How much did King Juan Carlos know about the 23-F military coup? Did he cause it?

There’s a new investigative book out that’s rocking Spain (tomorrow, actually), which basically claims King Juan Carlos knew in advance about the 1981 (failed) military coup and even assisted it in order to cement his own power.

The King is well known for facing down the military and returning power to Congress, ensuring that democracy triumphed.

But is this really what happened, or did the King play both sides off against the middle to come out the victor?

“La gran desmemoria”, by Pilar Urbano, drawns on previously unpublished papers from the leaders of the time, as well as almost 30 years of interviews with the principles involved in the coup, adding a few deathbed confessions in for good measure.

The book, “the great forgetfulness – what Suárez forget and the King prefers not to remember” is out tomorrow, but is already number one on the bestselling list.

Pilar says that Suárez, whose resignation in 1981 as PM of Spain indirectly lead to the coup (the military took over the Congress whilst voting was going on to elect a new PM, and tried to install their own leader) was “always 100% convinced that the King knew of, and assisted in, the coup” but that in the interests of democracy decided not to press the issue.

Pilar goes even further – she says that Suárez, who died last week, was convinced the King had encouraged the plotters in order to later overthrow them and come out the hero, having previously worked to undermine him and have him removed by his party, thus creating a power vacuum.

Congress as the coup happened

Suárez recounted a conversation he had the day after the coup when he went to the King and tried to withdraw his resignation, something the King refused to do. His intention was to return temporarily to power in order “to have a firm hand at the tiller” until the whole coup business could be settled. According to the ex-PM, he directly accused the King of playing both sides off against the other, and of having provoked the coup.

King Juan Carlos exploded back “What are you talking about?.. You are threatening me, you sonofabitch… you can’t withdraw your resignation, don’t you realise the real coup was against you in your own party? You’re finished, realise it’s over.”

Felipe González also comes in for some stick in the book, as it’s alleged that, as the leader of the up and coming PSOE party, and with the defection of senior politicians from the old guard to his new party, he was certainly aware of what was happening, and was more than happy to allow the old guard to be swept away to present him as the face of “New Spain”.

Before the coup happened, whilst Suárez was mulling over his resignation, the book recounts a conversation with the King in January 1981, when the King rants at Alfonso Armada, the main military leader of the coup that Suárez is over and must go, saying, in the words of Armada, “I’m here because seven hundred odd years of history have put me here, I am the heir to 17 direct Kings of Spain. The matter is clear, one of us is no longer necessary, and I do not propose to abdicate”.

More on that here.

The recent revelation that all government records of the coup have been sealed away until 25 years after the death of the last plotter, or 2031, whichever comes first, have caused considerable furore in Spain. The IU party asked yesterday for a Congressional Enquiry into the matter, only for the PP and PSOE parties to unite today and strike the request down, saying it’s a red herring.

The IU party, which is Republican, has promised not to let this matter drop, and have redoubled calls today for “the truth” about 23-F to be made public.

They add that under the terms of the secret pact made at the time, under which all documents were sealed away, even when the documents are made public, only parts of them will be made available to certain authorised researchers, instead of the whole lot being public ally available, as is normal with declassified documentation.

What happened to the military officers involved in the coup was always a bit of a scandal. There was always a bit of a cover up at the highest levels, with officers being quietly shunted around, and only those who appeared publicly got into any trouble.

Tejero was the leader of the coup attempt, and his face became famous as the whiskery fellow brandishing a pistol. He served just 12 years of a 30 year jail sentence, before being pardoned and sent into retirement, although stripped of his rank. He currently lives in some comfort in Melilla, where he rails against Catalan independence and the collapse of Spain.

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