Primo de Rivera


Primo de Rivera was a Spanish general and dictator.


De Rivera was born in 1870 at Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz. His father was a Governor-General of the Philippines – a Spanish possession at the time. Primo de Rivera graduated from Toledo General Military Academy and saw service in the Spanish army and fought in  Morocco, Cuba and the Philippines and by 1910 had achieved the rank of major-general. During years in the army, de Rivera witnessed the loss of the Philippines to the United States in 1898, which effectively spelt the end of the Spanish Empire. The loss of this part of the once large Spanish Empire was not well received in Spain as many linked an empire to glory and the loss of the empire was linked to weakness. Spain experienced what became known as ‘Tragic Week’ in 1909 when social unrest broke out in Barcelona. A call-up for the army to fight in Morocco was greeted with a general strike in the city. Workers angered by conscription were supported by those with a political agenda. The violence that occurred within the city led to the government responding with the introduction of martial law.


De Rivera witnessed a Spain that seemed to him to be in decline. In 1921, this seemingly reached a peak when the Spanish Army suffered a major defeat in Morocco at the Battle of Annual. Blame was apportioned to many groups but the king received a great deal of criticism for his poor leadership. The Cortes announced that the army would be investigated for corruption. Senior army leaders were appalled that politicians believed that they were at fault and on September 13th 1923, the army, led by de Prima took over. Alfonso XIII sided with the army and gave the coup credibility by naming de Rivera Prime Minister.


De Rivera dissolved the Spanish Parliament – the Cortes – and he placed the country under martial law. Newspapers were strictly censored and those that were allowed to print asked for the country to rally around de Rivera with the call for “Country, Religion, Monarchy”. De Rivera played the patriot card with some success portraying politicians as weak and unpatriotic while the army represented all that Spainshould have been proud of. He created a Directory that consisted of eight senior military commanders with himself as President.


However, de Rivera was far from being the classic dictator. He combined some classic traits of a dictator such as censorship with policies designed to help the poor – and his concern to advance the lifestyles of the poorest in society does seem to have been genuine. De Rivera did try to reduce unemployment by introducing public works schemes funded by increasing the tax paid by the rich. When this policy failed, de Rivera tried to raise the necessary money by public loans. Ironically, his policy of trying to modernise caused inflation that most hit the poor as the rich were better placed to cope with it. De Rivera tried to balance support from both sides of society but he lost out with both, despite what may been seen as his best intentions. Imprisonment of critics, censorship of the press, the banning of the Catalan language etc existed at the same time as major public works schemes that were designed to bring Spain fully into the C20th.  


By the end of 1925, the stifling aspects of Rivera’s dictatorial government combined with increased inflation led to student and workers demonstrations. De Rivera was not in a position where by he could confront these demonstrators with force and in December 1925 he agreed to relax the more draconian aspects of his rule when he got rid of the Directory and replaced the military commanders in it with civilians. This developed into the National Assembly and de Rivera remained as Prime Minister.


However, as the economy of Spain went from one crisis to another, de Rivera lost whatever support he had. Alfonso XIII, who once effectively owed his position to de Rivera after the coup, withdrew his support. The army, alarmed by Spain’s worsening economic position and the fear of increased social unrest that would almost certainly be a result of this, also no longer supported de Rivera. On January 26th 1930, de Rivera asked the country’s senior military leaders if they still supported him. When they made it clear that they did not, de Rivera decided to resign, which he did on January 28th


De Rivera went to live in Paris and died just six weeks after resigning on March 26th 1930.


His son, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founded the Falange movement and developed his father’s ideas of a paternalistic and Catholic fascist dictatorship.

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