«Ustedes no saben lo que han hecho» —dijo el general a sus colegas que entronizaron a Franco como mando militar supremo— «porque no le conocen como yo, que lo tuve a mis órdenes en el ejército de África, como jefe de una de las unidades de la columna a mi mando… Si ustedes le dan España, va a creerse que es suya y no dejará que nadie lo sustituya en la guerra o después de ella, hasta su muerte».
Juan Alberto March Ordinas (4 October 1880 – 10 March 1962) was a Spanish businessman closely associated with the nationalist, or rebel side led by Francisco Francoduring and after the Spanish Civil War. Juan March was the wealthiest man in Spain and the sixth richest man in the world. The March family are among the richest in Spain, reported to be worth over 16 billion USD.
He was born in Santa Margalida on the island of Majorca. As a young man, he smuggledtobacco from North Africa into Spain. During World War I, he supplied goods to both sides, evading the Allied blockade of the Central Powers, and the German U-boats.
When the monarchy was replaced by the Second Spanish Republic in 1930, March lost his influence, and was convicted and imprisoned for his illegal dealings. He escaped from prison, and fled to Gibraltar where his influence with the British government protected him against extradition.
March was an important backer of the 1936 military rebellion against the Republic which led to the Civil War. He arranged Franco’s flight from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco, brought the colonial troops there into the rebellion, and personally financed the Italian airlift of those troops to southern Spain.
With the Nationalist victory in 1939, March regained all his former influence and more, and was greatly favored by the Franco regime. During World War II, the Allies employed him to keep Spain from joining the Axis. According to recently declassified documents, in 1941 the British government gave him US$10,000,000 with which to influence the top Spanish generals.
In 1944, March became a supporter of the claim of Don Juan de Borbón, who had turned pro-Allies, to the Spanish throne. He also owned newspapers and funded political parties.
Juan March married Leonor Servera (1887–1957). They had two children: Juan March Servera (Palma de Mallorca, 1906 – Madrid, 1973) and Bartolome March (Palma de Mallorca, 1917 – Paris, 1998).
Bartolome March amassed one of the greatest 20th century art collections. At a young age, he started buying books and manuscripts. Later, he collected 18th century French furniture, and Baroque, Impressionist, Modern, and contemporary art, including works of Murillo, Goya, Velázquez, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Miró, Kandinsky, Brâncuși, Léger, Dalí, Fontana, Rothko, Klein, Francis Bacon, and many others. The March family collection is one of the most important in the world, and is reported to be worth over 1 billion USD.
The March family are still today one of the richest families in Spain (after Amancio Ortega from Zara). They live between Madrid, Majorca and Gstaad. The Casa March, an imposing villa overlooking Cala Ratjada, Majorca and surrounded by an expansive sculpture garden, was built by Juan March in 1915; the gardens are open to guided tours.
March was widely known for involvement in lucrative illegal activities, bribery, political influence, and bending the law whenever he saw a benefit. This was exemplified in his 1948 takeover of the Barcelona Traction, Light, and Power Company (BTLP) for a small fraction of its real worth.
BTLP was a utility company which provided power and streetcar services in Barcelona; originally incorporated in Canada, it was mostly owned by Belgian investors. BTLP had come through the Spanish Civil War largely undamaged, and was quite profitable. Its assets were about £10,000,000 (about $500 million in 2010). However, for the convenience of some of its foreign investors, BTLP had issued some bonds denominated in pounds, and the interest on these bonds was payable in pounds. The Spanish government had imposed currency restrictions: BTLP was unable to exchange its Spanish pesetas for pounds, and so could not pay the interest.
This was not viewed with any great alarm by the bondholders; BTLP had plenty of pesetas and would pay the interest arrears whenever the currency restrictions were relaxed.
However, March sensed an opportunity. Agents secretly acting for him quietly bought up the bonds (about £500,000). Then in February 1948, they appeared in a Spanish court, asserted that BTLP was in default on the bonds, and demanded immediate relief. The judge agreed and awarded ownership of all BTLP’s assets to them (in fact to March). BTLP’s foreign investors appealed, but got no relief from Spanish courts. The Belgian government appealed to the International Court of Justice but to no avail: the final resolution coming in 1970, eight years after March’s death.
There is an example of March’s worldwide notoriety in John D. MacDonald‘s 1962 novel, The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything. At one point, one of the chief villains of the story complains of the difficulties of operating in the United States, where the police are honest and the press interferes. He remarks:
It was always better elsewhere, particularly in Spain, where Juan March would help with the arrangements.