'Golpismo' and Disenchantment
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From the day that he was confirmed as Franco's successor, Juan Carlos was aware that he would have a battle on his hands in convincing the Army that they had nothing to fear from the democratisation of Spain. The Army viewed themselves as the guardians of the nation's unity. Many officers, senior and junior alike, had come through the ranks during the Franco years, with the result of having the same political mindset as the dictator. The transition years were therefore fraught with danger.
During his education in Spain, Juan Carlos was commissioned in all three disciplines of the Armed Forces: the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. He built up many contacts with up- and-coming cadets during his tenure, and the future monarch's sensitivity to the position of the Armed Forces allowed him, in the eyes of the Spanish people, to work miracles in making the military go along with the democratisation of the political system. Juan Carlos used a mixture of persuasion and authority (as King, he was Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces) to get his way. However, while the bulk of the Army did acquiesce with the reform project, a sizeable number of hardline generals, captains and officers began to oppose what they saw as the destruction of General Franco's victory in the Civil War: this discontent became known as golpismo.
The first serious signs of golpismo began to manifest themselves in 1977, just before the first post-Franco multi-party elections. Following the successful Cortes vote on the legalisation of political parties (excluding, for the time being, the Communists), a member of the cabinet, Enrique de la Mata, put forward a proposal to recognise trades unions. For the reactionary Minister for Defence, General de Santiago y Díaz de Mendívil, the thought of a place in society for the 'red' terrorists of the 1930s was too much to bear. The Prime Minister, Adolfo Suárez, sacked General de Santiago from the government when his protest went too far. Both the King and the President of the Cortes, Torcuato Fernández-Miranda, were perplexed by Suárez's rash action - de Santiago was in the cabinet for precisely the reason of soothing military moods. However, Suárez would not be budged, and he took the opportunity of replacing de Santiago with General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, a well known liberal and one-time suspected leader of the Union Militar Democrática, an organisation of democratic-minded officers, a fact that did not exactly endear him to the bulk of the Armed Forces. Further outrage was caused in military circles by the fact that Gutiérrez Mellado had to be promoted to take up the position; this was the fruit of the government's prior decision to promote those officers known to be of democratic persuasion. This 'leap-frogging' offended military sensibilities, for whom the strict promotional and hierarchical structures laid down by Franco were almost sacrosant.
The resentment felt by the Army over the trades unions and the sacking of General de Santiago were further compounded by the legalisation of the Communist Party (PCE). Suárez had assured the Army high-command in September 1976 that the PCE would remain illegal because of the internationalist statutes in its constitution. What he had not told them was that he had been in contact with the Communist leader, Santiago Carrillo, to get those same statutes changed with a view to legalisation. Suárez realised that his reputation as a reformer among the public would be severely damaged if the PCE could not contest the elections.
© 2006, 2007 Voices of the Transition