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Francisco Franco Bahamonde (; Spanish: [fɾanˈθisko ˈfɾaŋko βa.aˈmonde]; 4 December 1892 – 20 November 1975) was a Spanish general who ruled over Spain as a military dictator from 1939, after the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975. This period in Spanish history is commonly known as Francoist Spain.
As a conservative and a monarchist, Franco opposed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a democratic secular republic in 1931. With the 1936 elections, the conservative Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups lost by a narrow margin, and the leftist Popular Front came to power. Intending to overthrow the republic, Franco followed other generals in attempting a failed coup that precipitated the Spanish Civil War. With the death of the other generals, Franco quickly became his faction's only leader. Franco gained military support from various regimes and groups, especially Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republican side was supported by Spanish communists and anarchists as well as the Soviet Union, Mexico, and the International Brigades. It is disputed among historians whether Franco personally ordered, requested or knew of beforehand the German and Italian aerial bombing of Guernica in 1937. In 1939, Franco won the war, which claimed half a million lives. He established a military dictatorship. Franco proclaimed himself Head of State and Government under the title El caudillo. In April 1937, Franco merged the fascist and traditionalist political parties in the rebel zone (FE de las JONS and Traditionalist Communion), as well as other conservative and monarchist elements, into FET y de las JONS. At the same time he outlawed all other political parties, and thus Spain became a one-party state.
Upon his rise to power, Franco implemented policies that were responsible for the repression and deaths of as many as 400,000 political opponents and dissenters through the use of forced labor and executions in the concentration camps his regime operated. Despite maintaining an official policy of neutrality during World War II, he provided military support to the Axis in numerous ways: he allowed German and Italian ships to use Spanish harbors and ports, the Abwehr gained intelligence in Spain on Allied activities, Spain imported war materials for Germany and the Blue Division fought alongside the European Axis against the Soviet Union until 1944. Although sometimes identified as fascist, very few scholars of the matter consider Franco's Spain such, usually recognizing it as conservative and authoritarian. Spain was isolated by the international community for nearly a decade after World War II. By the 1950s, the nature of his regime changed from being openly totalitarian and using severe repression to an authoritarian system with limited pluralism. During the Cold War, Franco was one of the world's foremost anti-Communist figures: his regime was assisted by the West, and it was asked to join NATO. After chronic economic depression in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Franco presided over the Spanish miracle, abandoning autarky and pursuing economic liberalization, delegating authority to liberal ministers.
Franco died in 1975 at the age of 82. He restored the monarchy before his death, which made King Juan Carlos I his successor, who led the Spanish transition to democracy. After a referendum, a new constitution was adopted, which transformed Spain into a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. A highly controversial figure within Spain, Franco is seen as a divisive leader. Supporters credit his strong anti-communist and nationalist views, economic policies, preservation of traditional Spanish practices and support of the monarchy of Spain as positive influences over the nation. Critics disparage him as an autocratic dictator who violently suppressed opposition and dissent, banned culture seen as non-Spanish, used concentration camps and forced labour and provided much support to the Axis powers during World War II.