Madrid.—Manuel Fraga, the last political survivor from Spain's right-wing dictatorship, was a key player in the country's transition to democracy in the 1970s and went on to help found the ruling conservative party. He died on Sunday of a heart attack after respiratory problems, state media said. He was 89. Fraga sat in the cabinet of General Francisco Franco, but went on to help draft the constitution that turned Spain into a constitutional monarchy after Franco's death in 1975. Having survived the transition to democracy, Fraga ruled his home region of Galicia in northern Spain for 16 years until the age of 82. He served as senator for six more years before retiring in September 2011. Fraga was minister for tourism and information - effectively censorship - in the 1960s under Franco, who ruled Spain for nearly 40 years. Later, as interior minister in the tense transition to democracy in the 1970s, he came down hard on street protests and proclaimed “the streets are mine”.

Found the PP Fraga helped found the Partido Popular (PP) and remained an influential figure in the conservative grouping and in the rise of Jose Maria Aznar, prime minister from 1996 to 2004. Spain's current prime minister, the PP's Mariano Rajoy, said he remembers hanging party posters late at night in 1977 for the country's first democratic elections when he met Fraga for the first time. “The truth is he made a big impression on me. The party that we have today probably would have never exisisted as it is now if it weren't for Manuel Fraga's colossal work...over many years,” Rajoy said. Older Spaniards can still picture Fraga in 1966 posing for the cameras in swimming trunks as he bathed in the sea to show that a batch of nuclear bombs dropped accidentally by a U.S. warplane, whose warheads did not detonate, posed no threat to health. Fraga liked to compare himself with other long-lived leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle and was reluctant to give up power. His tenure as president of Galicia ended after four terms in 2005 when two opposition parties joined forces to oust him - after which he was appointed to the upper house, the Senate. Despite huge ideological differences, he had close ties with long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whose parents were from Galicia, while Fraga's had lived in Cuba. Joked “I might have been Fidel Castro,” he once joked. He tried hard to woo the youth vote by promising thousands of jobs, but alienated many younger voters with his unashamed political incorrectness and conservative social views. “Marriage and the family are the basic components of society,” he told a political meeting in 2004. Everything else was “anarchy and vandalism”. “Motherhood is the glorious destiny of women,” he told another gathering. On a different occasion, seeing that his audience was bored with the subject of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he proffered: «In the end, we are all made of flesh, but some girls have it arranged in one way, and some in another.” In his later years, he was confined to a wheelchair and television news provided subtitles to allow viewers to understand his increasingly slurred speech.

In 2009 he appeared in a documentary film spanning Spain's Civil War, dictatorship and transition to democracy called Ultimos Testigos (Last Witnesses), which also featured his lifelong political foe and fellow survivor Santiago Carrillo, long-time Communist Party leader. For many Spaniards, Fraga was the archetypal Galician, as synonymous with the isolated northwest region as its rain-drenched hills and the baroque facade of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela that has drawn pilgrims for centuries. The region is also home to Spain's current prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, of the party Fraga founded, as it was to Franco. So many have fled the region's poverty over the years - including Fraga's parents - that in many parts of Latin America where they settled, the word “Galician” has become synonymous with “Spaniard”. Fraga was proud to give interviews in the Galician language during his long stint as regional leader. His presidency lasted so long it prompted jokes about Franco coming back from the dead to see that while many of his long-dead collaborators had been succeeded in power by their sons or grandsons, Fraga was still very much in place.

Many say Fraga himself invented the joke.

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