A dictionary of Spanish history and culture
The term estraperlo came to be used for the huge black market which flourished in Spain for many years after the Civil War, encouraged in part by rationing and price fixing. Although, improved supply in the early 1950s significantly reduced the black market in everyday produce, the illegal wholesale of staples was rampant until the early 1960s.
For instance, in the 1950s, 50% of the market for wheat, the major source of food for most Spanish people, was sold on the black market. Logically, the people who were best positioned to take advantage of this situation were the large landowners as they had excess production and plenty of space where to store the grain. And nobody was going to arrest them.
The Guardia Civil could arrest, beat up, imprison and prosecute a poor woman they had caught with a few bags of coffee, but that would never have dared arrest an Andalusian aristocrat who was hoarding enormous quantities of food on his estate, waiting for the right moment to sell.
(Adapted from La Memoria Insumisa, Nicolás Sartorius and Javier Alfaya, 2001)
The origin of the term was a brand of a fraudulent electric roulette (Straperlo or Stra-Perlo), promoted by two fraudsters, Strauss and Perlo.
In 1935 during the Second Spanish Republic, they tried to introduce the Stra-Perlo in the San Sebastián and Formentor casinos in Spain. It was discovered that the house could alter the results by pressing a button. Corruption connected with the prohibition of the game reached the nephew of Alejandro Lerroux and caused the downfall of his Radical Party, which helped to destroy the already rotten political centre ground, and has been claimed as another step towards the Spanish Civil War.
Estraperlo (Wikipedia Spanish)