An Uncertain Democracy

Transposing emblem by Mavi Romano

“I am not an African” said John the first time we talked. He was born in Nigeria, but rejected his origin because his grandfather – he related – “was killed when he tried to change things in Africa.” He wanted me to understand that the work we were doing as consultants in an international development agency was in vain because the developing regions were still suffering from inexorable, brutal and widespread political corruption. The reality of political power in his native country opposed his deeper moral values. John and I see eye to eye on this.

2017 marked the beginning of a crisis in Spain with the call for a referendum to self-determine the status of Catalonia, which the central government and Spanish society, for the most part, has considered to be a challenge to the unity of the state.

On October 1, state repression exercised upon more than two million voters ended with close to a thousand people being injured, the imprisonment of political and social leaders without trial, and accusations of criminal offences such as rebellion, sedition and embezzlement – although the people accused did not act violently or incite violence at any time – and was followed by central government intervention in Catalan institutions. All this shows the de facto limits of an uncertain democracy that puts the idea of the Spanish nation state’s unity before internationally recognized fundamental civil rights such freedom of expression, a right to self-determination, and political freedom. With a central government that considers dialogue or changing the 1978 Spanish legal framework to be almost treason against Spanish sovereignty and a truce that could favor the enemy, we have a long haul before us.

In alternative social networks and media, we have started to talk about opening a new constituent process in Spain. The lack of legitimacy in the current legal and political framework – the Spanish parliamentary monarchy – is based on the de facto continuity of Franco’s oligarchies and a continuous decline in Spanish sovereignty in both foreign affairs and domestic issues.

Franco’s myth of Spanish national sovereignty

The ideological inheritance of the Spanish nation defined as “one, big and free” from Franco’s dictatorship is expressed in the will to preserve its unity, which is based on the territorial integrity that remains from its colonial past, and the nation’s independence from any foreign intervention.[i] Years ago, a headline captured the declaration of King Juan Carlos: “Franco held my hand and asked me to preserve Spain’s unity.”[ii]

The fascist military uprising that put an end to the Second Spanish Republic – which was democratically elected – and led to civil war (1936-1939) started in southeastern Spain (Extremadura and Andalusia) as a large-scale attack by rebellious militias against the civilian population. Among their leaders was the bloodthirsty Queipo del Llano, who is responsible for exterminating thousands of civilians and using his radio station from Sevilla to incite indiscriminate brutality against any military or civilian dissident, including the mass rape of women. [iii]

The first intervention by the United States in Spanish political affairs dates to the years of the civil war. The US oil corporation Texaco[iv] diverted oil shipments contracted by the Republican government to Franco’s forces, so that the fascist forces invading Spain received from the United States the only critical resource that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy could not provide.[v] The fascist forces won the war.[vi]

Some years later, the Franco and Eisenhower governments signed the Pact of Madrid in 1953 to establish military cooperation between Spain and the United States, with four military bases being built in Spanish territory in return for economic and military support.[vii]

Thirty years later, in 1973, the terrorist group ETA killed Franco’s Carrero Blanco, president of the government at that time. The attack by blowing up the car in which he was inside happened within some 800 meters of the US Embassy in Madrid, although US authorities did not report any abnormal incident in the area during time the terrorists were digging the tunnel where they placed the explosives. The explosives involved C4, which during those years was only used by US troops in Vietnam, and could not be found in Spain. Two months earlier, Carrero Blanco had prevented the United States from using the US military bases in Spanish territory for an operation planned during the Yom Kippur War.[viii]

A political figure will be a key part of the Spanish transition after Franco’s death and promote Spain’s entry into NATO, thereby favoring the geopolitical interests of the United States. Juan Carlos de Borbon y Borbon is formally anointed Crown Prince, one day after Franco named him as successor and gave him the title of King. His appointment – as the Prince stated in his speech[ix] –  was politically legitimized by the fascist coup d’etat on July 18, 1936, skipping over the line of succession for the kingship. The headline in the newspaper El Alcázar read: “This is the Monarchy of the Movimiento Nacional” (the only channel of participation in Spanish public affairs during Franco’s rule in Spain).[x] Two days after Franco’s death in 1975, he assumed his position as King of Spain. The figure of Franco was honored in his first message addressed to the Spaniards. From then on, Spanish media left out any link between the Monarchy and the fascist coup d’etat.[xi]

It is remarkable that during the eight years of the Spanish transition no referendum was held so that Spaniards could decide on the establishment of a monarchical or republican state. Adolfo Suárez, president of the government at that time, revealed to a journalist that the Spanish state had conducted several surveys, and the results showed that the monarchy would have lost. “The words ‘King’ and ‘Monarchy’ were introduced” in the Law of Political Reform of 1976. By linking the monarchy in the law, its permanence was ensured.[xii]

The coup d’etat that marked the end of the Transition and the final loss of national sovereignty

About one month before the military coup d’etat on February 23, 1981 (23-F), President Adolfo Suárez announced his intention to resign on television. The political agenda he proposed at the end of his term was not to the liking of King Juan Carlos. Among other issues, it is remarkable that Suárez tried to integrate Spain into the Non-Aligned Movement and not into NATO.[xiii]

On February 23, 1981, the military entered the Congress of Representatives, the lower house of the Spanish Parliament, with around 200 Guardia Civil and soldiers and held the congressmen hostage for some 22 hours. King Juan Carlos gave a nationally televised address denouncing the coup and urging the maintenance of law and the continuation of the democratically elected government. There are still a lot of open questions “on the King’s role and the coup as an example of coercive realpolitik taken to the next level. The gist of the [alternative] version is that the coup itself was orchestrated by the Security Services with the complicity of the Royal House and representatives of the main political parties and the mainstream media, among others.”[xiv] The same year, King Juan Carlos met Ronald Reagan and decided to integrate Spain into NATO in 1982. The Spanish NATO membership referendum was held in 1986. In the question asked, the government’s position was implied: “In your view, should Spain continue to be a member of the Atlantic Alliance subject to the terms agreed by the national government?” The referendum saw 56.9% of the voters cast their vote in favor of remaining in NATO, with a turnout of 59.4%.[xv]

The coup d’etat on February 23, 1981 marked a turning point in the democratic opposition forces. These had been massive in different areas during the 1970s (universities, workplaces, cities, intellectual and artistic circles, professional bodies, nationalist sectors in Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia).[xvi] Spanish society fed on a climate of fear due to terrorist attacks by far-right and far-left groups, repression by state security forces, and anxiety about a coup d’etat that could set the country back to the repression of the postwar years. For all that, the official version presented by King Juan Carlos as the savior of Spanish democracy was readily accepted and thus the consolidation of an effectively bipartisan parliamentary monarchy and the continuity of the Francoist power framework consisting of bankers, businessmen, large landowners, the Catholic Church, civil society hierarchy, a large portion of the journalists and intellectuals, the top leaders of the military forces, the Guardia Civil and the police authorities.[xvii]

The entry of Spain into the European Union (1985) allowed the country’s modernization and facilitated an international stamp of approval for its improvement of the health and education systems and infrastructure thanks to the European Cohesion and CAP funds. In the three decades of bipartidism that have followed, Spanish society has experienced numerous cases of corruption – currently there are 900 politicians from the government’s party accused in cases of corruption – and the monarchy has accumulated wealth that could pay Spain’s external debt. Furthermore, political power is concentrated in a few parties,[xviii] and economic liberalization and social inequalities are growing (child poverty rose to 30% in recent years[xix]). There is also the non-recognition of 140,000 missing persons between the war and Franco dictatorship,[xx] 591 people killed during the years of the Transition[xxi] and at least 4,113 cases of torture in Basque Country between 1960 and 2014.[xxii]

It is evident that democracy does not only consist in the formal organization of political elections every four years. As a state with tremendous cultural diversity, the basic democratic principles of popular sovereignty and integration of minorities should be permanently respected in Spain. The political crisis and the disruption of European funds supplied by the European Central Bank in the forthcoming months may induce a larger part of society to embrace the need for a new constituent process conducive to restoring Spanish popular sovereignty. This could make it possible to get corruption under control and pass legislation favorable to economic decentralization and the development of sectors such as renewable energy, ecological restoration, natural resources and water management, sustainable food production and rural tourism. In the hands of corrupt politicians, these sectors are regarded as markets that only benefit a few people. Just as in Africa.

Mavi Romano


[i] See: Wikipedia: “Lemas del franquismo”in: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemas_del_franquismo

[ii] Editorial, “Juan Carlos I: “Franco me cogió la mano y me pidió que preservara la unidad de España”, La Vanguardia, 16/02/2016. Available in: http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20160216/302204993484/juan-carlos-i-franco-unidad-espana.html

[iii] Miguel de Lucas, “El emperador de todos los canallas. El terror de Queipo de Llano: el siniestro legado del virrey de Andalucía”, ctxt, 22/12/2017. Available in: http://ctxt.es/es/20171220/Culturas/16873/Queipo-de-Llano-Memoria-Lorca-Andaluc%C3%ADa-radio-virrey.htm

[iv] TEXACO has been present in Spain since 1923 (initially in the Canary Island and then in the peninsula and Portugal). See: http://www.texaco.es

[v] See: Noam Chomsky, Failed States. The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, New York, 2006.

[vi] See: Miguel Ayuso, “Ni los nazis ni los fascistas: Texaco fue el aliado crucial de Franco en la Guerra Civil”, El Confidencial, 24/03/2016. Available in: https://www.elconfidencial.com/alma-corazon-vida/2016-03-24/ni-hitler-ni-mussolini-texaco-fue-el-aliado-crucial-de-franco-en-la-guerra-civil_1172972

[vii] See: Wikipedia: “Pact of Madrid”, in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pact_of_Madrid

[viii] See: Fernando Rueda: “Los personajes ocultos del asesinato de Carrero Blanco”, Tiempo, 17/12/2013. Available in: http://www.tiempodehoy.com/espana/los-personajes-ocultos-del-asesinato-de-carrero-blanco

[ix] See: “El rey Juan Carlos I jura lealtad a Franco”, available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc5V2GBQc_g

[x] See: Wikipedia: “Movimiento Nacional” in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movimiento_Nacional

[xi] Ricardo Zugasti: “La legitimidad franquista de la Monarquía de Juan Carlos I: un ejercicio de amnesia periodística durante la transición española”, Revista Comunicación y Sociedad nr. 2, Universidad de Navarra, 2005. Available in: https://www.unav.es/fcom/communication-society/es/articulo.php?art_id=87

[xii] Editorial: “Adolfo Suárez no sometió a referéndum la monarquía porque las encuestas le dijeron que perdería”, eldiario.es, 18/11/2016.

[xiii] See: Wikipedia: “Spanish transition to democracy” in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_transition_to_democracy  

[xiv] See: Wikipedia: “23-F”in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/23-F#Juan_Carlos’s_repudiation

[xv] See: Wikipedia: “Spanish NATO membership referendum, 1986”in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_NATO_membership_referendum,_1986 

[xvi] See: Armando López Salinas: “Notas de un testigo: La transición española inacabada”, available in: http://www.unidadcivicaporlarepublica.es/opinion2/transicion%20armando.htm

[xvii] See: Luis Gonzalo Segura, El libro negro del ejército español, Akal, Madrid, 2017.

[xviii] Editorial, Europa Press Madrid: “Transparencia Internacional denuncia la “desidia” del Gobierno y los partidos a la hora de atajar la corrupción”, 04/01/2018. Available in: http://www.teinteresa.es/politica/Transparencia-Internacional-Gobierno-partidos-corrupcion_0_1936606455.html

[xix] Editorial El Mundo: “España es el segundo país de la UE con más pobreza infantil, superado sólo por Rumanía. Informe de Cáritas Europa.” 27/03/2014. Available in: http://www.elmundo.es/espana/2014/03/27/53340b41268e3ead028b4573.html

[xx] Wikipedia: “Desaparecidos del franquismo” in: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desaparecidos_del_franquismo#cite_note-espa%C3%B1a_camboya_aragon-2

[xxi] See: Mariano Sánchez Soler, La transición sangrienta: Una historia violenta del proceso democrático en España (1975-1983), Ediciones Península, Barcelona, 2010.

[xxii] Redacción, Periodistas en español.com: “Amnistía pide acabar con la impunidad sobre tortura y malos tratos en el País Vasco”, 21/12/2017. Available in: http://periodistas-es.com/amnistia-pide-acabar-con-la-impunidad-sobre-tortura-y-malos-tratos-en-el-pais-vasco-95928