Wednesday, 23 February 2011

23-F: Why is it important to Spain

SPAIN Today is the 30th anniversary of an attempted coup d'etat that could have taken Spain back into the dark ages of dictatorship. 23-F, as it's called in Spain, was a very close call that began on 23 February 1981 and ended on the following day. It is also known as El Tejerazo from the name of its most visible figure, Antonio Tejero, who led the failed coup's most notable event: the bursting into the Spanish Congress of Deputies by a group of 200 armed officers of the Guardia Civil during the process of electing Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo to be the country's new Prime Minister. The Congress of Deputies, as the lower chamber is called, yesterday released the official minutes of that session. The news is that then-Lieutenant Colonel Tejero (he was stripped of his rank later), ordered his men to fire at the deputies at one point in the occupation of the Chamber.>
The minutes were written up by the four Secretaries of the Lower House, Víctor Manuel Carrascal y Soledad Becerril (UCD) and Leopoldo Torres y José Bono (PSOE).

Shortly after being advised at 9pm by the First Vice-President of the Congress, Modesto Fraile, and by Bono, that should there be a power cut, the lights would go out as there was no generator. "To the surprise and astonishment of all those present, Lieutenant Colonel Tejero shouts loudly at the occupying forces: 'If there's a light cut at the door where you are, and you get someone up close to you, shoot them,' " say the minutes.

"Soon afterwards various orders were heard: 'Stand by the doors! 'To the doors! Don't anyonepush at the doors if the lights go out, or you'll be fired on!' " they continue.

Following the above, Tejero ordered the ushers to bring chairs from the outside and to place them on top of each other in the centre, near the small stenographers' tables and then told them to set fire to the pire they had created. "At that moment," continue the minutes, "several deputies shouted that everything was made of wood. An officer knocks some chairs down and extracts the burlap [put there as a lighter] and places it on the stenographers' table; another officer, at the request of the President of the Chamber (Landelina Lavilla), who advised him of the dangers, stops the operation. Half an hour later, approximately, an usher places some table covers on the stanographers' tables."

Aside from the actual bursting in on the Chamber in session, armed, shouting and firing into the ceiling (which still has some of the holes made by Tejero), one of the most tense moments came at 19:45, when Tejero grabbed the acting President of the Government, Adolfo Suárez, by the arm and they both left the Chamber. Shortly afterwards, they were followed by the Leader of the Opposition Felipe González; the Vice President of the Government, Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado; the Vice-Secretary General of the PSOE, Alfonso Guerra; the Minister of Defence, Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún, and the SecreatrY General of the Spanish Communist Party, Santiago Carrillo. "At that moment there was a grave silence in the Chamber," say the minutes.

A few moments later, a member of the Guardia Civil (to whom Tejero also belonged, it being a militarised police force) read out a "communiqué" from Lieutenant General Jaime Milans del Boch, commander of the Third Military District, announcing that he, Milans del Boch, joins the rebels and declares a curfew in Valencia district. Previously, when he had been in the Chamber for only an hour, Tejero had announcedMilans del Boch's ABRAZOS to his men.

The minutes carry on. "From the outer passageways confused shouts of '¡Viva España!' are heard, answered by numerous voices that respond with '¡Viva!' and ´¡Arriba!'. Other voices shout '¡Viva el Rey!' and '¡Viva la Guardia Civil!'. Another voice is heard saying '¡Viva la democracia!' which is responded with '¡Viva!'

A "competent military authority" was expected but failed to turn up, but Tejero kept his men's hopes up till quite late. At 22:30 he announced that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Military Districts had "said Yes to Lioeutenant Milans del Boch becoming President of the Government."

However, as time went by and the coup d'etat was failing, the bad manners displayed when General Gutiérrez Mellado, who was part of the Government, was pushed around, the threats to fire and the banniong of reading or writing -one Deputy had a book of poems snatched out of his hands- gave way to better manners. At 11 the following morning, February 24, according to the minutes a lieutenant addressed the Deputies as follows: "Silence, please. Sit down. Let's see. Apologies for the delay in bringing you breakfast, but I think it won't be necessary. I have the feeling that a solution to the problem is about to arrive ... I would thank you if you kept as calm as you have up to now..." Even Tejero became better mannered, when it came to clearing the Chamber: "Please, we're going to clear the Chamber. The only thing I ask is that you cooperate and leave little by little.

During those final hours, when it was clear that the coup had failed, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, President of Alianza Popular (the political precursor of today's Partido Popular, PP, of which he is Honorary President, and still a political figure of note), addressed Tejero at 8:50: "Can the Guardia Civil keep so many defenceless men here as though we were a band of fugitives?" He added. "I've had enough! Shoot me!" as he tore open his jacket.

During the night King Juan Carlos I gave a nationally televised address denouncing the coup and urging the maintenance of law and the continuance of the democratically elected government. The coup soon collapsed after that, and the King is fondly remembered for it by all parties (in a mostly republican country). After holding the Parliament and cabinet hostage for 18 hours the hostage-takers surrendered the next morning without having harmed anyone. (Learn more on Wikipedia.)

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