On February 23rd 1981, an attempted coup d’état against the nascent democracy, popularly known as 23-F and headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina (born 1932), took place in Spain.
It was the second failed try to stop the transition process after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975 following Operación Galaxia, the code name given to the plan which preceded this botched operation and was supposed to be executed on November 17th, 1978.
More than two years later, in the early evening hours, Tejero led around 200 of his armed Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) comrades into the Congress of Deputies during the vote to elect Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo (1926-2008) as new Spanish Prime Minister.
His predecessor Adolfo Suárez (1932-2014) had resigned three weeks earlier due to failing support by his own party, the short-lived Unión de Centro Democrático, (Democratic Centre Union, UCD).
Though shots were fired, the hostage-takers surrendered the next morning after 18 hours, setting free unharmed all parliamentarians and ministers. The officers were aware that their cause was lost when King Juan Carlos I (born 1938) denounced the coup in a televised address in the early hours of February 24th, calling for the rule of law and expressing support for the democratic government.
There were multiple reasons for this charade, doomed from the beginning: a serious economic crisis with an unemployment rate of almost 20%, 16% inflation and massive capital flight; the decentralization of governance by granting autonomy status to all Spanish regions, fostering the return of open separatism; dozens of murders committed by the Basque terrorist group ETA since the former autocratic head of state had passed away; open opposition to a democratic system from within the Spanish Armed Forces, where memories of Second Republic and the subsequent civil war were pretty much alive.
Besides Madrid, Valencia was the second stronghold of the insurgents. Lieutenant-General Jaime Milans del Bosch (1915-1997), Commander of the III Military Region, executed his part by deploying 2,000 men and fifty tanks onto the streets. When some of those passed very close by, our building started to vibrate. I could see them clearly from our balcony.
Although at 7 PM local radio stations broadcast a state of emergency after the town hall and a judicial court building had been occupied, the rebels didn’t find enough support and were forced to withdraw.
My father sent me to bed around 9 PM and went to have a whiskey with a neighbor, who unpacked his probably unused deer rifle. Together they watched the news until very late.
When I woke up early next morning, my daddy told me that the whole pandemonium was over since the monarch had publicly opposed the idea and that I had to attend school.
I was thirteen at the time, not yet interested in politics an unable to understand the implications. To me it seemed more like a bad dream had ended…
P.D.: The Supreme Court of Military Justice condemned Milans del Bosch and Tejero to 30 years in prison, of which they served nine and fifteen, respectively.