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Post Was the Botched Tejero Coup Masterminded by the King's Inner Circle?
Created by John Eipper on 10/20/13 4:57 AM

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Was the Botched Tejero Coup Masterminded by the King's Inner Circle? (Anthony J Candil, USA, 10/20/13 4:57 am)

My apologies if I take a great deal of space to present my arguments to Paul Preston. (See Paul's post of 19 October.) I think this is necessary, even if the whole story is much more complex and difficult.

About the Jesús Palacios book mentioned by Carmen Negrín, I'd say that it is an excellent book, probably the only one speaking loud and clear so far. And certainly for the peace of mind of Paul Preston, I'd say that Jesús is not involved in any "shenanigans with elephants and faux German princesses." He is a professor at the University of Madrid, and all I can say is that life has not been made easy for him in Spain after he unveiled his books (actually he wrote two, very difficult to obtain). Such are the mysteries of "Spanish democracy."

Well, let me tell you beforehand that I was reluctant to talk about this issue, because I knew some of the reactions that would ensue. Nevertheless once in, I'll do my best to get out, even though I know it's not an easy task to try to convince someone of such a relevant intellectual height as Paul Preston. I didn't expect a positive comment from Carmen Negrín either, but it is obvious that she knows. And I'm glad she said so.

I do respect Paul Preston a lot--I've read many, if not all, of his books--and his knowledge is enormous. However that doesn't mean he is always 100 per cent right all the time. I don't know why he qualifies so easily others' theses as silly and surrealistic speculation. I wouldn't ever do that to anybody.

Paul Preston's comments do not provide any light at all on the issue more than the official version does. What he repeats is precisely the official version Spaniards have swallowed for over thirty years, making the King the "perfect champion of democracy," which he is not.

First of all, it is not my intention to justify what happened on February 23, 1981. Further, when I use the word "failure," I do not mean a failure of the plot in and of itself, although that certainly was the case; I mean a failure of the nation as a whole, a failure of the state and a failure of the political system existent in Spain in 1981 that allowed some to believe that a coup d'état could be the solution for the country's problems and a legitimate "defense of the Realm." Among those who held this view was the King. To continue believing in 2013 that February 23, 1981 in Spain, was just a foolishness coming out of the mind of some nostalgic generals--actually the two, there were no others, most monarchist generals of the Spanish Army--and a radical lieutenant colonel from the Guardia Civil, is just too naïve and too simple.

Paul Preston says that long before the death of Franco, the King to be had been "convinced by advisors that a constitutional monarchy was the only possible way of guaranteeing his family's chance of holding on to the throne." I hold the view that, no matter what, Spain without Franco would have had no other alternative than to follow the pattern of Western democracies. What they did was to enforce and enhance the process so that the result would be the convenient one for the Royals, however with the help of others (the opposition parties, and the nationalists mainly). He didn't bother with the right-wing parties because he took their loyalty--like that of the armed forces--for granted. In his mind it wasn't what was best for the country but for him, and for them. The brains behind all the political intrigue--in the best tradition of the Bourbon family of having a "favorite"--was nevertheless the former professor Torcuato Fernández Miranda, one of the King's mentors, who became the engine of all the changes that occurred after Franco's death. The first action the King took, once Franco was dead, was to name Fernández Miranda President (Speaker) of the Congress--Cortes--and head of the Council of the Realm (Kingdom). This gave Juan Carlos control over the Cortes, and provided him with critical assistance to dismantle legally the old regime.

Juan Carlos appointed Adolfo Suárez as Prime Minister of the government on the recommendation of Fernández Miranda. The choice of Suárez was the culmination of months of assiduous conspiracy. As was the case with Juan Carlos himself, Adolfo Suárez was never democratically chosen by the Spanish people. He was merely singled out by a close advisor to the King, and then following his advice, appointed as Prime Minister by Juan Carlos without further consultation. It was as simple as that and certainly not a good start for an emerging democracy after 37 years of dictatorship.

Suárez was an unknown provincial who had been the last "Secretary General of the National Movement" (Movimiento Nacional), the body that served as Franco's sole political party. Apparently in 1976, Juan Carlos asked his mentor Fernández Miranda: "Are you sure, Torcuato, that we can trust a man like him, capable of so much duplicity?" Torcuato answered back: "That's why, Your Majesty, that's why we choose him" (from Gregorio Morán, Suárez: Historia de una ambición. Ed. Planeta, Madrid).

Paul Preston manages the idea that the King "played the role of the hinge between the moderate anti-Franco opposition and the more progressive elements of the old regime. None of this would have happened without mass popular pressure for democratisation, but his role in neutralizing the armed forces, of which he was commander-in-chief, was paramount. From 1977 to 1981, he played the role of the 'fireman' of the democratic regime, constantly battling against military subversion." This is a blatant lie; of course I don't mean Paul lies but that this is the official version. The Spanish military has a long tradition of taking part in politics. Even today it is customary in Spain to accuse the Army and the armed forces in general of intervening in the nation's public affairs and political life and playing a role in the decision-making process. Yet the reality is that the Spanish military as an institution--with the exception of some isolated individual cases--has not taken part in politics at all through the whole second half of the 20th century, and this can be proved.

Suárez's first cabinet had four military officers, as there was no Ministry of Defense and each branch of the armed forces was represented by its own minister. And yet what was the attitude of the Spanish armed forces? Were they seeking a "change of direction?" The real role and capabilities of the Spanish Armed Forces had been taken for granted for a long time, but the reality was quite different. As WAISer Stanley Payne shrewdly pointed out, one of the numerous ironies and contradictions of the Franco regime's legacy was that it left a very weak and backward military. [1] The numerous senior officers in state agencies functioned as autonomous members and never as corporate representatives of the Armed Forces. In other words, for some generals, politics and not the armed forces was their primary profession. The Franco regime had always been a personal dictatorship and the military, while supportive of the dictatorship, did not have a direct corporate role in Spain's governance. As Payne further points out, at no time in Spanish history did the military lead a serious effort to block effective political change that was carried out through legal channels, and for this they enjoyed strong public support. In 1981 the requisites of the government precluded in one way or another any successful military challenge to the existing political system.

Moreover, while some military leaders grudgingly accepted political reform out of loyalty to the Monarchy, they also grew increasingly hostile to Suárez's leadership as ETA terrorism intensified. There was a growing sense among them that Suárez had betrayed the nation and that his government was allowing the country to descend into anarchy and chaos. This sense, however, did not necessarily translate into an open challenge to either the newborn democracy or the Monarchy. In the military barracks, like everywhere else in Spain, there was a great deal of discussion of the current political situation, and like the rest of the country nobody was happy with the current state of affairs. Traditionally, the Army was considered the most conservative service--perhaps due to the fact that Franco himself had been an Army officer--but so was the Navy, and certainly there was no talk of challenging the authorities among naval officers. The Air Force, a relatively new and independent service established in 1940 after the Civil War, demonstrated a very prudent and cautious attitude. To a great extent in 1981, citing Payne's well-known analysis of the Spanish military's historic involvement in domestic politics, their potential role was not dependent on the ambitions of a few generals but on "the stability of government institutions and the civic maturity of Spanish society as a whole." [2] In fact, the Spanish military basically saw its responsibility as one of defending the State from external as opposed to internal enemies. This outward focus, combined with the general stability and conservative nature of the Suárez government, made military intervention in the political sphere both impractical and unlikely. So, if there was some kind of uneasiness in the ranks, it was being generated not by the generals but by the one individual whose aim was to guarantee the security of his throne and to ensure that there would be no possibility of his dethronement by future military force.

On February 23, 1981, not a single Army unit or regular military officer, apart from a few isolated cases and the two key generals, or enlisted men joined the so-called military plot. To continue blaming the Spanish military, particularly the Army, for the attempted coup is patently ridiculous. In any case, at that time, much like today, the Spanish military lacked genuine leadership. Except for a few well-known brigade-level generals--restricted to operational components--there were no senior officers who were truly known and respected by the majority of the Armed Forces, who would have been able to lead a rebellion.

In Madrid, as in the rest of the country, not a single military unit was deployed apart from a reinforced light cavalry troop that was ordered to take control of the premises of the national television company (RTVE). [5] The regiment was part of the Armored Division which was headquartered close to the RTVE office. The unit itself had no specific orders, save to take control of and defend the television company. After a few hours, following the direct or indirect orders of General Sabino Fernández Campo to the regiment's commanding officer, the troop was withdrawn and returned to its nearby barracks without, as was the case with the units in Valencia, any incident or problem related to its action.

Not a single Commander-in-Chief of the eight other military districts took precautions or steps similar to those implemented by General Miláns in Valencia. It is telling that not a single one of these generals had been contacted by the plotters either prior to the event or on the day of the episode. Again, it would be difficult to define February 23 as a military coup d'état. If it was, it was certainly an organizational disaster, and this is a very perplexing as General Miláns had a fine reputation as a professional soldier. He also had a first-rate staff which could have planned the whole operation down to the smallest detail and masterfully carried out its execution. Even the Armored Division in Madrid had competent planners who could have supervised it all had it been a real coup. The fact is, it was not a real coup!

Paul Preston also maintains that "if the King were privy to anything, it would have been the plans of Armada who had been one of his early mentors and a key element of the royal household until a couple of years previously." But of course he was privy to the plans of General Armada! Six people then were deeply involved in the plan, General Alfonso Armada, General of the Judge-Advocate Corps Sabino Fernández Campo, General Jaime Miláns, the King, LTC Antonio Tejero, from the Guardia Civil, and Army Major José Luis Cortina, an old friend of the King from his time at the Military Academy. How most of these players managed to meet is not too difficult to imagine. Four of them were Army officers and could have been in touch now and then in one way or another. Major José Luis Cortina, as a junior officer, was unknown to General Miláns and LTC Tejero, but was well known to generals Sabino and Armada due to his frequent visits, as a former classmate, with the King. LTC Tejero, being an officer in the Guardia Civil and not in the Army, had never been in contact with the others, nor did he meet with them personally at any time.

Paul Preston even says that "moreover, Armada got other generals on board by telling them that the King supported what he was doing." It was not like that. The only other general Armada apparently recruited was General Jaime Milans. General Miláns and General Armada knew each other well, even if they never got along. They had many opportunities to see each other within an Army environment, and certainly since Armada was assigned to the Royal Household for many years, and Miláns was a recognized monarchist, they surely encountered each other at many social occasions. Nonetheless, it is a fact that General Miláns covertly despised General Armada. While he considered himself a professional soldier, Miláns viewed Armada as little more than a distinguished courtier with no real military spirit. General Sabino Fernández--unquestionably a man of intrigue--had served in several capacities at Army Headquarters as a legal officer, and since 1977 he had been the King's Secretary. He was certainly well-known in Army circles. Armada believed him to be a friend whom he could trust; on the other hand, Miláns had almost no contact at all with him. Sabino had plenty of opportunities to stay in close contact with Major Cortina, especially on those occasions when Cortina visited the King. Nonetheless there are no records of this contact as Sabino took special care not to leave any evidence of their occurrence. [3]

The plan to involve the Guardia Civil and not the Army apparently seemed a brilliant idea to Sabino, to the King and even to General Armada. The employment of Army units would have involved many problems. To start with, it would have been much more difficult to conceal and would have risked a higher level of confrontation and potential bloodshed as military units had no real training in this type of "surgical operation." At the same time, the Army in that period was not as yet fully "professional," but a force mostly composed of draftees. Consequently, there was considerable risk of provoking substantial collateral damage--due mostly to the prospect of employing sophisticated weaponry or heavy artillery--or the prospect that troops would mutiny or fail to follow orders or that their commanders would be unwilling to rise against the legal authority. This was not the Spain of 1936, and for the Army an armed uprising was simply not on their radar screen. On the other hand, who could possibly perform this act better than the perpetually loyal Guardia Civil? Nothing would work better than the meritorious and professional Guardia Civil--la Benemérita--for a quick and bloodless action such as the one that was contemplated.

The tactical details of the plot were mainly the work of Major Cortina. The political aspects of the operation were most likely formulated by General Armada in close coordination with the King. Unbeknownst to Armada, they were approved by General Sabino, who was able in that way to insure that the plan would ultimately fail. In the end, this would achieve the real goals of the plot: to protect the Monarchy, to fix it firmly in the Spanish body politic, and to furnish it with the solid legitimacy it lacked by moving it beyond a mere imposition of the late General Franco. After the event, Armada explained that "they"--i.e., Major Cortina--had come to him with the whole plan already laid out and that in the end he accepted it. Arrogantly, he noted that he was chosen due to his moderate attitude, his monarchist credentials and his excellent relations with an array of politicians and businessmen across the political spectrum. According to the historian/journalist Jesús Palacios, Major Cortina's brother, a businessman with many contacts among politicians, especially those in the conservative Alianza Popular led by Manuel Fraga, was a frequent visitor to General Armada.[4]

No matter how bad the planning and execution had been, all the players involved in the plot went along with it, believing that they were following the King's orders, and that as such, nothing would actually go wrong and they would ultimately be exonerated. This was incredible naiveté on their part. It definitely was not what the King and his Machiavellians had in mind. They in fact needed these foolish scapegoats to go obediently to the royal sacrificial altar believing that they were doing the royal will. Needless to say, they were not told beforehand of the real purpose of the plot. Not even the King's old and trusted advisor, General Armada, was informed.

General Sabino had coldly calculated both the benefits and risks of the operation, and reached the conclusion that it was less dangerous for the monarchy to stage a counterfeit coup than not to stage one. The idea was not to destroy the parliamentary system as Alfonso XIII had done in 1923 when he accepted General Primo de Rivera's pronunciamiento, but to stage an event predestined to fail that would play to the anxiety of the nation while at the same time redefining the image of the King and safeguarding his throne. When the coup d'état failed because a "courageous" Juan Carlos stood opposed to it, Spain's new democratic polity recognized that the King was indeed a key element of its structure and would continue to be in the future. Certainly the risks were very high and all that could have ended in a very tragical way.

Up to a point, the faux coup convulsed the nation but beyond putting some bullet holes in the Cortes ceiling, it was a bloodless affair that ended in comic opera failure. On the other hand, as we have argued, the real coup did not fail. In fact it exceeded expectations by allowing the King to finally move beyond the Francoist connection and to accrue a level of legitimacy that would exponentially enhance his power and prestige. As the Spanish writer Javier Cercas has suggested, it was also a coup d'état to invalidate the July 1936 uprising. This is precisely what Sabino and Juan Carlos had envisaged: bringing a genuine end to Franco's legacy and his 36-year regime. This break with the past, however, was only seen in terms of benefiting the Monarch's position and not necessarily the nation.
There is no doubt in my mind that February 23 reflected a total failure of the new Spanish democracy that had developed after Franco's death. At the same time, the coup intended by LTC Tejero and General Armada was absolutely unnecessary and proof of this was the total lack of support it received from the Spanish citizenry, whose behavior through this whole affair was admirable and responsible.

On the other hand, the real crime, which is still unpunished, was the real coup behind the coup; the one organized by the King and his Machiavellian advisor and tolerated by the political parties and the media. These "democratic institutions," starting with the Crown, had all behaved in an irresponsible way and did nothing to frustrate the coup if not to encourage it. The Crown, that is the King, his closest advisors and peers, did their best to set into motion a mechanism that would ultimately reinforce their status without being concerned about any unanticipated consequences that could have sent this whole affair out of control and propelled the Nation into unnecessary turmoil.

In reality the coup was like an espionage novel but a bad one, and the truth was simple: the King asked for a solution to his problem and obsession, Major Cortina set up the failed plot and General Sabino Fernández ensured its failure. Both of these men got away unpunished as, of course, did the King. On the other hand, General Armada's agenda was not to destroy democracy but to redirect it toward a government of salvation supported by the King and made up of representatives of all the political parties. The point was to ultimately reinforce the Monarchy. General Miláns and LTC Tejero made up the operational branch of the idea. Major Cortina was the key tool to unchain the whole scheme. General Sabino was the mastermind behind the real coup, the one that made the players--from General Armada to LTC Tejero--appear as buffoons from another age, and who saved the day, reinforced the monarchy and gave the King the ability to finally shed the stigma of being Franco's heir.

In reality the immediate price the nation paid was minimal. There was no bloodshed, just a few Army and Guardia Civil officers went to prison--after all they were expendable--and business and commerce came back as usual. On the other hand, it was a shock for most Spaniards, but the general populace handled the situation with calm and common sense. In short, from the Monarch's viewpoint, it was a total success. Who could ask for anything more? The whole issue lasted barely 18 hours and there were even some Spaniards who did not know it was taking place at all. The events got much more attention after the fact than when it was actually taking place. Thousands of pages would subsequently be written about the event, but most of them simply gave what became the official version or what the authorities wanted the public to believe.

In short, we have to establish that Juan Carlos of Bourbon was appointed Head of the Spanish State by the sole will of general Franco, and nobody else.

What happened on February 23, 1981, was a remake of the political behavior of the Spanish Royals during the 19th century due to the structural failures of the constitutional system, which made the different political parties find a way to abolish the previous constitutional order whenever they alternate in power, and that's why they call the armed forces to intervene.

On February 23, 1981, there was neither a military plot nor a military conspiracy of any kind. It was an improvisation, a fake plot to be used as the perfect excuse to make the King appearing as the ultimate savior of the nation. There was not a massive military rebellion, just two three-star generals of proven monarchical beliefs and a restricted show of minimum military force. It was a special operation conceived and suggested by an expert in clandestine special operations, an officer graduated from the Spanish Army Special Operations School, and a close friend of the King: Major José Luis Cortina. And the person responsible for making the fake plot ultimately fail was no other than General Sabino Fernández Campo (6), private assistant and secretary of the King, when he deliberately stopped General Armada from getting into the King's palace--La Zarzuela--once he had managed to tell Juan Carlos that he was on his way. LTC Tejero had already stormed the House of Congress.

The court martial [7] set up to trying all the military personnel eventually convicted for the attempted coup, known as the Campamento Trial (Juicio de Campamento), took place almost one year later, starting on February 19, 1982, and ending on May 24, 1982, after 48 continuous working sessions and more than 15,000 pages of written documents. It was the longest trial in the history of Spanish military justice. Due to the rank and category of the indicted personnel, some of them being generals, the court martial was directed by the Supreme Council of Military Justice. Almost all the officers convicted were really convinced that the state of near chaos and lack of leadership that plagued Spain in those days had eliminated "de facto" all legal standards that could lay any legitimate claim to obedience, thus making the coup a moral imperative, and even more if they were just following the King's orders.

My memory is, no doubt about it, a recollection of the past I lived and, as Carl Becker says, there are two histories perhaps, the actual events that once occurred and those I remember. There is also a collective memory developed in Spain but even in today's modern Spain, by contrast, document-based historical research hasn't been available yet to historians. All that remains is what is found in media reports from that time, reports that are not free of bias, omissions, judgments or mistakes. If my individual memory can be faulted for my reliance on my own observation, which can reveal bias or some prejudice, the collective or official history can be discredited as well for the omissions and bias of the authors.

The enormous aberration of establishing a law--back in 2004 by the former Socialist president Rodríguez Zapatero--to implement a so-called "historical memory" reveals to what extent Spaniards are being told not to remember the past in a way that either tries to present all sides of the story or renders some myths and heroes newly established so far as complex and fallible human beings who perhaps were wrong and not so heroic in the end.

My fear is no other than not grasping the event in its full dimension, of not being able to describe it on the basis of the appropriate level of observation as "what it really was: an unnecessary and unmitigated disaster."

Pax and Lux!

[1] Stanley G. Payne, Politics and the Military in Modern Spain, (Stanford: 1967), p. 453.

[2] Stanley G. Payne, Modernization of the Armed Forces, The politics of democratic Spain, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 1986, p.181.

[3] The King even paid a low-profile visit to the special operational unit of military intelligence under the command of Major Cortina in mid-September 1980. This was certainly out of the ordinary.

[4] Declarations of General Alfonso Armada, to Jesús Palacios, El Golpe del CESID (Madrid), p. 98. General Armada also informed Palacios that "we shouldn't overlook that in Spain, every time the monarchy has been sustained, it has been so after a coup d'état, even with Juan Carlos, who is a King thanks to the coup made by general Franco!" p. 99.

[5] The cavalry troop that took over the television company was under the command of Captain Jesús Martínez de Merlo together with Captain Germán Corisco. They were both friends of mine at the time and fine officers, who belonged to the Light Cavalry Regiment Villaviciosa, 14, under the command of Colonel Joaquín Valencia Remón. Colonel Valencia was promoted to brigadier general barely a month after the events, and Captain Corisco became a brigadier general much later. None of these officers were neither arrested nor indicted for any supposed military offense as a consequence of the events on February 23rd. Amazing!

(6) According to historian Jesús Palacios, in his book 23 F, El Rey y su secreto (Madrid: 2010), General Sabino Fernández Campo unveiled to him that on the very next day--February 24--after meeting the leaders of all the political parties, the King told him, in a conspicuous way, "My goodness, Sabino, what if you had been wrong!" But no worries, neither Sabino nor Cortina were wrong.

[7] The court martial started one year later, on February 19, 1982, and ended on May 24, 1982, with the sentencing being made public on June 3, 1982. General Miláns, general Armada and LTC Tejero were sentenced to 30 years in jail, and the rest getting penalties between 12 years and one year. Major Cortina was acquitted, and general Armada would be freed in 1988, barely over five years after. All through the time the trial lasted, it was a continuous follow-up of unnerving situations, tensions and even comic moments. The chairman of the court martial was replaced one time, one military prosecutor resigned, two more were arrested by the chairman on the grounds of insubordination, some key witnesses were allowed to testify in writing not attending the trial, and almost 90% of the witnesses proposed by the defendants' attorneys were rejected. It is a fact well known that general Armada asked in writing to the King for permission to speak up and unveil to the court the conversation held between them on February 13, 1981, just to be told not to by His Majesty. Certainly neither the Crown nor its close advisers were called to declare or make a deposition.

JE comments:  This post from Anthony Candil is almost a full monograph.  It presents a strong case against the official interpretation of 23 February 1981.  (Normally I would divide posts of this length into two or three installments, but I believe Anthony's argument would suffer if I cut it up.)

Anthony had won me over to his reading of the "coup" during his presentation at WAIS '13, but Paul Preston convinced me otherwise in his post from yesterday.  Now, I'm not sure what to think, but it's been very educational to revisit the events of 32 years ago.

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