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SPAIN: King Juan Carlos

We were discussing the attempted Spanish coup of 1981, which King Juan Carlos thwarted, when I received Paul Preston's massive biography of him, Juan Carlos, el Rey de un pueblo, (Barcelona: Plaza Janés, 2003, pp. 671). In a way it is the story of the Spanish monarchy since 1931. The 1981 attempted coup is described in the last two chapters. Paul does not explain his relations with the King, and,while the book cannot be described as an authorized biography, the numerous `photographs suggest that he had the cooperation. of the royal family.. There is a long bibliography, so the documentation could scarcely be more complete. In an earlier exchange, Paul rejected the story that the King connived in the 1981 coup, a story which made no sense to me. Then Christopher Jones defended it, I demanded that he produce evidence, saying I would gladly post it. Here is Christopher's reply:

"As for hard evidence of the King's complicity in a plot, there is none. But that is perfectly normal and proves nothing: anyone who has studied the martial art of military coups d'etat would never expect to find a "smoking gun," proving so and so's participation. (for example, a "Dear Jaime" letter, saying "please overthrow the government, sincerely.") However, there is ample circumstantial evidence of the King's knowledge of at least one plot underway on the night of February 23, 1981.

It is now widely accepted that there were two golpes under way on the night of February 23, 1981. The King (like Socialist leader Felipe González) was well aware of "Operación De Gaulle" whose aim was to replace Centrist Adolfo Súarez with General. Alfonso Armada as president of a "gobierno de concentración" that would include the Socialist PSOE. (Adolfo Suárea resigned, saying he did not want democracy to be just a parenthesis in Spanish history). What the king almost certainly didn't know was just how Armada was going to engineer this coup. (This would be in keeping with standard coup practice.) At some point in late 1980, Armada merged his soft coup with another hardline conspiracy involving the members of the failed 1978 "Operación Galaxia" putsch: Major Ricardo Saénz de Ynestrillas and Col. Antonio Tejero Molina. Tejero got off with a reprimand, which is itself amazing. What was the King's role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces in the decision to let Ynestrillas and Tejero off the hook? Why weren't they cashiered? Nobody has answered that question yet. , Saenz de Ynestrillas died a major (assassinated by ETA) but was a captain at the time of Galaxia (1978) Tejero did a stint in jail, but both were quickly returned to active duty.

We can only guess that the King was probably shocked by Tejero's theatrical antics in the Cortes (Spanish parliament), and Miláns' military occupation of Valencia. But, the Zarzuela royal palace admits that the first phone call to the palace after the occupation of the parliament was made to the King by Alfonso Armada. The King asked him to come immediately to the Zarzuela -- yet this idea was nixed by Sabino Fernández Campos (who had replaced Armada as secretary), and Armada was held at a distance. Later in the evening Armada was sent by the king to the parliament "as a strictly personal initiative" to negotiate the release of the deputies.

The other, more violent Miláns/Tejero coup whose aim was to turn the clock back to Francosim was a very odd operation indeed. It centered on the División Acorazada Brunete being deployed in Madrid in the same way Miláns occupied Valencia. Spanish Radio and Television was occupied but the Brunete's tanks never rolled. The man who really saved Spain's fledgling democracy that night was Lt. General Guillermo Quintana Lacaci, Captain-General of the Madrid military region. Only a moron would have backed Miláns and Tejero once Brunete was ordered to stay put. General Luis Torres Rojas, a former Brunete commander, was sent to take over the armed divisionbut he was thwarted by Quintana and his immediate superior, José Gabeiras. (Look how the upper echelons of the army were filled with Galicians -- Franco's home region.) Curiously, Quintana was later assassinated by ETA (or so goes the official story).

Frankly, the coup was a classic example of an army that was top heavy: too many Generals with Civil War service, too old to realize that it is the lower officer ranks, and in particular the Captains, who make the tanks roll (look at the MFA in Portugal and the almost flawless coup of April 25 that overthrew the old Salazar state.) I still find it very strange, to put it mildly that if the Golpistas could find the required motorized troops to occupy RTVE, that they didn´t move to isolate the Zarzuela "to guaranty the monarch's safety," and cut all telephone communications to Juan Carlos. That is very suspicious. There are also rumors of two taped television messages to the nation (I don't believe this one.) Finally there is another theory that is worth mentioning because it sounds eerily like the current debate in the US and the UK over the CIA's Iraq intelligence or manipulation thereof. A book published a few years ago asserted that the Spanish military intelligence bureau, known as CESID was in fact behind the Tejero operation. Most Spanish commentators accept that the courts martial and appeals that followed the events on February 23 were a complete farce. This inability to confront those events has only fuelled speculation that the King was in some way involved.

In the end, there is only one leitmotiv that distinguishes one coup from another: the willingness to spill blood. The brilliance of the Captain's coup in Portugal was its flawless execution and its desire not to kill anybody (althought the old PIDE agents did shoot back). Pinochet like Franco, came in shooting and bombing. In the end the man who thwarted the Spanish coup was not the King -- it was the ghost of the Civil War. He was clanking its chains on the night of February 23, and everyone was so scared that it ended peacefully -- progress, finally.

PS: the Borbon kings have a history of skeletons in the closet. I have just learned from a publisher in Madrid that Alfonso XIII had an illegitimate son whom Juan Carlos calls "tío." A biography about the person has been published. There are many rumors that the present King has followed in his Grandpa's footsteps -- but this is strictly censored in the press, although everybody know who is the mother".

RH: Christopher admits tat there is no hard evidence that the King connived in the plot. My comment must be simply that evidence is required. Otherwise it is like saying "Politicians lie. Therefore Tony Blair`s statement must be a lie". For a detailed comment on Christopher's account, we must appeal to Paul, who I hope will respond in whatever detail he deems appropriate.

Ronald Hilton - 7/19/03