By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Juan Carlos left Spain two years ago amid fraud allegations. Now living in Abu Dhabi, Carlos recently returned to Spain for his first visit since his departure. He was the first king in Spain’s new constitutional monarchy.
Juan Carlos, the 84-year-old former king of Spain, made headlines last week when he returned to Spain for the first time since he was accused of fraud two years and fled the country. He visited his wife and other family members at the royal palace near Madrid. Last December, prosecutors dropped a case alleging that Carlos took $100 million connected to a high-speed train contract in Saudi Arabia that was awarded to a Spanish company.
Carlos’s original departure from the country is a setback for Spain’s constitutional monarchy, of which he was the first king. In her video series The History of Spain: Land at a Crossroad, Dr. Joyce Salisbury, Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, describes the restoration of the Spanish monarchy.
End of a Regime
Francisco Franco overthrew the Spanish democratic republic during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. He ruled Spain as an oppressive dictator for decades, dying in 1975 and entrusting his authoritarian regime to Juan Carlos, the grandson of a former Spanish king, and Carlos’s wife Sofía.
“Franco gave them the kingship thinking he would preserve Francoism,” Dr. Salisbury said. “Instead, he brought democracy and led Spain into the modern world. When Juan Carlos took office, he took an oath to support the Francoist Constitution, but he knew Spain had to change. The king carefully guided the state into a full democracy and he worked to bring the military in line with its new role in a democratic Spain.”
In April 1977, Carlos legalized Spain’s Communist Party and offered amnesty to political prisoners who Franco had held. Two months later, Spain held its first full, free elections in more than 40 years. Spain’s parliament drafted a new constitution the following year and implemented it with legislation. Spain was now a constitutional monarchy and its parliament—known as the Cortes Generales—was comprised of members of several political parties.
An Early Bump in the Road
Franco had been a far-right leader, and most of Spain opposed his reign, so many of the newly elected officials were centrists or leftists. However, the old military right refused to let go without a fight. According to Dr. Salisbury, on February 23, 1981, a general led 200 armed members of the Civil Guard into the Cortes General and held all of its present members hostage, declaring a coup to overthrow King Carlos. The standoff would last 18 hours.
“The king boldly opposed the coup and went on television to calmly announce that he was in control and that he had ordered the civil authorities and the military leaders who continued to support him to support the Constitution and the law,” Dr. Salisbury said. “The leaders of the coup surrendered with no bloodshed, and were tried and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“Thanks to King Juan Carlos, democracy was firmly established in Spain.”
As a further undoing of Franco’s harm to the country, in the 1980s, socialist governments started to reverse legislation under Franco’s regime that had discriminated against women. Divorce and family planning were legalized. In record numbers, women entered the workforce and started attending college.
Today, despite the fraud allegations against Juan Carlos, Spain, as a whole, finds itself in far better shape than it was under Franco’s thumb.