Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pistols at the heads, volley of submachine guns. The attempted coup was thwarted by the Spanish king himself


On Monday, February 23, 1981, there was an unsuccessful coup attempt in Spain, planned by several senior military officers. The coup was to end the country’s transition to parliamentary democracy, which began after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Frank in 1975. But the uprising ended in collapse. King Juan Carlos I of Spain played a decisive role in this.

Shooting to the ceiling

The coup attempt began when 200 members of the Spanish police, led by Lt. Col. Antonio Tejer, stormed the lower house of the Spanish parliament, where a vote of confidence in the government of the newly proposed Prime Minister Leopold Calva-Sotel was being held.

In the middle of the sitting, when the 350 deputies present cast their votes by roll, they crashed in and started firing into the air. The shots were also captured by the radio, which was broadcast live in the session of the Chamber of Deputies. However, he soon began playing military music because the coup plotters temporarily controlled radio and television broadcasts.

Only a few reporters managed to escape from the building, who noticed the approaching gunmen and got out of the building before Tejer’s men blocked her.

Confusion and shouting have prevailed in parliament so far. In the midst of deliberate panic, Lt. Col. Tejero approached the lectern, grabbed the microphone, and aimed his pistol at Speaker of Parliament, Landelin Lavilla. He then began to shout at the deputies to lie down immediately. “Lie down! Everyone lie down! ”Tejero ordered, firing his pistol into the air repeatedly to add emphasis to his words. His men then fired a warning volley from submachine guns.

Three shots hit the ceiling, others dug into the walls and tables. Brick dust covered the room, and frightened lawmakers lay on their stomachs. Only the Deputy Prime Minister, Colonel General Gutiérrez Mellado, dared to speak against Tejer, who called on the coup plotters to lay down their arms. However, his order remained a mere gesture, albeit an extremely impressive and courageous one.

A group of spectator sympathizers who stayed close to the parliament began singing the Spanish fascist song Cara Al Sol (Faces of the Sun) shortly after his cast.

Earth at a crossroads

Why did this tense situation occur? Fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who died in 1975, left behind a severely divided society. At the end of his era, he offered the government to the heir to the Spanish throne, Juan Carlos I, who became a true king of Spain after his death, but there was still a deep disagreement in public and public administration about the country’s future direction. While right-wing “bunkers” advocated the continuation of the current regime, left-wing “aperturists” advocated a transition to more liberal conditions.

Army officers were, of course, more of the former, and watched the gradual social liberation with reluctance. In opposition to him, the intention of the Spanish government in 1977 to legalize the Spanish communists further confirmed them. The Minister of the Navy, Admiral Pita da Veiga, resigned in government and began forming the Supreme Army Council, essentially a shadow military government.

Antonio Terejo also made himself known for the first time at the time. He gathered several officers around him and began preparing his first coup, which was to take place on November 17, 1978. The attempt was named Operation Galaxia after the name of the coffee shop where the conspirators met, but was revealed in advance and Tejero ended up in prison for seven months.

The situation was further exacerbated in the early 1980s, when a protracted government crisis resulted in a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Adolf Suárez, who resigned in January 1981.

Social tensions culminated in the news on February 13, 1981, of the alleged torture of José Ignacio Arregui, a member of the Basque nationalist movement ETA, who had died after ten days in police custody. This was followed by a general strike in the Basque Country, after which the government recalled several police commanders. At the Ministry of the Interior, however, a number of high-ranking officials were more sympathetic to Arregui’s prisoners, and the government’s move was an inappropriate softness in their eyes.

In this situation, Calvo-Sotelo appeared before the parliament to try to gain his trust as the new prime minister. He failed for the first time, with a repeated vote scheduled for 23 February. That day the coup plotters struck again.

The king intervenes

Everything now depended on King Juan Carlos I of Spain. If he supported the coup, he could probably take the lead and seize most of his power for himself. But the king decided otherwise.

“The Crown cannot tolerate any act that attempts in any form to interfere with the constitution approved by the Spanish people,” he said in an emergency television broadcast, dressed in a general uniform. He immediately ordered the armed forces to quell the uprising and take the necessary measures to maintain constitutional order.

The situation was simplified by the fact that, despite the ideas of the coup plotters, peace remained in most areas, only in Valencia did the right-wing 66-year-old Lieutenant General Jaime Milans del Bosch declare a state of emergency and take control of the region due to an alleged “power vacuum in Milan”.

Tanks, armored personnel carriers, water cannon wagons and other heavy military equipment took to the streets of Valencia, while soldiers occupied the local radio stations. However, Bosch remained alone, the commanders of other military areas did not join him.

The king was eventually supported by General Alfonso Armada, who enjoyed his trust, although at first he sympathized with the coup. After a decisive speech by Juan Carlos, he went to parliament to negotiate an armistice. The next day, the leaders of the uprising surrendered to the police. Tejero ended up in prison, where he spent 15 years. He was released as the last of the coups in December 1996.





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