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HM Juan Carlos I: The King who Championed Democracy
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This article is about the heroism and tremendous political savvy of one of the most unusual and gifted men of the Twentieth Century---His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain. The information was mainly garnered from an article entitled "A King's Struggled for Democracy," Reader's Digest (May 1979), pp. 129-133.
Franco, the dictator of Spain for over 30 years, died at the age of 82 in November of 1975. Being designated by Francisco Franco to be the next King of Spain, Juan Carlos was sworn in as King Juan Carlos I at the age of 36. Many did not take him seriously. He was considered to be both timid and naive by some of his countrymen. Some jokingly stated that “Juan Carlos is a deep thinker, when he was in a submarine.” How wrong they were. “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it is said, which was so true of this brave and determined man. It was said of him that he looked more like a prizefighter or a policeman than a king. He has a commanding presence. This may have reflected his true spirit. He fought valiantly and skillfully for his country, to give them the very best government a country could ever have. This was a democracy with checks and balances to protect it. As such it protected the prosperity, freedoms and rights of all the people.
The challenge of creating this government from a dictatorship was formidable. It would take a miracle or skill beyond that of any normal man. But Juan Carlos was not a normal man. He was brought to Spain by Franco as the son of the rightful heir to the throne. His father, Don Juan, was the last king’s (Alfonso XIII) designated heir, but he was too opinionated in his views. Franco wanted to groom Juan Carlos, who was young and more pliable and teachable, to be succeed him as head of the government and to be the future king of Spain. When only ten, HRH Prince Juan Carlos of Spain was taken from his family to be brought up in Spain and be educated in his ancestral homeland under the watchful eye of Franco himself. Those who thought Juan Carlos to be “less than brilliant” were terribly mistaken, for Juan excelled in everything. He mastered four additional languages beyond his native Spanish and graduated number three in his class of 271 students at Saragossa Military Academy. He spent a year at each of the regular military academies and was commissioned as an officer in the navy, air force and army. He was quiet, but he was a keen observer and made important friends wherever he went.
The short leash he was on with the dictator Franco demanded his discretion. The Prince had to be very careful as he had to walk a tightrope, for he dare not make any mistakes lest he be thrown out and discarded. At the age of 36, upon the death of Franco, Juan Carlos found himself at the head of the most powerful and deeply entrenched dictatorship in western Europe. He was literally surrounded with dangerous men who were followers and supporters of the former dictator, and authoritarian power brokers.
To take this nation into a modern democracy, without civil disaster or a blood bath, would be a most amazing feat. In the last 100 years, prior to his ascension to the throne, Spain had suffered 26 revolutions and three civil wars. A terrorist organization among the Basques wanted to set up a totally independent Marxist-Leninist mini-state. The Cortez, the Spanish mock Parliament of 561 members, was composed of 457 Franco appointees. The government bureaucracy was filled with Francoist staunch die-hards who would easily lead the country into a military take-over, or another civil war, should their agenda be sidelined. They thought the king would go down in history as “Juan the Brief,” that is, that he would not last for very long. Juan Carlos knew very well that if he moved too quickly in establishing a democracy, or made a false move, he might destroy all hopes for it; the very thing he wanted so dearly for his country and his people.
During Franco's reign, Spain made some remarkable improvements economically, because of the unusual political stability that prevailed. Both foreign and Spanish investors created an industrial giant, where Spain became one of the great industrial powers of the world. Tourists found Spain's sunny climate appealing and came by the millions to visit her. The economy grew at the high rate of 7% a year. But Franco jailed political dissidents, the press was suppressed, freedom of assembly was forbidden and political parties and unions were outlawed. However,all of this new found wealth in the growing middle class brought demands for change; a change fraught with danger on every side.
What the King did was sheer genius and was accomplished with great precision and perfect timing. First he appointed Carlos Arias as president. He had been the former president of the Cortez under Franco. Juan Carlos carefully promoted young military officers he knew and had befriended while in the military academies. He encouraged the Cortez, or legislative appointees to enact the first democratic reforms. These were (a) freedom of assembly and (b) freedom for political parties to exist, except for the Communist Party. After eight months as king, Juan Carlos fired his Franco president and appointed Adolfo Suarez, another Franco party man. This ended up being one of the best moves he made. Suarez formed a cabinet of young political moderates. "Suddenly a new generation was in charge of Spain, men with little concern for the explosive passions that had torn Spain apart in civil war. Suarez turned out be an exceptionally adroit politician, who, despite his Franconist past, approached the task of dismantling the dictatorship with zeal." (p. 132)
He freed the press from years and years of restriction and they became staunch supporters and champions of democracy. The ball was moving in the right direction and the momentum was becoming unstoppable. The courts for political crimes were suspended and abolished. Unions were permitted. The tax system was overhauled with criminal penalties so that neither rich nor poor alike could evade proper payment. "Collections jumped enormously." (p. 132) Then, a most amazing thing happened. With the prestige of the king and the political dexterity of Suarez, the very heart of the Franco system, the Cortez, overwhelmingly voted to abolish itself. A referendum proved that the people wanted a Cortez, not of appointees, but one composed of elected officials. This was the final straw that broke the back of Francoism. 94% of the population voted for a democratic legislature. All parties were legalized and the election gave Suarez a mandate to rule Spain with assurance, and a new era of political freedom and stability was ushered in.
However, both the police and the military were blaming the dangerous upsurge of terrorist activities on the abolition of dictatorial controls. At this point, the king being personally acquainted with the new young military officers, whom he had carefully hand picked for promotion, was able to keep the military hotheads, who were still in powerful positions, from ruining things. Now "the democracy [was] a going concern," but not without some serious threats. The king was the central figure in eradicating a military coup in 1981, which would have destroyed everything they had worked so hard for.
All of this demonstrates that democracy's greatest friend is monarchy. (See "Ideals" and "Advantages") The most free and prosperous nations on earth generally are monarchies. They are more stable, and this lessens risk for investors. They then feel free to help build a better tomorrow by creating jobs, and wealth, knowing that they can profit from their enterprises in a free and open society. The king's most important contribution is intangible and indirect, but very powerful for good.
King Juan Carlos I was a central figure in the transformation from dictatorship to democracy. He has helped maintain the higher ideals of freedom and independence. He had the vision, the savvy and the know-how to do something spectacular. It has benefited his country to such a great degree, that by 2004 the kingdom of Spain had the eighth largest economy in the world. Half of all the new jobs created in Europe since 2002 were produced by Spain. Things aren't perfect, but Spain is an up and coming country with a great king. Recently in the city of Oviedo, he admonished them to always remember and exemplify "democratic harmony, understanding, mutual respect, tolerance and freedom"---qualities that make nations great and their people wealthy, prosperous and free. In May 2007 he was voted the greatest Spaniard of all time, in a television poll, beating Christopher Columbus, Pablo Picasso and Miguel Cervantes. He is truly "a king for all Spaniards." Not that he or his family are perfect, but he was the man of the hour and he has also been the man of a lifetime for his country. He has been a major contributor to the "longest period of stability and prosperity under democracy" Spain has ever experienced.
"King Juan Carlos I is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers from different countries, such as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who reigned in Spain as Carlos I), King Louis XIV of France and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Therefore, he is related to all the current monarchs of Europe." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_titles_
and_honours_of_the_Spanish_Crown) A Council of Ministers that regulates titles in Spain on November of 1987 because the constitution allows for the use of other historical records determined that the King may officially use the following titles which came to him because he is the rightful heir to the throne of Spain through his fathers or by right of blood succession:
King of Spain, of Castile, of León, of Aragon, of the Two Sicilies ( Naples and Sicily), of Jerusalem, of Navarre, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Mallorca, of Seville, of Sardinia, of Cordoba, of Corsica, of Murcia, of Menorca, of Jaen, of the Algarves, of Algeciras, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Island, of the Spanish East and West Indies and of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea;
Archduke of Austria;
Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, of Milan, of Athens and of Neopatria;
Count of Habsburg, of Flanders, of Tyrol, of Rousillon and of Barcelona;
Lord of Biscay and of Molina
The King is the Captain General of the Royal Spanish Armed Forces and its Supreme Commander. (Ibid.) History will show he was a worthy king and a great statesman of unusual talent and finese. Hardly any country could wish for a greater man to protect and safeguard them as "the king of all Spaniards."
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