Spanish novelist spied for Franco's regime

Nobel laureate volunteered information on dissidents.

One of Spain's greatest modern novelists was an informer for Franco's fascist regime and betrayed fellow intellectuals during the 1960s, according to recently discovered official records.

Camilo José Cela, the last Spaniard to win the Nobel prize for literature, continued to inform against other authors and academics even when they thought he had joined an emerging front of dissident writers.

The revelations have come from the well-known historian Pere Ysàs, who found papers showing that Cela, who died two years ago, had volunteered advice to Franco's information ministry and suggested some dissident writers could be bribed, tamed and "reconverted" by the generalísimo's regime.

The claims will add to the legend of the controversial and flamboyant Cela, who was accused of stealing ideas, plagiarism and using ghost-writers during his career.

He denied all the allegations, but had a seemingly infinite capacity for provoking controversy and creating enemies.

Mr Ysàs's discovery comes at an uncomfortable time for Spain as it considers how to deal with the legacy of the Franco period. It also raises the question of which other intellectuals were informers - or informed upon.

The historian said he found an internal report to Spain's then information minister, Manuel Fraga, who ran the censor's office, based on ideas volunteered to ministry officials by Cela after a Spanish writers' conference in 1963.

Among other things Cela told the officials that 42 of the 102 signatories of a letter denouncing police violence against striking miners in the northern region of Asturias were members of the Spanish Communist party.

Cela had signed the letter himself. The writer also claimed that most of his fellow signatories were "totally recoverable [for the regime], either through the stimulus of publishing their work or through bribes," according to the report made to Fraga.

Cela suggested that the regime should target Pedro Laín Entralgo, a leading intellectual, on the basis that he was a weaker character than other anti-Francoists in the group.

The report suggested following Cela's advice and proposed setting aside a budget of 20m pesetas, worth around £120,000 at the time.

There is no evidence, however, that the money was approved or that the plan was put into action.

The revelations about Cela, a maverick whose works were censored by Franco's regime and who edited a literary magazine considered to be anti-Francoist, add mystery to an already controversial biography.

"Cela is a complex character," said Mr Ysàs, a historian at Barcelona's Autonomous University.

"At some stages of his life, it seems he played with all the cards in the pack."

The evidence suggests that Cela, rather than being coerced into becoming an informer, approached the information ministry himself to offer his help.

"There is nothing that indicates any previous action calling for his help," said Mr Ysàs. "It seems this was something freely done by him."

Mr Ysàs, who has published his findings in a book, Dissidence and Subversion, said Cela may have simply been trying to curry favour with the regime.

Fraga has said that, around that time, the writer had been trying to win some form of public distinction or medal in recognition of his status as one of the country's leading authors.

The revelations come as Spain debates whether it should be doing more to heal the wounds still remaining from Franco's 36-year rule.

The new socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has recently established a committee of ministers to consider the demands of those who believe that the suffering of Franco's victims has been largely forgotten.

The democratic transition that followed Franco's death in 1975 included an amnesty for all his officials.

Spain did not go through a "truth and reconciliation" process similar to the one in post-apartheid South Africa, nor has there ever been a public "naming and shaming" of Franco agents and collaborators as there was, for example, in some of the eastern bloc countries.

Among the petitions being considered by Mr Zapatero's government are calls to locate and dig up what are believed to be hundreds of mass graves of those killed by Franco's death squads in the 1930s.

Other demands include the creation of a truth commission of historians; changes to the way the civil war is taught in schools; the removal of Francoist monuments and street names; and a permanent exhibition in the huge underground basilica at the Valley of the Fallen outside Madrid - where Franco is buried - explaining that it was built with the labour of republican prisoners.

There have also been demands for a formal overturning of political sentences, including up to 50,000 death sentences, handed down by his courts.

Prolific and popular writer.

Born in 1915, Camilo José Cela, above, came from Spain's misty north-western corner of Galicia. He was the eldest of nine children. His father was an upper middle class Spaniard, his mother was British.

He established his reputation in 1942, aged 26, with The Family of Pascual Duarte, a tale of a peasant who commits brutal murder. It shook Spain's literary world with its directness and violence.

The Hive, a 1951 work describing the gloominess of life after the civil war, was the other great success of a career which saw him publish some 70 books, including 12 novels.

The Nobel jury described The Family of Pascual Duarte as the most popular work of Spanish fiction since Miguel Cervantes' 400-year-old Don Quixote.

Cela greeted the honour with aplomb. 'Life is like a game of tennis, and this time I have won,' he said.

His first marriage broke up and Cela eventually argued badly with his only son. A late second marriage to a much younger woman shocked Spain again. He died aged 85.

The writer once said he wanted his epitaph to be: "Here lies someone who tried to screw his fellow man as little as possible." The latest revelations suggest that might have been wide of the mark.

[Source: Giles Tremlett in Madrid, The Guardian, London, UK, 25sep04]

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