BARCELONA -- Francoist Spain's economic and political interests in Latin America and Gen. Francisco Franco's admiration for Fidel Castro are among the themes covered in a documentary to be aired by the public television channel of Spain's Catalonia region, TV3, in the coming days.
"Franco and Fidel" documents relations between communist Cuba and fascist Spain, ideologically opposed regimes that maintained close ties of friendship from Castro's rise to power in 1959 until Franco's death in 1975.
The film gathers testimony from Manuel Fraga, Franco's information and tourism minister in the 1960s, who acknowledged the general's support for the Cuban revolution. He added, however, that "Fidel took a while to become the dictator he is today."
Gen. Manuel Fernandez Monzon, member of the counterespionage department of the Francoist regime's secret services, added that "the Cuban revolutionaries were people with money, rich kids, and, between that and the uniforms, the truth is they were well liked."
Those statements explain the surprising images from January 1959, when Cuban exiles celebrated the triumph of Castro's revolution in Madrid's El Retiro Park, even though at that time any type of political demonstration typically was harshly repressed.
Also revealing are accounts by Castro revolutionaries who said that during their struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista their lives were saved thanks to the help of the Spanish Embassy, as well as images of Ernesto "Che" Guevara walking in Madrid and attending a bullfight with members of Franco's secret police.
But that surprising friendship extended beyond the early days of the Cuban Revolution, with Spain even jeopardizing its relations with the United States - its closest ally and only source of foreign aid - by maintaining good ties with Havana.
Spain refused to respect the embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States in 1962, and in response Washington threatened to withdraw the economic aid it was providing the Iberian nation in exchange for access to Spanish military bases.
During that era, Spanish ships were attacked by anti-Castro groups funded by the CIA for daring to defy the embargo and three Spanish sailors were killed.
Santiago Torres, co-creator of the film along with Ramon Valles, said the idea came to him while he was making a documentary about relations between Spain and the United States.
"It really got my attention that the United States, the main ally of Francoist Spain, didn't lift a finger to try to democratize Franco's regime, and the only thing that annoyed them was Spain's relations with Cuba."