50 Truths about the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I de Borbón
50 Truths about the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I de Borbón
After 38 years on the Spanish throne, Juan Carlos I de Borbón decided, at the age of 76, to abdicate and relinquish the throne to his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias.
- Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, or Juan Carlos I, was born January 5, 1938, in Rome from the union of Don Juan, Count of Barcelona, and Doña María de las Mercedes de Borbón y Orleans, Princess of the two Sicilies, with whom he had four children: Pilar (1936), Juan Carlos, Margarita (1939) and Alfonso (1941).
- Juan Carlos is the paternal grandson of Alfonso XIII and a member of the Capetian dynasty of the Bourbons, a lineage that has produced kings of France since Henri IV.
- The young Juan Carlos spent the first four years of his childhood in Rome where the royal family had lived in exile since the proclamation of the Second Republic on April 14, 1931. In 1942, Don Juan, deposed from the throne, chose to move to Lausanne, Switzerland.
- General Francisco Franco, who reigned supreme from 1939, took an interest early on in the young Juan Carlos. On August 25, 1948, the dictator and the Count of Barcelona – who had supported the fascists during the Civil War – meet secretly on the Bay of Biscay and together decided that Juan Carlos would move to Spain in order to receive a pro-Franco education. The Generalissimo’s eventual aim was to reinstall the House of Bourbon on the Spanish throne. On November 8, 1948, the young prince, for the first time, moved to the Iberian Peninsula where he lived for one year.
- In 1950, after spending a year in the family residence in Estoril, Portugal, Juan Carlos returned to Spain to continue his studies under the benevolent tutelage of Franco.
- After obtaining his baccalaureate degree, Juan Carlos, from 1955 to 1959, received military training at the Zaragosa General Military Academy, the Marin Naval Academy and the San Javier General Air Force Academy. All of these institutions had been chosen personally by the dictator who followed closely the career of his future successor.
- On March 29, 1956, Alfonso, Juan Carlos’s younger brother, aged 14, died from a bullet wound to the head in the Estoril family residence. The royal family’s official declaration states that the young Alfonso was killed accidentally while handling a revolver. In fact, it was Juan Carlos who was responsible for the accident. No investigation was carried out and Alfonso was buried the very next day. Franco intervened personally at the Spanish Embassy in Lisbon and asked his brother, Nicolás Franco, then Spain’s ambassador to Portugal, to write a falsified statement on the tragedy designed to protect Juan Carlos. Don Jaime, brother of Don Juan and uncle of the young Alfonso, is the only person to request – albeit in vain – an investigation: „I demand that you conduct a criminal investigation because it is my duty as head of the House of Bourbon and because I cannot accept that someone who has failed to fulfill his responsibilities might aspire to the Spanish throne.“ In October, 1992, Juan Carlos, then King of Spain for some 17 years, acceded to his father’s request and repatriated his brother’s remains to the Spanish Royal Pantheon.
- In 1962, Juan Carlos, by then 24 years old, married Princess Sofia of Greece in Athens. Juan Carlos and Doña Sofía have three children: Infanta Elena (1963), the Infanta Cristina (1965) and Prince Felipe (1968).
- In 1963, Franco persuaded the young couple to settle in the Palacio de La Zarzuela in Madrid, despite the fierce opposition of the Count of Barcelona, who had begun to understand that the dictator’s machinations were designed to deprive him of the throne.
- During this period Juan Carlos was surrounded and advised by members of Opus Dei.
- In January of 1966, Juan Carlos made a statement to the U.S. news magazine Time in which he swore loyalty to his father: „I will never accept the crown as long as my father is alive.“
- On March 5, 1966, the date of the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the death of Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos, on the advice of Franco, refused to participate in the Count of Barcelona’s Privy Council meeting held in Estoril, a conclave designed to reaffirm the dynastic rights of Juan de Borbón y Battenberg. Juan Carlos thus chose to break with dynastic unity in order that he might himself come to power.
- In 1969, Franco decided officially to appoint Juan Carlos as his successor, a decision he based on the 1947 Law of Succession to the position of head of state. In so doing he broke with the dynastic rules that stipulated that Juan de Borbón y Battenberg, the legitimate heir of King Alfonso XIII, must come to occupy the throne.
- Don Juan had heard the news when he received a letter from his son Juan Carlos asking for his father’s blessing. The father’s response is scathing: „What monarchy are you saving? A monarchy that is against your father? You have saved nothing. You want to save a Franco monarchy? I do not agree and I never will. I will never accept that you can be king of Spain without the consent of the monarchy, without passing through the dynasty.“ He decided to withdraw the title „Prince of Asturias“ from his son.
- In response, Franco decided to grant Juan Carlos the title „Prince of Spain,“ a title that had never before been used. The successor designate took the oath of office in July of 1969 and swore loyalty to Franco; to the principles of the National Movement, the party founded by the Generalissimo; as well as to the Fundamental Laws of the Realm, laws designed to replace the constitution that had been imposed by the dictator during his reign.
- Juan Carlos, always very close to Franco, did not fail to express allegiance to the caudillo. In an interview on French television in 1969 he stated: „General Franco is truly a decisive figure for Spain, both historically and politically. He knew how […] to solve our crisis of 1936. He played a political role that got us out of the Second World War. Over the past thirty years, he has laid the foundations for the development [of the country]. For me, he serves as a living example through his daily patriotic devotion and service to Spain. I have a very great affection and admiration for him.“
- In January 1971, Juan Carlos went to the United States at the invitation of President Richard Nixon to strengthen ties with Washington, a country that had supported the Franco regime since the 1950s.
- Franco being gravely ill, Juan Carlos was designated for the first time interim head of state between July 19 and September 2, 1974. On July 18, 1974, he replaced the Generalissimo at the 1936 anniversary celebration of the uprising against the Spanish Republic.
- On July 20, 1974, Juan Carlos performed his first official act by signing a joint statement with the United States that extended the mutual assistance treaty between the two countries.
- On October 30, 1975, Juan Carlos again assumed the role of head of state through November 20, 1975. A few weeks earlier, on October 1, 1975, he had appeared alongside Franco at a rally organized by the regime in response to the international community’s unanimous condemnation that followed Spain’s execution of five political prisoners.
- The official biography published on the website of the Casa Real (the household of the king of Spain) carefully omits noting the close links between Juan Carlos and Franco. Neither is mention made of his political responsibilities before November 22, 1975.
- Two days after Franco’s death on November 20, 1975, Juan Carlos was proclaimed king of Spain by the Franco Cortes (the Spanish legislature), in accordance with the wishes the Generalissimo had expressed in a posthumous message to the nation: „I ask you to preserve unity and peace and surround the future king of Spain, Don Juan Carlos de Borbón, with the same affection that you offered me.“ The new king was „moored and well moored“ to the throne.
- The official biography on the Casa Real website evokes this episode as follows: „Following the death of former head of state Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was proclaimed king on November 22, 1975 and delivered before Parliament his first message to the nation. In it he expressed the principal ideas of his reign: that of restoring democracy and being the king of all Spaniards, without exception.“
- However, historical reality contradicts this assertion. Far from advocating for a democratic transition, Juan Carlos, quite to the contrary, swore loyalty to Franco’s legacy and said that he would continue his work: „I swear before God and the Holy Gospels to respect and uphold the Fundamental Laws of the Realm and remain loyal to the principles of the National Movement. „During his speech, he paid vibrant tribute to the dictator Franco: „An exceptional figure enters into history. The name of Francisco Franco will be a highlight of Spanish history, an essential reference point and a key to understanding our contemporary political life. With respect and gratitude, I wish to remember the face of the one who for so many years bore the heavy burden of leading the country.“ At no time did Juan Carlos speak of democracy or mention the establishment of a democratic transition.
- Similarly, during his speech to the kingdom on Christmas eve, December 24, 1975, Juan Carlos again praised Franco and his legacy: „The year ends on a deep note of sadness because of the illness and death of one who was for many years our generalissimo. The testament that he leaves the Spanish people is undoubtedly a historical document that reflects the enormous human qualities, the enormous feelings of patriotism on which he wished to base his work as head of our nation. We now have a very solid basis on which to build. It is inherited from the generation that was sacrificed and the extraordinary efforts of certain exemplary Spaniards. Today, I dedicate to them a tribute of respect and admiration.“
- Despite bloody crackdowns by the government, protests and strikes multiplied across the country. Faced with armed resistance from the ETA, communists from the Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front (FRAP) and the First of October Anti-fascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO), the king of Spain became aware that the status quo would be impossible to maintain and that change was inevitable. He realized that Francoism would not survive the death of its leader.
- In 1976, he decided nonetheless to appoint Adolfo Suárez, a former president of the National Movement, as President of the Government (prime minister).
- Faced with republican opposition, which viewed him as Franco’s heir, Juan Carlos concluded a pact: he would open the way for a democratic transition, but solely on the condition that the monarchy be restored. He presented himself as the guarantor of a reconciliation of all Spaniards.
- On November 18, 1976, the Political Reform Act, paving the way for a democratic transition, was approved by nearly 95% of voters in a national referendum. Political parties – including the Spanish Communist Party – were legalized and an amnesty was declared for some political prisoners.
- On May 14, 1977, Juan Carlos compelled his father, the Count of Barcelona and legitimate heir to the throne, to renounce his dynastic rights. This action consolidated his own power and legitimized the power he had been granted by the man who had triggered the civil war between 1936 and 1939. Juan Carlos became Prince of Asturias on November 1, 1977.
- During June of 1977, the first democratic election since 1936 was held in Spain, a country that had been without a constitution from 1936 to 1978. The Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD), the party of Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, who had been appointed by the king, won the election. The new Parliament – with 41 senators appointed by Juan Carlos, following the practice established by Franco – adopted the 1978 constitution. The new constitution (ratified in a referendum by nearly 95% of the voters), made Spain a parliamentary monarchy and recognized Juan Carlos as „the legitimate heir to the historic dynasty“ (Article 57). The new text replaced Franco’s Fundamental Laws.
- The king became head of state, head of the armed forces and guarantor of the unity of the nation. He endorses and ratifies laws, appoints the Presidents of the Government and may dissolve Parliament with the consent of the President of the Congress of Deputies. He represents the country internationally and exercises the right of pardon (Article 62). He accredits ambassadors, signs international treaties and, after authorization by the Parliament (Article 63), disposes of the power to declare war. Finally, as stated in Article 56, he has full and absolute immunity for all crimes and misdemeanors, including even cases of treason to the fatherland.
- Juan Carlos I de Borbón is granted an annual budget for the support of his family and his entourage. He may dispose of it as he sees fit (Article 65). According to the Casa Real, for 2014, it was 7.8 million euros.
- However, according to retired Colonel Amadeo Martínez Inglés, a specialist on matters pertaining to the Royal House and critic of Juan Carlos I, the real cost of the monarchy is over 560 million euros per year. In addition to the initial budget directly allocated to the Casa Real, the budget of the Ministry of the Presidency (royal administration, receptions, preservation of national heritage for the exclusive use of the royal family) should also be included, as well as that of the regiment of the Royal Guard and the armed forces required for the protection of the King during his travels. Also to be included are all of the logistical expenses, for example, the cost of security for the Casa Real that is charged to the Ministry of the Interior, the cost of foreign travel charged to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the cost of the staff of the Casa Real (372 employees), etc.
- The New York Times estimates the personal fortune of the King of Spain to be almost 2 billion euros.
- On February 23, 1981, the young Spanish democracy faced an attempted military coup orchestrated by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero. The National Assembly was stormed by some 200 civil guards and 100 soldiers during the inauguration of the presidential candidate Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo. The army occupied strategic points in the capital and the country. King Juan Carlos gave a nationally televised address seven hours later to condemn the attempted coup: „The Crown, symbol of the permanence and unity of the nation, cannot tolerate, in any form, the actions or attitudes of people attempting by force to interrupt the democratic process. A process which the constitution, voted for by the Spanish people, determined by referendum.“ This intervention enhanced the image of the king, henceforth considered the savior of democracy.
- In 1981, Juan Carlos met with U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Spain decided to join NATO in 1982. The same year, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party came to power and the new President of the Government, Felipe González, maintained excellent relations with the crown.
- Between 1983 and 1987, under the government of Felipe González, the GAL, the Antiterrorist Liberation Groups‘ death squads, created by the Spanish government to fight against Basque separatists, killed 27 people, the majority of whom were political opponents. Officially, Juan Carlos I knew nothing of this policy of state terrorism. However, this version is hardly credible. Indeed, the King had a reputation for being thoroughly informed about the situation in the country and received daily reports.
- In 1992, the conservative Spanish daily El Mundo revealed an extramarital relationship between Juan Carlos and Marta Gayá, a Majorque decorator, thereby causing a scandal.
- On October 1, 1995, Juan Carlos was the victim of an assassination attempt in Palma de Mallorca, organized by ETA, the Basque separatist organization.
- In 2002, during the coup d’état against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the Spain of Juan Carlos de Borbón and President of the Government José María Aznar became, after the United States, the only other country in the world to recognize officially the group responsible for the coup, a junta led by Estanca Pedro Carmona. During his appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Spanish Congress on December 1, 2004, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke clearly about this: „My statements were: 1. There was a coup d’état in Venezuela. 2 The Spanish ambassador received instructions from the Spanish government. 3. The objective of these instructions, or rather, to avoid misunderstandings, the effect of carrying out these instructions and other acts was to support the coup […]. My words must be understood in the sense that by supporting it, I wanted to say and want to say that the government did not condemn the coup, that it endorsed it and gave it international legitimacy.“
- In 2003, Juan Carlos, Chief of the Armed Forces, decided to involve Spain in the war against Iraq, an illegal action from the perspective of international law. In so doing he ignored the will of the Spanish people who, by a vast majority, considered it an attack on a sovereign country whose goal was to control that nation’s energy resources.
- In November 2007, during the XVII Ibero-American Summit in Chile, Juan Carlos attacked President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in a discourteous manner, saying „Why don’t you just shut up?“ President Chávez had indeed pointed out the fact that Madrid had supported the 2002 coup against his government: „It is difficult to believe that the Spanish ambassador would have supported the coup, or gone to the [Presidential] Palace, without the permission of his majesty.“ In his response to the king’s attack, Chávez asked for respect, recalling that, „like the king,“ he too was head of state, „with the difference being that I was elected three times and he has never been elected.“
- In April of 2012, Juan Carlos I suffered a hip fracture during a safari in Botswana. Many voices were raised in criticism of a trip that cost the Spanish taxpayer tens of thousands of euros at the very moment that the country was experiencing one of the worst economic crises in its history. Many people, especially the most vulnerable, had been abandoned to their fate by a government that made austerity policies a priority and had dismantled the entire social protection system. To improve his image, the king apologized to the nation – something unique in the history of his reign – on April 18, 2012: „I am deeply sorry. I made a mistake and it will not happen again.“ But his mea culpa did not satisfy a population hard hit by the economic crisis.
- Many voices were raised to denounce the censorship imposed upon the media through the Pact of Silence between the Crown and the Federation of the Spanish Press. This was an act designed to protect the image of the king. Under the Pact, several people were sentenced to jail time (Mariano Delgado Francés in 1988, Abdclauthab Buchai Ceuta in 1989, etc.) for having insulted the king.
- On June 2, 2014, Juan Carlos decided to abdicate in favor of his son Felipe de Borbón y Grecia, who would become Felipe VI. The King explained why: „These difficult years have allowed us to do a self-critical assessment of our mistakes and our limitations as a society […]. In building [the] future, a new generation rightly claims a leading role […]. Today, a younger generation, with renewed energy, deserves to go to the front of the line. This generation has decided to undertake with determination the transformations and reforms that the current situation requires and face with intensity and a renewed dedication the challenges of tomorrow [… ]. My son Felipe, heir to the throne, embodies stability, which is the lodestar of the monarchical institution […]. The Prince of Asturias has maturity, preparation and the responsibility necessary to assume, with all the guarantees, the role of head of state and thereby open a new chapter in which hope will be combined with experience and the momentum of a new generation […]. For these reasons, guided by the conviction of providing the best service to the Spanish people […] I have decided to end my reign and abdicate the Spanish Crown.“ On June 11, 2014, Spanish deputies passed a law allowing the abdication of Juan Carlos, and in so doing opened the way to succession.
- Article 57 of the Constitution, which treats the topic of the succession of Juan Carlos, states that „the male shall precede the female…“ thus legitimizing the appointment of Felipe. However, that article is considered unconstitutional by lawyers because it contravenes Article 14 which states that „Spaniards are equal before the law and may not in any way be discriminated against on account of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.“
- The same day, popular demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people demanding a referendum on the structure of the Spanish state and the establishment of a republic burst out across the country. According to several surveys, more than 60% of all Spaniards supported a referendum.
- Juan Carlos leaves his country in a severe economic crisis with an unemployment rate of 26%, a European record; more than six million unemployed; an unprecedented number of suicides – nine per day – since the economic crisis of 2008 began; and more than three million people living in conditions of „severe poverty,“ that is to say, 6.4% of the population live on less than 307 euros per month.
- Despite the transition to democracy and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy, despite efforts to conceal his intimate links with Franco, King Juan Carlos I de Borbón y Borbón never succeeded in shedding his image of illegitimacy due to one indelible stain on his rule: he had been appointed to the throne by the dictator Franco who, supported by Hitler and Mussolini, was responsible for the violent and bloody repression of the second Spanish Republic that had been created by popular vote on February 16, 1936.
Translated from the French by Larry R. Oberg
Doctor of Iberian and Latin American studies at the University Paris IV-Sorbonne, Salim Lamrani is a lecturer at the University of La Réunion, and a journalist specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States.
His new book is The Economic War Against Cuba, New York, Monthly Review Press, 2013; prologue by Wayne S. Smith, foreword by Paul Estrade, translated by Larry R. Oberg.