It had been only a few minutes after 10.30 in the morning when the voice of actor Fernando Fernández de Córdoba sounded through the airwaves with the typical engoamiento, but this time with an unusual emotion. The moment was special and weighed on the atmosphere. “Today, the Red Army captive and disarmed, the national troops have reached their last military objectives. The war is over. Burgos, April 1, 1939, the year of victory. Generalissimo Franco ”, were famous words.
Much has been written about that historical moment in which the Civil War, one of the most tragic stages in the history of Spain, ended. A fratricidal conflict that left behind nearly 200,000 corpses and thousands of exiles. However, little has been written about the proposals to negotiate peace that were on the table of some foreign powers, first, and of both sides, later, practically since the same coup.
In your article “International mediation plans during the Civil War” (2006), the director of the Investigation Unit on Security and Cooperation (Unisci), Antonio Marquina, picks up the first opportunity, which arose from the Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 1938. He requested the opinions of the American Governments regarding to a joint mediation to achieve an end to hostilities. In the case of reaching an agreement, they would first communicate it to the “Republican legal government” and, after its approval, it would be transferred to the Franco supporters to begin the talks. The thing was not over, because Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Panama and the United States considered the wrong moment and Chile, Cuba and Peru accepted, but with many reservations.
A referendum on war
At the beginning of December 1936, another initiative that emerged from the French Government, and delivered to the British, proposed a rapprochement with the Governments of the USSR, Germany, Italy and Portugal to try to mediate between the two sides “as soon as a favorable moment arose.” . This proposal had a longer journey. They believed that, since the war was not going well for Franco in those early stages, Hitler and Mussolini would be happy to see the war ending. And if they failed, at least “it would produce an atmosphere of tranquility that would leave both sides with the hope of a possible later intervention,” said Marquina.
In the document drafted it was clear that “the participation of these powers implied subordinating any political decision to the supreme interest of peace, their renunciation of any action that could lead to a foreign armed intervention, the alleviation of the lamentable conditions existing in Spain and the end of the conflict by means of a plebiscite in which the Spanish nation unitarily expressed its national desire.
The only drawback to this proposal was put by the English Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden, who believed that it was necessary to have the United States for it to be successful. The USSR approved it and Germany and Italy undertook to study it, even if they had doubts. This remained in the air, but in the following weeks new proposals appeared. France, for example, suggested trying to negotiate a general cessation of hostilities by agreeing on both sides to hold new general elections. Britain added another possibility: a division of Spain according to the status quo, trying to explore and get a middle-line government that would rule with foreign military support.
Evacuate the population
The possibility of obtaining an armistice for a limited time in the Madrid sector was also raised, with the aim of evacuating the civilian population from the capital. An idea that Franco had already requested and that would give both sides and the international powers involved a margin to think of a new, more effective way out. This proposition was also in line with the proposals made by the Republican Minister of Justice, Salvador Madariaga, who argued that political mediation should come after humanitarian mediation. The final idea was that this partial armistice would later be extended to other sectors of the front and, finally, to the whole country, with Christmas in between.
However, it was one thing for the foreign powers to think and another for what the two sides were willing to do. That was the hardest part. Hence, doubts soon began to arise around the supposed referendum to the Spanish and the other initiatives. And while the bombs fell, the dead increased and the first foreign contingents began to arrive in the peninsula in support of each of the sides.
In mid-April 1937, Wiston Churchill put on the board another mediation plan that influenced the formation of a government of moderates in Spain. The then British parliamentarian and future prime minister was aware that neither side would consider the proposal good, but he thought that perhaps the position of the foreign powers would not be so divergent. Britain even gave its approval to the Soviet Union to carry out a purge of the anarchists, believing that they were the main obstacle to this mediation and to any subsequent humanitarian action.
The British Foreign Minister then ordered his ambassadors to probe the opinion of the governments of Paris, Berlin, Rome and Moscow on their support for this initiative, which sought a temporary armistice so that a withdrawal of foreign volunteers could be prepared. The Vatican, through Pope Pius XI, even agreed to intervene in the operation, but the responses of all these powers were negative, determined as they were now to support the fight in Spain. , the problem is more difficult, because you have to count on the countries that help the contenders. If there is no will to settle the conflict, because it is more advantageous for it to continue based on other interests and despite expenses and losses, mediation is totally useless, ”explained Unisci director in his article.
At the beginning of 1938, after the victorious Republican attack on Teruel, the French minister Leon Blum told the British ambassador in Paris that the Spanish conflict would end in a stalemate and that, therefore, Great Britain and France should be ready to mediate before of spring. They agreed that the initiative should be exclusive to the English Government. Neither Germany, nor Italy, nor Russia could participate, given their commitments to the contending sides and their interest in continuing the war. This time the Francoists and Republicans, after the pertinent consultations in Salamanca and Barcelona, who declined the proposal. Both emphasized that, although they knew that the people were exhausted, neither government had the slightest confidence in the other.
In July 1938, the British Government again considered the possibility of appealing to both parties, this time for humanitarian, Christian and peaceful reasons, but did not reach any conclusion. Discontent within the national zone and the situation of the Falange seemed to support that procedure. Manuel Azana even made a conciliatory speech, referring to Spanish honor and ending with the words “mercy and forgiveness.” But Franco was inflexible, since the war already seemed the chronicle of an announced death.
For years it has been taken for granted that the dictator wanted to prolong the war, but it has never been really explained why he could not end it sooner. Germany and Italy were already sabotaging any attempt by Great Britain to mediate for peace. The USSR also seemed interested at this point in prolonging the conflict, as was evident in the continuous obstacles it placed on the Non-Intervention Committee and with the proposal it made in mid-1938 to supply more war material to end the Italian soldiers without spending for France, while Italy lost money and men.
Republicans and Franco
Since the last phase of the Battle of the Ebro in November 1938, other ways to end the war are known that were on the tables of the Republican and Francoist authorities. All through negotiation. The first was that of the then President of the Republic, Juan Negrín, who was supported by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) and a sector of the Socialists. This was reflected in a document that contained 13 points and in which it left open the possibility of an international mediation, but with the hidden objective of buying time until the outbreak of World War II.
It was a form of resistance waiting for more help, the same resistance that Negrín had shown since he took over the Republican government, with the full support of the PCE. The war had to be won, even if their lives depended on it, but it had the disadvantage of the opposition that had been created within their own side – represented by most of the military commanders, including Generals Rojo and Miaja – and that its leaders had already left Spain in the face of impending defeat.
The second position was presented by the Defense Council, that body that assumed the role of provisional government in what was left of the Republic after Colonel Casado’s military coup against Negrín. Chaired by General Miaja and politically supported by the socialist and anarchist collation, this was based on the accumulated fatigue of more than 30 months of conflict. It was baptized as “the honorable peace” and sought to end the conflict quickly in exchange for a series of guarantees on the lives of the combatants and the civilian population. A somewhat naive measure if we take into account that they never achieved a written guarantee from Franco.
The last and most important for its position of strength in this last stretch of the war is that of Franco’s Headquarters, which advocated only for the unconditional surrender and orderly surrender of the cities, to quickly restore public services.