King Felipe VI attended an event today at the Spanish Congress of Deputies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the attempted coup d’état in 1981.
The king´s father, Juan Carlos, who had a decisive role in thwarting the attempt – was not invited and remains in exile in the United Arab Emirates.
However, Felipe VI paid tribute to his father´s “resolve and authority” which many have attributed to be of vital importance in ensuring the coup attempt did not succeed.
“King Juan Carlos I assumed his responsibility as head of state as well as his commitment to ensuring that all measures necessary were taken to maintain the constitutional order within the established law,” he said before continuing that the then monarch´s actions were “decisive for the defence and triumph of democracy.”
The attempt in 1981 came 3 years after the adoption of the present Spanish constitution which established the country as a full democracy and constitional monarchy, bringing to an end the dictatorship of General Franco.
General Franco had ruled Spain as “Caudillo” from his victory in the Spanish Civil War in March 1939 until his death in November 1975.
The coup attempt was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero with a force of fellow Civil Guards during the evening of the 23rd February, who stormed the lower house of Parliament during a vote to elect a new prime minister.
The previous incumbent prime minister and chief architect of the 1978 Constitution, Adolfo Suarez had earlier resigned amid a backdrop of high unemployment and terrorist attacks committed by the Basque ETA group.
The storming of the lower house, was however a ruse to ignite the disgruntled elements of the Spanish military – some of whom fell in line with the plotters but most stayed on the sidelines as the evening progressed.
As the evening turned to night, it was clear the plotters did not have enough momentum – and the attempt was stalling.
When King Juan Carlos took to the nations´s televisions later that night to denounce the attempt it became clear that the coup had failed.
After nearly 20 hours of a stand-off outside the Cortes with forces loyal to the new democracy and the crown, the plotters surrendered.
In the aftermath, around 30 of the key plotters were jailed including General Jaime Milans del Bosch, who had ordered the tanks onto the streets of Valencia in anticipation of the coup´s success.
The King went on to praise the “deep democratic convictions” of the parliamentarians that night including Suarez and the Communist leader Santiago Carrillo.
Later, both of whom, said that should the coup have succeeded, they would have faced execution.