Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Eduardo Barreiros and the Recovery of Spain

Eduardo Barreiros and the Recovery of Spain

Hugh Thomas
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 416
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eduardo Barreiros and the Recovery of Spain
    Book Description:

    A dramatic biography of the extraordinary Spanish industrialist and entrepreneur Eduardo Barreiros

    Born in an impoverished region of Galicia, possessed of little education and less money, Eduardo Barreiros (1919-1992) rose to become an immensely successful entrepreneur and one of Spain's most prominent industrialists. In this engaging biography, the first on a Spanish entrepreneur in English, Hugh Thomas recounts Barreiros's origins as an auto mechanic, his success in the motor industry, his tragic alliance with the Chrysler Corporation, and his little-known role as a motor industry founder in 1980s Cuba. Drawing on an unrivaled knowledge of Spanish history, Lord Thomas also brings to light Barreiros's critical role in the modernization of the Spanish economy in the post-Civil War years.

    The book offers a detailed portrait of Don Eduardo's personality, character, and numerous entrepreneurial endeavors, as well as a full account of the difficulties the Franco-era government threw in the path of his capitalist activities. The relationship between Barreiros and the Chrysler Corporation is also described, along with the failed Dodge Dart project that ultimately cost Barreiros his business. Finally, the book recounts Don Eduardo's late-in-life efforts to help establish a motor industry in Castro's Cuba-a paradoxical conclusion for a great capitalist.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14246-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    Eduardo Barreiros was a conquistador. He conquered markets, not peoples. These conquests began in his own country, Spain, not in Mexico or in Peru, where men such as Cortés and Pizarro made their names. But Barreiros’s triumphs included exports in countries as far removed and as far apart as Egypt and Venezuela, Portugal and Germany.

    Barreiros came to maturity in the 1950s when the regime in Franco’s Spain was almost as hostile to private enterprise as Communist ministers would have been. Successive Spanish ministers of industry—Suanzes in particular but also Sirvent and the alleged “moderniser” López Bravo—spurned independent...

  4. Maps
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  5. Book I Old Galicia

    • 1 The Peasants Do The Real Work
      (pp. 3-7)

      Eduardo Barreiros, prince of industrial innovation in Spain in the 1950s and 1960s, imaginative entrepreneur in Cuba in the 1980s, was born on October 24, 1919, in Gundiás, a hamlet in Galicia.¹ With about ten houses, it was so small a place that it could be found only on large-scale maps.

      Gundiás, a word whose origin is difficult to determine, is less than ten miles from the provincial capital of Orense. It lies in beautiful hills to the northeast of that city, and from the ruins of a mediaeval castle known as “La Torre,” a hundred yards west of the...

    • 2 The Rodríguezes of Gundiás
      (pp. 8-10)

      Eduardo Barreiros was born in the autumn of 1919 in the house of his maternal grandfather, Francisco Rodríguez, “el abueloFrancisco.” Eduardo’s mother,el abuelo’s daughter, was then living with her father since her husband, young Eduardo Barreiros Nespereira, had gone some months before to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to seek new opportunities. If his work went well, he would take his wife and new baby there too.

      El abueloFrancisco’s dwelling is still standing, though it has been modernised; and for reasons other than architectural, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like in...

    • 3 The Barreiroses of Sabadelle
      (pp. 11-14)

      Luzdivina met her husband, Eduardo Barreiros Nespereira, at a fair, probably sometime in 1918. Perhaps it was the fair of Magostos, celebrated on November 11, the day of Saint Martin, a rural fiesta celebrated in the hills near Orense at which boys would roast the chestnuts that they would eat accompanied by wine brought by girls. (Magostarin the Orensano version of Gallego means to roast chestnuts.) Perhaps there wasresolio,a sweet-tastingaguardienteliqueur to whichanísand sugar are added. Perhaps, too, there were the blind men with violins who were so frequent at these fiestas, gypsies predicting...

    • 4 “¡Guagua, Guagua!”
      (pp. 15-17)

      The beautiful archipelago of the Canary Isles needs little introduction. Even in the United States, everyone knows that to go to the Canaries means to enter the world of the elegant date palm, the coffee plant, and the banana, which was for so long the islands’ first export.¹ The average temperature is just over seventy degrees Fahrenheit and scarcely varies throughout the year from day to night. The splendid sixteenth-century architecture, especially the magnificently subtropical cathedral in Las Palmas, gives the islands a heart. The population of the archipelago was 360,000 in 1910, of whom 80 percent were probably illiterate....

    • 5 Give to Him Who Asks
      (pp. 18-24)

      The Barreiros family returned to Galicia much as they had left it two years before: in a third-class cabin in a lower part of the boat, with a stop at Lisbon and then on to Vigo, where they caught the slow train to take them the hundred miles to Orense.

      Orense! The Barreiroses had on their way home a quick vision of urban life, though one with a different pace from that of Las Palmas. Eduardopadrehired a horse and cart to carry his family home to Gundiás. They had not only their luggage but a large bunch of...

    • 6 A Clear, Bright Town
      (pp. 25-30)

      After 1929 the Barreiros family always lived in cities. The rural bus service, however, continued for many more years to be the family’s main source of income. Thus Eduardo remained daily in touch with the countryside that had created him.

      The city of Orense in 1930 had a little more than 10,000 inhabitants (in 2008 it would have well over ten times that). It had seemed earlier in the century a “clear, bright little town, with more movement in its streets than was usual in most Gallegan cities.”¹

      Orense in the early twentieth century was remarkable for its granite streets...

  6. Book II The Spanish Catastrophe

    • 7 People Lived for Politics
      (pp. 33-44)

      The serene impression of life in Orense in the “happy years” of the 1920s and early 1930s given in the previous chapter omits one element, alas, necessary to consider—namely, politics. The Barreiroses were the reverse of political. Probably they would have agreed with Jane Austen, who inNorthanger Abbeycomments, “from politics it was an easy step to silence.” They were strong Catholics, it is true, but Catholics who loved their families (and their buses!). They were rural people, if rural people with a vision.

      All the same, after arriving in Orense, they could not insulate themselves from the...

    • 8 There Came Forth from The Soil Armed Men
      (pp. 45-51)

      The brilliant, eloquent, and imaginative leader of the monarchist opposition, José Calvo Sotelo, deputy for Orense, in June 1936 in the Cortes taunted his fellow Gallego, the prime minister Santiago Casares Quiroga, deputy for Corunna, for his weakness in the face of Communist threats.

      Three weeks later, early in the morning of July 13, Calvo Sotelo was seized in his flat in the Calle Velázquez in Madrid by a captain of the civil guard, Fernando Condés, who came from Pontevedra. The statesman was put a prisoner into a police car and driven towards the Retiro park. Just as the car...

    • 9 Red Beret
      (pp. 52-60)

      Among those who left on one of those early expeditions of requetés (Carlist volunteers) from Orense was the young Eduardo Barreiros. He was a volunteer aged nearly seventeen (he reached that age only in October 1936). He thought the war would be over in a month.¹ As a volunteer, he was paid three pesetas a day as opposed to the mere twenty-five céntimos paid to ordinary soldiers. He sent this sum to his parents. Before he set out, he had persuaded his father to apply for an extension of another eight miles to their licence, giving them control of a...

    • 10 This Cruel Struggle
      (pp. 61-66)

      After a week or two in Orense, Eduardo embarked on the second stage of his service in the civil war, which implied drives from Corunna to Oviedo. He was the youngest chauffeur in a group of convoys of a hundred buses—being only eighteen in October 1937—but he was, in his own opinion at least, “the best driver and the best mechanic.” His challenge was to drive from Corunna along the coast to Ribadeo, to continue by the sea in Asturias as far as Luarca, and then to turn south and inland to approach Oviedo from the west, through...

  7. Book III Peace

    • 11 Establishing a National Syndicalist System
      (pp. 69-77)

      On his return in the early summer of 1939 from the civil war, with its terrors and exaltations, Eduardo immediately set about the founding of his long-desired workshop whose purpose would be to mend and assemble motors. He had reflected on this in the heat of summer nights in Extremadura as during the cold winters of the Guadarrama. He soon established this new undertaking in no. 56 Avenida de Buenos Aires, a broad street to the east of Orense, not far from that house “behind the hospital” where the Barreiroses had lived when they first came to the city in...

    • 12 The Rich Girl of the Village
      (pp. 78-84)

      On his journeys to and from Montforte and Parada del Sil, Eduardo made an important social observation: that the rich of Galicia were mostly road contractors. A few years before he might perhaps have thought that the chocolate factories were more promising, or the pharmaceutical laboratories. As a result of his observation, Eduardo decided to engage in building and formed a company of his own: BECOSA (Barreiros Empresa Constructora, Sociedad Anónima).

      So began a new stage in his life. He found work to do and he gained quickly a good reputation. He soon began to develop his own quarry to...

    • 13 Marching Alone
      (pp. 85-90)

      Corunna, where Eduardo Barreiros spent his honeymoon, was in 1946 still a delightful, old-fashioned port, with few examples of twentieth-century architecture. The population was then about 100,000, having increased during the civil war. It was characterised by its glass-windowed balconies against the wind (miradores acristalados), by its battered old stone buildings smelling of the sea, by its noble monuments (including a little park dedicated to the memory of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish general Sir John Moore), and by its expansion to the south, to the new town or “La Pescadería.”

      Corunna was also the city of Eduardo’s cousin Celso Barreiros, the...

    • 14 Transform Your Car to Diesel
      (pp. 91-97)

      Eduardo soon embarked on a new adventure. First, he had begun to find the demanding work on the roads of Orense too small a scale for his talents. So, in January 1947, he began to interest himself in a plan to expand the port of the fishing village of Garucha, between Cartagena and Almería, but this idea came to nothing since a million pesetas were needed to carry out the project, and despite the continued backing of Celso, the jeweller of Corunna, and of his uncle Manolo, to mention only two of his relations with money, Eduardo could not come...

    • 15 Good-Bye Rivers, Good-Bye Fountains, Good-Bye Little Streams
      (pp. 98-103)

      In the autumn of 1952, Eduardo Barreiros, still only in his early thirties, made the most important decision of his life: to move to Madrid. He did this when at last the overall standard of living in Spain had come to compare favourably with that obtained in 1930. Spain’s exports were on the level of that year, though its imports were not. Industrial production was recovering. General Franco’s regime was also beginning to emerge from the ostracism that had weakened it after 1945. The Spanish opposition had come to admit in early 1952 that their armed struggle “was now a...

    • 16 A Good Source of Income
      (pp. 104-110)

      Eduardo spent the last months before he moved to Madrid in Castellón with his own converted diesel lorries, five being originally Russian 3HCs and one a Krupp. He was beginning work on the sea wall and he had come to realise that he had to be there himself in order for matters to be managed effectively. In these months he left Valeriano in charge of the Barreiros activities in Galicia (road building, transformation of engines, building). Eduardo would often write to his brother about events in Castellón. Valeriano’s letters were like his personality: cautious, careful, and thoughtful. For example, on...

  8. Book IV Madrid

    • 17 “Madrid! Madrid!”
      (pp. 113-125)

      The Barreiros family were not alone in Spain in travelling to Madrid in 1952. The most characteristic sight in the country during the late 1940s and early 1950s, indeed, was that of large provincial families with many suitcases on station platforms waiting patiently, under an elegant French clock put up two generations before, for the train to Madrid, to Barcelona, or to Bilbao.

      There might be no water and no electric light at their destinations and, of course, no schools. Telephones were difficult to find, and even if one were available, a long-distance call often meant hours of waiting. There...

    • 18 The Vehicle of Progress
      (pp. 126-135)

      Consider the position of Eduardo when he reached the age of thirty-five in October of 1954. He and his family, including his parents, had made, as so many Gallegos before them had done, a happy adjustment to living in Madrid. The Barreiroses made of the Calle Ferraz one more colony of Orense near the centre of Madrid. The always-growing fábrica on the road to Andalusia at Villaverde was for Eduardo a home away from home though Valeriano, his essential administrative adviser, usually still worked from a room in the flat in the Calle Ferraz.

      In the mid-1950s, as we have...

    • 19 Onward, Barreiros!
      (pp. 136-140)

      Genius is not only a matter of an infinite capacity for taking pains. It is also one of being able to seize an opportunity when it presents itself. In 1957 there came just such a chance for Eduardo, who learned, probably through Ricardo Martín Esperanza of the Caja de Ahorros of Orense (and he through Javier Quiroga, of Empresas Reunidas of Puente Canedo just outside the capital to the west), that the Portuguese Ministry of Defence needed three hundred new trucks to serve their armies in Mozambique and Angola. A competition was arranged. As we have seen, Eduardo at that...

    • 20 My Boyfriend Works in Barreiros
      (pp. 141-146)

      In the course of 1957 and 1958, Eduardo’s new empire at Villaverde was still expanding. The covered area would soon be about 10,000 square yards. By 1960, the fábrica covered 80,000 square yards.¹ The buildings were still primitive, being little more than a collection of twenty sheds established on prefabricated cement blocks. There were, though, several dining rooms, for both workers and executives, the latter’s refectory being open from ten in the morning, ready to serve excellent breakfasts. As well as the sheds where the serious industrial work was carried on, there were others for the administration and the sales...

    • 21 The Factory of Happiness
      (pp. 147-158)

      In these years of the late 1950s, the life in Eduardo’s fábrica on the Andalusia road was enhanced by the arrival of many outstanding young men as senior professionals, who often became quickly heads of the departments whose roles Eduardo with Valeriano had carefully worked out. The presence of these men transformed Barreiros Diesel since they were, by most judgements, men who would have succeeded in any large undertaking at that time (and often did so later on, in other enterprises). They were mostly provincial in origin but, after studying at the University of Madrid or in Bilbao, they all...

    • 22 We Worked with Optimism
      (pp. 159-164)

      In February 1961 the ever meticulous, always cautious, but essential and hardworking Valeriano Barrieros sent a summary of the history of Barreiros Diesel to a senior official of Ignacio Villalonga’s Banco Central in the hope of receiving a further loan. He explained how in 1954, Barreiros Diesel had had a capital of a mere ten million pesetas, and how in five years that had turned into 300 million pesetas. He explained that the firm had produced well over 11,000 motors of different types, as well as over 600 lorries.¹ Some of the exports that they sent to Poland were already...

    • 23 Your Call Persuaded Me
      (pp. 165-171)

      Despite these international endeavours, Eduardo Barreiros in these years did not forget his first company, BECOSA. It remained active, now primarily so in Cartagena. Eduardo told shareholders of the desirability of increasing the capital of the company by fourteen million pesetas. The turnover in 1957 had been 3,530,467 pesetas. At a meeting of the board of this company on April 10, 1959, in Alcalá 32, Eduardo read a memorandum that stated: “In order to prolong the Dique-Muelle Bastarreche on the basin of Escombreras in the port of Cartagena, new investment was necessary. Machinery and equipment needed were likely to cost...

    • 24 We Beseech You to Refuse a Licence
      (pp. 172-180)

      Eduardo’s irritation at being unable to find a partner with whom to undertake the creation of saloon cars (turismos) even in England was unbounded. Yet he was obviously one of the most successful entrepreneurs of Spain. He had recently moved from the agreeable Calle Ferraz to a large flat a few hundred yards away in the elegant, tree-dominated, and charming Paseo de Moret facing the Parque del Oeste. His parents, brothers, and sisters, as well as his children, had changed with him. Eduardo had ceased to summer in El Escorial in the hotel Felipe II and was now to be...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  9. Book V Chrysler

    • 25 Boys Always Run After Motor Cars
      (pp. 183-192)

      George Love, chairman of the Chrysler corporation in 1963, was an improbable person to be the captain general of a great company making cars, for he had spent most of his life as a coal merchant, latterly as chairman of the Consolidated Coal Company of Pittsburgh. He had been brought in to direct Chrysler after several setbacks affecting his predecessor, William Newberg, who had had to resign hastily. Love had the grace to admit: “I don’t know what a carburettor is and I’m too old to learn.” Tall, jovial, and seemingly easygoing, he was thought to be a man who...

    • 26 A University of Work
      (pp. 193-201)

      For the next five and a half years, October 1963 to May 1969, the life of Barreiros Diesel and its remarkable factory at Villaverde was increasingly marked by akulturkampf,a struggle of cultures, the Spanish and the North American. The ways of Barreiros Diesel and Chrysler were opposed. Neither was able to adapt to the other. It was no one’s fault. But the chasm was profound. The list of ways in which Barreiros was supposed to adapt in respect of accounting in the contract of October 1963 was only a beginning.

      To begin with, these comments would have seemed...

    • 27 The New Gods from the West
      (pp. 202-212)

      In ancient Mexico there was a legend that one day the lost white god Quetzalcoatl would return from the East. He would revive forgotten practices, and carry out a much needed reform of society. Perhaps he would bring justice and wisdom. Some Mexicans believed that Cortés might be the lost deity. In the 1960s, Europeans looked on Americans from the United States in much the same kind of expectant light—though the new gods would come from the West. They brought many things but not always wisdom.

      Thus it was that at the end of 1963, less than three months...

    • 28 Disagreement with the Americans
      (pp. 213-223)

      The visit of General Franco to Villaverde set the seal on an epoch in Eduardo’s life. He seemed to have reached the summit of a mountain from which he could see several continents: the past of autarchy, the brilliant present of free enterprise, and a glittering future of international exports. Eduardo seemed confirmed as the favourite industrialist of the government, a man at ease with the ministers and generals who surrounded the head of state and a close friend of the head of state’s daughter and son-in-law, Carmen and Cristóbal, Marqués de Villaverde. Several courtiers of General Franco—Pacón (General...

    • 29 Very Sad for Us
      (pp. 224-235)

      In the summer of 1966 Eduardo and Carranza went to London in order to call on the famous and powerful investment bankers S. G. Warburg. Sir Siegmund Warburg (recently knighted) was still in command, but the agent with whom Eduardo and Carranza talked was Spencer Seligman (Seligman’s bank had recently merged with Warburg’s to their mutual benefit). He travelled later to Madrid to discuss the matter with Eduardo.

      Some months later, on November 4, 1966, Eduardo borrowed $10 million from Warburg to cover his short-term liabilities, undertaking to pay back $5 million in August 1967 and the other $5 million...

    • 30 A Combination of Adversities
      (pp. 236-243)

      Barreiros Diesel at the moment of Chrysler’s capture of power in the company at the end of 1967 was worth a little more than $36 million. That included 850 million pesetas for the land on which the fábrica had been built (the property totalled 1,306,000 square metres), and over 140 million in buildings (no less than 300,000 square metres of industrial buildings).¹ Most of the old products of the company were still a success: Eduardo, through the gifted Julio Vidal, the ablecoruñéswho served the firm in Egypt, had most advantageously just sold two hundred military lorries (the Panter...

    • 31 We Never Thought That We Would Reach This Moment
      (pp. 244-254)

      A proposal soon came from Chrysler that led directly to the conclusion of the struggle between the famous company of Detroit and Eduardo Barreiros. In February 1969, Eduardo recalled later, “we were called together by Chrysler’s representatives to discuss a new capital increase. A number of arguments were used against such an increase [by ourselves] without our being able to change the opinion of the majority.” This was not a meeting of the board but an informal gathering of Eduardo and Valeriano, Cavero, Charipar, Eduardo’s friend Francisco Chaves, Torres, Habib, Estanislao Chaves Viciana, and a new Chrysler executive, J. M....

  10. Book VI Aftermath

    • 32 A Place in La Mancha
      (pp. 257-265)

      The chief concession that Eduardo gave to Chrysler in the summer of 1969 was one that declared that after he left Barreiros Diesel, he would not work in the world of motors for five years. That did not disturb him as much as might have seemed likely, for the struggle with Chrysler had worn his patience thin. He had also, as we have seen, interested himself in several projects in Galicia: gold mining, for example. He had been interested too, as we have seen, in the possibilities of oil in the Spanish African colony of Fernando Poo—Equatorial Africa. That...

    • 33 Life Has Dealt Me A Bad Hand
      (pp. 266-276)

      Apart from his agricultural property, Eduardo became interested in many undertakings after leaving Villaverde: too many, perhaps, for his own good. First, there was an undertaking directly connected with Puerto Vallehermoso: a bodega in Valdepeñas. In 1973, he bought a majority holding in Luis Megía, a fine bodega of that city responsible for a beautiful wine. Eduardo determined to improve it. He arranged to hold his wine in oak barrels. He contracted a wine specialist from Chile, established a laboratory, and in a year or two, began to produce a wine with more body, more bouquet, and more colour than...

  11. Book VII Cuba

    • 34 Don Eduardo in the Land of Comrades
      (pp. 279-288)

      Eduardo’s “suspension of payments” in 1980 was his second serious defeat—the first being the conclusion of his bruising battle with Chrysler in 1969. He began for the first time in his life to consider leaving Spain. When asked later by a journalist whether his financial problems had played any part in his decision to contemplate such a change, he avoided the question. In that avoidance, he must have been suggesting that his desire for a new zone of activity was indeed influenced by the setback. Yet three years before that, in 1977, Eduardo had already offered his services to...

    • 35 Villaverde Revisited
      (pp. 289-300)

      Eduardo went to live in Havana in 1982, at first in one of the agreeable government guest houses (a casa de protocolo) that he had come to know; later, in a suite on the tenth floor of the Hotel Habana Libre, once, briefly, when it was opened in 1958, the “Havana Hilton,” in the centre of the splendid quarter of El Vedado. Dorinda went with him to begin with, and Mariluz too sometimes on holiday, with her two small children. Eduardo in Madrid retained his flat in María de Molina, on the four floors of which he had his family,¹...

    • 36 I Am a Barreiros Product
      (pp. 301-310)

      In 1984, Eduardo, on one of his return visits to Spain, went with his Cuban assistant, Estela Domínguez (she had been appointed by Marcos Lage of SIME, whom she would much later succeed as a vice minister) to Villaverde. He asked her to drive: in an open black Mercedes. When they arrived at the fábrica, a substantial number from the work force were waiting outside. People wept to see him again. He was “plethoric,” Estela recalled.¹

      Estela Rodríguez was tall, good-looking, elegant in dress, efficient but relaxed. One of her grandfathers came from Galicia but that was not the obvious...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 311-320)

    Mariluz Barreiros came immediately with her husband-to-be, Jesús de Polanco, to take home her father’s body to Madrid in an aeroplane that the latter hired from the banker Emilio Botín. The Cuban government showed every attention to the memory of one who had served their country well, and the example of whose work and generosity would remain among his collaborators and friends. Castro sent a wreath. The Barreiros family in Madrid received hundreds of communications of condolence—letters, telegrams, cards—including a telegram from the king and queen, and others from an innumerable number of those who had worked, or...

  13. Appendix: Letter from Eduardo Barreiros to Fidel Castro
    (pp. 321-323)
    E. Barreiros
    (pp. 324-326)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 327-366)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 367-372)
  17. Index
    (pp. 373-391)