca's poems, all of which shall soon become known as The Lorca Project.

Next time, since we've been lurking  in the world of the cloak and the dagger, neither of which I own, and the police state, I mayI share quite soon a series of posts detailing  my experiences playing cat and mouse with the  KGB in the USSR whilst there two weeks in 1976 and and another equal period in 1985; unfortunately, all my negatives from those trips are deceased.

I will improvise.

Rock on and practice peace. Please check out ArtTraveler's videos at:

Stefan, the ArtTraveler (TM)

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Stefano. We are spreading the word here in the States about ArtTraveler.