Funeral. Supporters raise their fists in salute as the coffin passes by. EFE
Looking back at the life of Santiago Carrillo is like summing up 20th century Spanish history. The former Communist party leader played a vital role in the Civil War, the fight against the dictatorship and in the transition to democracy. His 97 eventful years came to a peaceful end on Tuesday while he was having his afternoon nap.
Carrillo’s health had been delicate for several months and his family reported that he had been very tired. What does seem to be clear is that it wasn’t smoking that killed him, despite being rarely ever seen without a cigarette in his hand.
Politicians of all ranks and colours reacted to the news of Carrillo’s death full of praise for the important role he played in Spain’s most important moments of the last century. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía were among the many who travelled to the family home to pay their respects to Carrillo’s widow and three children.
Santiago Carrillo was one of the four men who steered Spain safely through the transition, along with Manuel Fraga, who died in January, Felipe González and Adolfo Suárez.
The controversy surrounding Carrillo’s role in the Civil War was a burden he was to bear for the rest of his life, mainly due to accusations that he was responsible for the shooting of several thousand Francoist prisoners while he was responsible for the Republican defence of Madrid.
After the war he went into exile, and ended up settling in Paris. In the 60s he became Secretary General of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and steered his views away from the Soviet ideals to the democratic communism that was growing up in Europe. On his return to Spain in 1976 he renounced the Republican flag, accepted the Crown and played an active role in the transition against the views of many fellow party members.
The Communist Party was legalised that same year although it suffered in the following elections. In 1982 Carrillo was replaced as party leader and three years later he was expelled from the PCE. Since then however he has never been out of the public eye, through books, lectures and appearances in the media.
He ended his days considering himself a Communist and a Republican, but with special recognition for the monarchy because in Spain this “offered the same rights as a republic”.
“If I was born again I wouldn’t change a thing”, he said in one of his most recent public appearances. Cigarette in hand, peering through his thick glasses, he declared that his conscience was clear and that he was “satisfied with my life”.