Spain History - 2nd Decline - (1868 - 1931)

The question of government between the various sides was basically translated into allowing each side to alternatively share power. This system led to an erratic power base and representation of each side was devoted to rigging the voting. It is recorded that the final results of votes in one area was actually published in a paper the day prior to the counting! Somewhat surprisingly, during the next politically difficult three decades the country again blossomed economically and culturally. The people of each region, the Catalans, the Basques and the Andalusians, all developed their own industry and commerce and found political freedom - Liberals, Nationalists, Republicans, Socialists, Communists, and the party of the Anarchist CNT.

After the death of his first wife King Alfonso took for his new bride the Austrian Maria Cristina. Several strong earthquakes were felt in 1885 that caused severe damage in the eastern Andalucía. The King who had experienced poor health insisted in touring the damaged areas and subsequently caught a lung infection and died at the age of 28. Queen Maria Cristina stepped into the shoes as Queen Regent to rule Spain for 17 years. Happily for all concerned she was with child and 1886 to great rejoicing she gave birth to a son, the future King Alfonso XIII. As she ruled as a Regent she left the political power to the two men of the time, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo and Sagasta. In 1897 Cánovas was assassinated and shortly Sagasta died of old age. These two manipulators left behind a corrupt and confused Spain which found itself then involved in the Spanish-American War (1898).

The Spanish representative ruler of Cuba, General Weyler, had turned his Island's inhabitants against him with his strong armed policy. The United States of America decided to give support to the Cubans and sent in the navy by sending their battleship Maine into Havana harbour. A questionable explosion ripped open the Maine and killed 260 of her sailors which was blamed on the Spanish and war was declared. It lasted three months until Admiral Dewey destroyed the Spanish Squadron at Santiago de Cuba. In this quick and yet disastrous event by the Treaty of Paris (1898) Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and with it they lost this section of Empire which dated back to 1492.

In 1902 King Alfonso XIII became of age and took his place on the throne dispensing with his mother as Regent. Unfortunately, with the often displaced confidence of youth he actively assumed political interests and soon led the country into instability. Within the first four years of his rule there were 33 changes of the government under no less than 8 different Prime Ministers of his choosing. Soon, he had to resort to a dictatorial style of monarchy in order to maintain his throne and for which he also fortunately found strong support within his army. To some extent he bought this support by increasing the army allowance on a regular basis until it became approximately half of Spain's total budget. In 1905 the army gained considerable power by a new law that allowed military courts to judge civilians critical of the state.

After the American debacle Spain attempted to regain some of its international respect by turning to their possessions in northern Africa. Spain had the two very small colonies of Melilla and Ceuta on the Mediterranean coast. In 1880 the lonely Rio Ouro on the Atlantic coast was added and in 1906 at the Algeciras Conference both Spain and France were given control over the country of Morocco. Their eventual slice of Morocco turned out to be ungovernable due to lack of good communications and constant warring tribes. When an army column was destroyed by the Berbers in 1909 Spain attempted to raise an army of reservists in Catalonia to send to Morocco. The result of this idea was the infamous Tragic Week in Barcelona when a general strike was organised by the inhabitants with street barricades. Churches and convents were damaged, and their occupants treated to severe physical abuse to the point of death. Police and army took swift revenge starting by shooting 175 workers as participants in the revolt. Catalonians at first cowered under the pressure but their strong resentment was to smoulder into occasional strong outbursts over the following years.

With the outbreak of the 1st World War (1914-1918) the King kept the divided public opinion reasonably content by keeping the country in a state of neutrality. It is to be remembered that his mother was Austrian and his wife Princess Victoria Eugenia, a grandchild of Queen Victoria of England. This marriage of love had brought with it many royal relations in Europe which included his brother-in-law, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

As in many European countries the post-war period brought Spain unemployment and more civil unrest. In 1917, a previously created Union by army officers and known as the Juntas de Defensa with the aim to defend the state, decided to turn against its own ruler and talked about mounting a coup. Labour unions taking advantage of the confusion called a General Strike only to be ruthlessly crushed by the Juntas de Defensa who instead defended their original principals. An anarchist Labour Union (CNT) whose membership was 14,000 in 1914 increased its number to 700,000 by 1919. The City of Barcelona in particular became a constant hotbed of unrest with assignations and gang warfare, with an estimated some 1,000 people from different sides being killed in a five year period. In 1921 in Madrid, the then Prime Minister Eduardo Dato was gunned down in the street.

In the same year of 1921 an event in Spanish Morocco was to herald the end of King Alfonso XIII's reign. A force of about 10,000 soldiers led by General Silverstre was slaughtered in an ambush in a nondescript place named Anual by a meagre force of Berbers. After two years a report was eventually ready which placed a major part of the blame on the shoulders of the King and his interference in army matters. Anticipating the content of the report was General Primo de Rivera who led an army revolt in the favour of the King four days before its presentation. Although Rivera did not have the general support of all the army the King accepted his offer and the government resigned. The King then appointed Rivera as Prime Minister and but then refused to hold the required constitutionally election within three months. This temporary appointment lasted for a period of six years.

Primo de Rivera was from a landowning family at Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía. He had an absolute belief in his own ability as a righter of wrongs and had a passionate desire to live social life to its full in most respects. He initially won considerable public support throughout Spain by using a fatherly style in his frequent speeches on a recent popular invention named the Radio. He was to introduce under the mainly uninterested umbrella of the King a mixture of good and bad projects. In his favour was the construction of decent main roads, harbours, dams, electric power plants, improved rail system, and most importantly, he never executed one person although censorship was rigidly applied. He even had the foresight to introduce the concept of Paradors which was to prove so important later in developing tourism. On the bad side he had no idea of balancing financial accounts and the country tottered along on loans from any source of finance he could discover. His mismanagement seems to have been a copy of his own personal life where he was completely unpredictable, but beneath this surface impression there must have been a relentless strength. Like most Spanish army generals he disliked any independent political movements and singled out the Catalans. Rivera created a strong reaction by banning even the special sardana, a style of folk dance and a tradition essentially a part of any Catalan celebration. By wily politics he kept the Catalans with their ardent and many Labour Movements prevented him from taking control of the province.

In 1927 by crushing a strong Berber revolt in Morocco at a place named Alhucemas he achieved a major success for his flagging nation's pride and in particular for its army. When the rebelling Berbers first showed their intentions Rivera's decided to negotiate much to the disgust of his younger army officers. However, he soon changed his plans when he discovered a plot within his own army to revolt and instead set out to crush the Berbers. Involved in this whole event was the new Spanish Foreign Legion which also included a young ambitious officer named Francisco Franco Bahamone (1892-1975).

Primo de Rivera's final scenes of triumph were in 1929 with the two important International Exhibitions held in Seville and Barcelona. Both again were magnificent displays of grandiose and leaving in their tail another large hole in the state's finance. This coincided in the same year as the famous Wall Street Crash and a shattering devaluation of the Spanish currency. Added to this on the home front was his clash with the army Artillery Corp over new promotions. King Alfonso XIII dismissed the now old general in 1930 who then retired to live in Paris for three months, reportedly dividing his time between a local church and a local brothel before dying.

King Alfonso appointed General Berenguer to take Rivera's place but to no avail. In August of 1930, leaders of anti-Alfonso created a Pact of San Sebastian and this proved to be the beginnings of the Second Republic. An attempted coup by the army was squashed in December of the same year and in 1931 when King Alfonso mounted Municipal elections 46 out of the 50 provincial capitals voted for the Republicans. The Great Depression which was beginning to sweep Europe did little to help the grave situation and the Catalans declared itself as an new Independent Republic. Accepting the inevitable King Alfonso wisely agreed to abdicate and left for exile, first in France and later in Italy.

Curiously, during this past period as Spain declined in both international power and suffered internal political confusion there were waves created by cultural movements from which appeared many outstanding Spanish artists of all walks whom that were to have a decided and permanent international impact. In the realm of architecture Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) left his creations for prosperity. From the world of music came Joseph Anseim Clavé (1824-1874) and later names such as Enrique Granados (1867-1916), Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), and of course Pablo Casals (1867-1928), the world's greatest known cello player. In the realm of architecture Antonio Gaudi stands apart and his many creations can best be seen in Barcelona. A young artist from Málaga held his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1900 and his name was Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973). The landscape artist Joaquim Sorolla (1863-1923), the artist and co-founder of the Cubist movement Juan Gris (1883-1927), Joan Miro (1893-1983), Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012). For literature the 1904 Nobel Prize writer José Echegaray (1832-1916), the 1922 Nobel Prize writer Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954), the 1956 Nobel Prize writer Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1959). Among other writers, philosophers and poets, are Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Vicente Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928), Pio Baroj (1872-1956), Antonio Machado (1875-1939), José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) and Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936). In the cinema world the film director Luis Buñel (1900-1983).


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