Obituary for Manuel Fraga [Right-Wing Newspaper]

Manuel Fraga
The greatest contribution of Manuel Fraga was the reformation of the Spanish right with the Popular Party. In good choices and bad, he represented the grandeur of politics practiced with conviction and a cutting intellect.
ABC: Muere Manuel Fraga
Ignacio Sánchez Cámara reporting January 16, 2012
See also El Mundo‘s photo album covering his career.

Manuel FragaManuel Fraga in an ABC interview in 2008

The founding president of the Popular Party, Manuel Fraga, died on Sunday night surrounded by family in his home in Madrid. The politician, who was 89, suffered heart failure after suffering a respiratory infection at the beginning of the year due to a bad cold. A funeral chapel will be set up in his Madrid home for the family wake. The burial, in Perbes on Tuesday, will also be a family affair.

Statements of recognition were made by parties and politicians under all banners after Fraga’s death. The PP, the [ruling] party he founded, emphasized that “he was a great example that will always remain with us.” The PSOE [the Socialist Party of ex-president Zapatero] stated that “we democrats will always remember his work with gratitude.”

Perhaps Manuel Fraga’s greatest contribution during a life dedicated to the state was the reformation of the Spanish right which gave rise to its greatest historical success: the Popular Party. The Spanish center-right party is Fraga’s great political creation. His greatest frustration was being the man who did not become President of Spain.

A Galician of Basque origin, he was born in Villalba, Lugo on November 23, 1922. He was, above all, Catholic. His life was passed between his academic profession, public functions, and active politics. In 1945, he won the national competitive examination to become a court lawyer. In 1948, he became chair of Political Law at the University of Valencia. In 1953, he became chair of State and Constitutional Law Theory for the Complutense University of Madrid. Ortega y Gasset said in a proposal to Mirabeau that a restless intellect is a requisite for a great politician, and no one could dispute that Manuel Fraga had one.

He published more than eighty books about topics like State Theory, Galicia, Balmes, Saavedra Fajardo, the Spanish Constitution, and the crises of the Spanish government and the autonomous governments. He was a man of the state in the full sense of the word. He always felt admiration for the English system, which he tried to import to Spain. Perhaps it was a consequence of his intellectual experience as ambassador to London in 1973. From 1947, he was also a diplomat. His conservative mentality saw in England, with reason, a legal system with continuity and the benefits of both tradition and reform. He always wanted Spain to have a political system like England’s. His other political vocation was Hispanoamérica (Latin America). His transatlantic ties, especially with Cuba and Puerto Rico, were always strong and close. This is manifested as much in his intellectual work as in his political missions.

The first part of his political career began under the Franco regime. He became secretary general of the Institute of Hispanic Culture from 1951. In 1953, the minister of National Education, Joaquín Ruiz-Giménez, named him secretary of the Council of Education and later general technical secretary of the whole ministry. From this post, he promoted the first attempt to democratize the Spanish university system. In 1956, he was named subdirector of the Institute of Political Studies, and the following year, national delegate to the Associations.

He Opened Spain to the World
He was a distinguished member of the reformist and progressive sector of the Francoist regime that was decisive for the Spanish transition to democracy. In 1966 he designed, and obtained, the approval of the Law of the Press which eliminated preliminary censorship and facilitated the work of media independent from the regime and opposed to it. He was also the organizer of the 25 Years of Peace Campaign to commemorate the first five five-year periods after the Civil War. As minister of Information and Tourism from July 1962 to October 1969, he propelled, with great success, Spanish tourism, with a double effect. The results were twofold: this brought an enormous influx of foreign currency that contributed to economic development and to the end of isolationism, which he had been promoting for years; this also opened Spain to the world, inundating it with new ideas and ways of life, which was decisive for Spanish politics’ turn toward democracy. The rise of the middle class had in him one of its most permanent champions. In 1967, he took charge of the creation and approval of the Religious Liberty Law, which entailed tolerance and acceptance of religions besides Catholicism, much in line with the directions of Second Vatican Council. One year later, in 1968, he was designated government commissioner of the decolonization of Equatorial Guinea.

In 1974, he founded GODSA (Cabinet of Orientation and Documentation, S.A. (Corporation)), which was the nucleus of the first linked political organizations (parties) and was tagged “The Spirit of February 12” in allusion to the celebrated parliamentary discourse by Carlos Arias Navarro, “Democratic Reform”. He also promoted and aided the first, and limited, Law of Political Amnesty, which entailed the cancellation of many prison sentences for political crimes.

He was the second Vice President and Minister of Governance for the Carlos Arias Navarro government from December 1975 to July 1976. The events of Montejurra and the death of the student Ruano are shadows cast over his governance during that period.

The Magnificent Seven
In 1976, he founded the Popular Alliance party as part of the so-called “Magnificent Seven”, Francoist personalities avowed to reform (as opposed to the so-called immovables). The effort was commendable, but it fell before the centrism of Adolfo Suárez. Perhaps this campaign was the reason Fraga could not aspire for even a moment to the leadership of the Spanish center-right or the national government. One could call it a political error, but his openness was too timid for the Spanish reformist right, which saw Suárez as its natural leader.

In June 1977, Spain’s first democratic elections [post-Civil War] were held after the death of Franco. Fraga’s Popular Alliance only obtained 16 seats and less than 10 percent of the vote. A clear defeat. The winner was, as predicted but without an absolute majority, the Democratic Center Union of President Suárez. At that time, Fraga represented a much more lukewarm option than the President, who received the support of the majority of citizens.

Between 1977 and 1978, Fraga was, along with Gabriel Cisneros, Miguel Herrero y Rodríguez de Miñón, José Pedro Pérez-Llorca, Gregorio Peces-Barba, Jordi Solé-Tura, and Miqel Roca i Junyent, a constitutional speaker. His job was fundamental to the consolidation of the transition and the approval of the democratic Constitution. It was one of his greatest political moments and perhaps his greatest contribution to harmony and reconciliation between Spaniards in the service of the democratic regime. It’s not a small thing that, as a great lawyer and notable politician, he achieves in this historical process the approval of a Magna Carta. The Spanish right embarked, with him, on the road to democracy. As a symbolic act, one can distinguish Fraga’s presentation of Santiago Carrillo at the 21st Century Club. It represented like few other moments the valor of these men who managed to see what Spain needed: to rise above the old wounds of the past and undertake a journey to harmony. The embrace between the two veteran politicians was a symbol of reconciliation between the two Spains, which had decided to convert into one, reconciled and at peace.

In the 1979 parliamentary elections, he headed the ticket for the Democratic Coalition in Madrid. His failure was confirmed again. He only obtained ten seats. The Spanish right (or if you prefer, the center-right) was in Suárez and the UCD’s power. Manuel Fraga held firm against the attempted coup d’etat on February 23 and was an example of dignity and coherence. After the crisis and the disintegration of the UCD, Fraga’s Popular Alliance became the leading opposition party to the Socialist government of Felipe González. His limitations in fighting socialism lead him to abandon national politics and run in the European parliamentary elections of 1987, after which he was named European representative. He left national politics and promoted [future president] José María Aznar as the Popular Party’s presidential candidate in 1989. Thus one of the great political ventures of Fraga came to pass, if not the greatest: the transformation of the Popular Alliance into the Popular Party and the consummation of the reformation of the Spanish right. He presided over the AP from 1977 to 1987 and the PP from April 1991 to January 2006.

His departure from national politics brought him to the region of Galicia. He was elected President of the Galician Union on February 5, 1990, and occupied this post until August 2, 2005. That year, he won the Galician elections again but could not form an absolute majority or form a government. The Xunta passed to a socialist-Galician nationalist coalition that soon fell. Fraga count in his Galician homeland some compensation for his failures in national politics. His regional rule was contested, but on balance can be qualified as positive. Among his worst problems was his management of the shipwreck of the oil tanker Prestige, which lead to orchestrated agitation by the opposition with had very little argumentation and much demagoguery.

Acts and Decisions
Manuel Fraga has been one of the great politicians of contemporary Spain. His acts and decisions, on occasion authoritarian, did not hide an adhesion to principle and democratic values. In moments like this, in which the government has tried to question the values and achievements of the Transition and the two men who led it, justice demands the recognition of those like Fraga, be they on one side of the political spectrum or the other, who managed to understand the demand for harmony that the majority of Spanish society demanded. Though it is certain that his political appeal was very limited, he also managed to recognize this and open the way, generously, to a new generation embodied by José María Aznar, who took the Spanish right to the greatest success in its history: an absolute majority in the legislative elections of 2000.

Both his successes and failures were great. When so many citizens’ complaints, a good measure of them justified, are poured on the Spanish political class, when it is criticized for its intellectual limitations, when the intellectual level seems to have descended so much, politicians like Fraga, with their successes and failures, show us the greatness of politics practiced with conviction and a cutting mind. From one long and fertile political trajectory, we can distinguish, perhaps, two great moments. One is his contribution to the creation of the Constitution in 1976. The other is his durable work of reconstructing the Spanish right. He did not make it to Moncloa [the presidential palace], but without his work, it would have been difficult for the Popular Party, lead by Aznar, to arrive and obtain the confidence of the majority of Spaniards.

In this hour in the balance, it is best to remember the most positive without forgetting the negative. Fraga represented like few others the valor of those men who came, without subterfuge or complexity, from Francoism, and came to understand what Spain needed: to overcome the old wounds of the past and take the road to harmony and reconciliation. In this resides the best, the most durable, part of his political legacy.

More than a man of a party, Manuel Fraga was a man of the state.

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