Manuel Fraga can legitimately be described as the old man of Spanish politics, his career spanning the last two decades of Franco’s dictatorship, the transition and the modern political scene until he retired in 2011, just four months before his death at the age of 89.
After working in various ministries during the fifties, Fraga became Minister of Information and Tourism in 1962. This was the period when Spain started to open up timidly to the outside world In Fraga was largely responsible for marketing Spain as a country attractive to foreign tourists. He invented the slogan “Spain is Different” which showcased the country as the land of flamenco dancers and bull-fighters, a stereotype that remains to this day.
He belonged to the group of ministers referred to as “aperturistas” who believed that the regime should adapt to the modern world if it was going to survive. The income received from tourism and from the emigration of workers to other European countries provided a substantial improvement in the economy of the country and in the life of ordinary Spaniards. However, this policy of openness also weakened the control of the regime over society.
Fraga was also directly implicated in the execution of political prisoners in the early sixties. The most notorious case was of the communist leader Julián Grimau in 1963. In the face of international outcry, Fraga headed a media campaign to portray Grimau as a dangerous criminal. Grimau was shot by a firing squad in April 1963, and despite subsequent investigations into the legitimacy of the sentence, Fraga never publicly apologized. In 1966 he introduced the “Fraga Law” which lifted external censorship of the media but led to a form of “self-censorship” which was even more restrictive in its effect.
At the death of Franco, Fraga became a leading figure in the transition to democracy and was one of the seven “fathers of the constitution” in 1978. In 1976 he founded the right-wing “Alianza Popular” party which was later renamed as the present day “Partido Popular”. In 1987 he became a European deputy and finally became president of Galicia from 1990 to 2005. A controversial figure to the last he was both revered and hated in probably equal measure until his passing in 2012.