Spain History - 2nd Return of House of Bourbon - (1975)

When General Franco died in 1975 the symbolic power and Spain passed to Don Juan Carlos the grandson of King Alfonso XIII. The new King Juan Carlos I was initially thought to be a likeable and suitable puppet for control by the General Franco diehards. However, the past patient young man showed at a surprising speed that he knew how to manipulate political antagonists and moved Spain into the path of European democracy. His first act was to replace the Prime Minister Arias Navarro with a relatively unknown man named Adolfo Suarez. In 1977 the whole of Spain watched on television as Prime Minister Suarez effectively introduce a Bill dismissing the main control of Franco's regime and introducing a democratic system of elective representation. Their next task was to prepare and present a democratic Constitution that would allow for acceptable harmony between the monarchy, army, church and political factions.

Following quickly on this success all press censorship was removed, and political parties legalized. The new Constitution that followed proved to be one of the most liberal in content and practice in all of Europe. The transition from the absolute rule of Franco to democracy was smoothly introduced, and much to the surprise of the many diehards. After approval by Parliament they turned to the people and asked them for their opinion in a referendum on the 6th of December 1978. The approval of the citizens of Spain was 87.8 percent in favour of the new Constitution. Spain now consisted of 17 different regions and with respect to the individualistic nature of their people autonomous administration was introduced. Unfortunately, particularly difficult was the Basques with the ETA Party continuing in their bloody battle for liberty against what they considered was a Madrid imposed occupying force. Catalonia took a less direct approach to their desire for autonomy from Madrid through their wily leader Jordi Pujól. Using the powerful economy of his region and subtle political manoeuvres in parliament he changed the rules so that each region had its own individual President, legislature and courts system, co-official languages, and control of their own tax revenues.

This new parliamentary reforms also brought a change in many social standards and with it new problems not apparent under the previous Franco regime. Crime figures began to climb, drug addicts became so usual that hardly a family escaped, live sex shows were common place and all forms of moral deviation were generally accepted. The situation was unacceptable to so many, both the church leaders and the generals were preparing their plans and on February the 23rd in 1981 a band of soldiers right-wing soldiers led by Colonel Antonio Tejero made an attempt to take control of the Cortes before the live television cameras in Madrid. On the same day a coup was initiated both in Valencia and Girón and the King promptly addressed the nation on television warning that it that neither he nor his loyal generals would allow these rebels to succeed. The King's appeal won the day and his prestige soared as all over Spain people took to the streets to show their support.

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was soon appointed Prime Minister in place of Suarez. Until the next elections in 1982 the country managed to avoid any further power struggles although rumours were always circulating about discontent behind the scenes. The 1982 elections were won by the Socialist Party under Felipe Gonzalez taking Spain historically into being led for the first time by a left-wing Government. Also, this new Prime Minister was not a person from a cultivated and privileged background for he was a man from humble origins, his father having been a herdsman on a livestock farm near Seville. Gonzalez had climbed aboard the Socialist wagon as a youth whilst studying to become a lawyer and he had been arrested several times for his political activities. His climb in his Party had been unusually quick having elected in Paris to Secretary General of the then outlawed Party. At 40 he took the top office in Spain having made many important friends in his career in northern Europe. He brought with him to the office his great friend and aide Alfonso Guerra who has been complimented as being the source of many of Gonzalez political policies.

The Spain that Gonzalez had inherited presented some severe initial problems. There was a failing economy, lack of reserves, old-fashioned bureaucracy, and strong resentment from the conservative minded public and much of the army. However, on the reverse side of the coin he enjoyed the confidence of bankers and industry who were prepared to allow him to prove himself. The army was possibly the easiest of his problems as money was the quick answer in this respect. Increased salaries and much needed equipment coupled with relocation of units in order to improve national unity removed most of the discontentment. In 1980 Gonzalez took Spain into NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization), which meant that Spain had to open the closed frontier between the British Colony of Gibraltar and the mainland of Spain which had been shut by Franco in 1969. This small colony is at the time of writing a thorn in the side of both the UK and Spain. In the eyes of London the place no longer offers any strategic value, from the point of view of Madrid the English should return a stolen possession, whilst in the ardent opinion of 98% of the Gibraltarians, they should be allowed to decide their own fate which so far has indicated there is no wish to be part of Spain.

In 1962 the European Community denied an application for Spain's entry but in 1986 Spain became a fully-fledged European partner in this powerful organization which is now renamed as the European Union. By the end of 1990 the population of Spain enjoyed one of the world's highest disposable incomes as Gonzalez and his Party continued their successful run of office. However, the down slide in the world economy brought the dream to an end in 1992 as foreign investment dried up and the stock market dropped 30 percent in the same year and the trade deficit increased by $30 billion Euros. However, Gonzalez enjoyed temporary popularity this same year brought about by the very successful Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona and International Expo in Seville. The Socialist managed to retain most seats in 1993 but they had to rely on the support of both the Catalans and the Basques for winning political battles in Parliament. In the meantime the EU had been handing out generous funds for projects and the construction of superb inter-city motorway network. Once again corruption was the order of the day and the bureaucratic machinery had by now increased to such immense proportions that it became the average Spaniard's dream to become a rich shuffler of bureaucratic papers. Corruption reached all levels but very few were ever publicly held to task for their abuse of power. Two examples who did not escape were Luis Roldan of the Guardia Civil who was indiscreet in using a secret security fund, and the director of the Bank of Spain who left a trail of misused state money as he lived in grandiose style.

Spain once more needed a change and in March 1996 José María Aznar (PP) entered the political stage by winning the vote but still 20 seats short of a ruling majority. After two months of backroom negotiation he emerged as Prime Minister. With his usual frankness Aznar warned the country to expect an austere programme of cuts in spending, a major reduction in the number of civil servants, and in a businesslike manner he attacked the problems once again supported by the leaders in industry and commerce. By 1999 Spain was on a sufficiently good financial footing to join other EU members in changing its traditional currency to the Euro. José Aznar was re-elected for a further term in 1999 and continued building the wealth and prosperity of the country. The next election in 2004 resulted in his defeat bringing back the PSOE now under the new leadership of José Gonzalez. Aznar and his Party's fall from public favour can be mainly blamed on the Spanish involvement with the USA in the war on Iraq and the subsequent terrible bombing in Madrid only three days before the election. Approximately 200 hundred people were slaughtered in commuter trains when on the way to work in the early morning. As a result of the handling of this tragic event the government lost the next election (only three days after the event), and the PSOE was elected with José Luis Rodrigues Zapatero as the new Prime Minister.

In July of 2005 Spain became the first country in the world to give full marriage and adoption rights to homosexual couples. In 2006 the secret Independent Movement of ETA declared a ceasefire after but was later to withdraw this in July 2007. In October 2011 it repeated its offer of ceasefire but it was rejected by the government.

The economic global crisis of 2008/9 created a meltdown in the financial situation which was to strongly surface in 2011 with high unemployment and the banking system in serious trouble. In 2012, with 50% of the youth of Spain unemployed and heavy increase in Taxes, plus layoffs in state services to reduce public debt, the people took to the streets to protest. September 2012 also 1.5 million Catalonians made a mass demonstration to demand the Independence of their region. In October of 2015 the Catalonians Regional Government led by Artur Mas held a vote on the question of independence from Madrid but although they received a large vote in favour it was not a majority result.


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