Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a politician who founded Spain’s ruling conservative party and ignited divisive reactions as the last surviving minister from Francisco Franco’s right-wing regime, died Jan. 15 at his home in Madrid. He was 89 and had a heart ailment.
The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported his death, citing a family member.
In a career spanning 60 years, Mr. Fraga served as Franco’s information and tourism minister and as Spain’s interior minister after Franco died in 1975. The job he coveted most — prime minister of Spain— eluded him. But his influence on the country remained lasting.
Most Franco ministers quickly faded into obscurity after democracy was restored in 1978, but Mr. Fraga soldiered on. He helped write the country’s post-Franco, democratic constitution that was passed in 1978.
Although he repeatedly failed to be elected prime minister, he nudged Franco loyalists toward the political center, founded what is now the Popular Party and groomed Jose Maria Aznar to replace him as leader of the Spanish right in 1989.
In the post-Franco years, he ran his native Galicia region for 15 years and then settled into a seat in the Spanish senate.
To the Spanish left, Mr. Fraga was a reviled reminder of a right-wing regime that kept Spain isolated from Europe and the rest of the world for decades. In Galicia, critics say, he ruled despotically, manipulating a conservative political culture based on patronage to stay in power.
Defenders, however, say that Mr. Fraga promulgated a Franco-era law that did away with media censorship, which was seen as a hint of change in the hard-line regime. As tourism minister, Mr. Fraga worked to open up Spain to the outside world. A famous tourism slogan — “Spain is different” — was coined on Mr. Fraga’s watch.
He is also credited with transforming northwestern Galicia — traditionally one of Spain’s poorest regions — by building modern roads, bridges and other infrastructure, much of it paid for with European Union funds. He boosted tourism and promoted Galicia’s language and culture during his presidency there from 1990 to 2005.
In a 2001 press luncheon, Mr. Fraga offered no apologies for his part in Spain’s four decades of dictatorship.
“One cannot choose the period of history in which one lives,” Mr. Fraga said.
Mr. Fraga was born Nov. 23, 1922, in the northwestern town of Villalba. He married Carmen Estevez in 1948, and they had five children. She died in 1996.
After earning a law degree, Mr. Fraga held several mid-level positions in the Franco regime before being promoted to minister of information and tourism in 1962.
In September 2011, Mr. Fraga announced his retirement from politics, saying he would not seek another term in the senate.
In 1966, Mr. Fraga engaged in a much-publicized effort at damage control when four American hydrogen bombs fell on the southern Spanish village of Palomares after a mid-air collision between a B-52 bomber and a refueling plane.
None of them exploded, but radiation was strewn when the plutonium-containing detonators on two of the bombs exploded. Those two and a third bomb that had also hit the ground were found within a day.
The fourth bomb had fallen into the sea and eluded recovery for 75 days.
While crews were frantically searching for it, Mr. Fraga — a portly man in baggy swim trunks — joined U.S. Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke in taking a swim off Palomares’s beach to show it was safe to go into the water.
— Associated Press
Harold Heckle contributed to this report.