The White Terror in the Spanish Civil War was a period where the forces of the Nationalist movement committed various hideous acts of violence, including mass executions. These occurred between the eyars of 1936 and 1945. What lay behind this was Franco's desire to destroy and eradicate any signs of socialism or "leftism," and occurred across the country. They were even referred to in Spanish as a "cleaning," and this occurred after a location had been seized. Interestingly, the violent acts that occurred were sanctioned by the Catholic Church and were carried out by the military. Historians disagree over the precise number of people who died as a result of the White Terror, but all agree that because this period went on for many years, more people died in the White Terror than they did in the Red Terror. Roughly however, on average, historians believe around 60,000 people died as a result of the White Terror.
It is clear that the film Pan's Labyrinth is set during this period of history, as the Capitan, the cruel member of the Nationalist military who leads the military operation against the socialist rebels, is determined to stop at nothing to eradicate any traces of socialism, and is happy to torture and kill, and even, it is suggested, rape, in order to see this happen. The way in which he controls his forces and seeks to locate rebel camps, working hard to track them down and kill the rebels he finds there, clearly indicates that he is operating as an agent of Franco's military and the Nationalist movement, and that he is one of those members of the miliary that have participated in the acts of violence and execution that encompassed the White Terror. Of course, this is the very dangerous political backdrop to the film that the protagonist of the film, the girl Ofelia, is only partially aware of, as the film operates in two parallel words: the very dangerous political world of the Civil War and the equally dangerous and more frightening world of make-beleive and fantasy that Ofelia chooses to be a part of.