The Politics of Revenge: Fascism and the Military in Twentieth-Century Spain

By Paul Preston | Go to book overview

8

Francoism's last stand: the military campaign against democracy, 1973-82

At 6.30 p.m. on 23 February 1981 Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, at the head of 200 Civil Guards, entered the Spanish parliament buildings in Madrid. The Cortes was in full session, in order to vote on the investiture of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as president of the government. The aim of Tejero and his fellow-conspirators was to sequestrate the entire political élite in order to create the political vacuum which would in turn justify the imposition of military rule. At approximately the same time, other participants in the plot were occupying the headquarters of Radio-Televisión Espanola at Prado del Rey outside Madrid. Further plans envisaged the occupation of key strategic points of the capital by units of the crack Brunete armoured division. Meanwhile, the Captain-General of Valencia, the third of Spain's nine military regions, Jaime Milans del Bosch, was moving tanks into the streets there and declaring that the grave events taking place in Madrid necessitated such a take-over. In the event, the coup failed. In retrospect, it may be seen as the high point in the efforts of ultra-reactionary elements in the Spanish army to overturn the transition to democracy. From the early 1970s, when the prospect of democratic change after the dictatorship became an increasingly palpable threat, military hard-liners had been struggling both to stamp out liberalism within their own ranks and to use their power to block civilian efforts to bring about a transition.

Within twenty months of the failed Tejero coup, the Socialist Party would be in power. There would be other despairing efforts at coups, but they would fail as the socialists embarked on a massive programme of military modernization, consolidating Spain's membership of NATO and replacing the Spanish army's obsession with domestic politics by a concern for international strategic issues. At the time of the Tejero coup, however, that outcome was anything but clear. The nervous media, hoping to diminish the enormity of what was happening, stressed Tejero's track record as the prime mover behind the abortive 'Galaxia' coup of 1978, and

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