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Spain and Latin America: Telecommunications



     John Wonder has kindly sent me a clipping entitled "Spain spawns a global telecommunications giant" (Miami Herald 4/3/00). It throws a new light on relations between Spain and "IberoAmerica", relations which Spain is eager to develop in order to create an Iberian commonwealth. Spain's Telefónica occupies an impressive building on Madrid's Gran Via. When I was in Madrid in the 30s, it had just been built by American interests. Telephone service in Spain was still primitive, as it was in Latin America when I first went there in the 40s.
     My last memory of the Telefónica building was just as the Civil War was breaking out in 1936. From an office building opposite I stared down at trucks distributing rifles to workers, who then used them to terrorize people, including shooting some friends of mine. I was stopped on the main avenue, the Castellana, by a taxi full of these workers. They pointed their rifles at me as I was going for my daily stroll in the otherwise empty avenue. Wiser people were staying indoors. I had on my sleeve an armband identifying me as a British subject, which they regarded as irrelevant. They searched me, and finding no weapons, sped off, looking for someone they could shoot.
     Railways have played an important part in revolutions such as the Russian one. Has anyone written a history of railways in the Spanish Civil War? Revolutionaries have long given prime attention to seizing radio stations; I suppose it would now be TV stations. What about telecommunications, which would be invaluable? Has anyone written about the role of telephones in the Civil War?
     Now the IberoAmerican network is largely controlled by Spanish Telefónica, a corporation marked by the usual executive greed. Its chairman Juan Villalonga sweeps aside criticism of his big stock options. He is the symbol of the era of globalization. He would like to move its headquarters to Miami to be closer to the Latin American market. He has a home in Miami and a girlfriend, Adriana Abascal, a former Miss Mexico who was the companion of Mexican TV big shot Emilio Azcárraga until his death from cancer in 1997 in his yacht anchored off Miami. Telefónica has major holdings in the telephone systems of Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
     While all this fits in with Prime Minister José María Aznar to tie IberoAmerica closer to Spain, he opposes any idea of moving the headquarters to Miami, where it would become essentially an American corporation worth come $100 billion. Is anyone writing a history of telecommunicatons in the Iberian world?

Ronald Hilton - 4/12/00


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