Wednesday, February 23, 2011


February 23 1981 marked a significant day in Spanish history. It was the day the fledgling democracy of Spain was almost brought to its knees by the attempted coup in which the Guardia Civil Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Tejero marched in to the Spanish parliament, confronted the MPs and fired shots in the chamber.

It seems like a historical event now but was just 30 years ago. What took place is all the more significant now given the events taking place in the Arab world as nation after nation attempts to break the shackles of dictatorship (albeit in some cases by a sovereign and his extended family) and embrace democracy.

In the event apart from the events in Madrid with support from Valencia the coup fell flat on its face with a significant role in its downfall being played by King Juan Carlos I. However it is clear from statements made on the anniversary that those on the left and the unions feared for their very lives.

One of those, Antonio Herrera, now in charge of the health section of the CC.OO union told how shortly after Tejero had stormed Congress and the coup was underway he left one of Málaga’s hospitals. He saw youths wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Spanish flag. He went with union colleagues to the Nadiuska restaurant in Gibralfaro and then to the Cádiz road. It was there that the Communist MP, Paco Vázquez, offered to take him to Gibraltar. He declined and says that later friends in the police told him at the time they knew exactly where to find each and every one of them. However what seems certain is that if the coup had succeeded many on the left and in the unions would have sought refuge in Gibraltar.

Final word goes to José Carracao who is now a senator in Spain’s upper house with special responsibility for Gibraltar and cross border relations. So what are his memories of February 23 1981? He told me: “I was the mayor of Jimena de la Frontera. That afternoon I had called a routine council meeting. A friend informed me of the news. I listened to the radio. That confirmed it. I was worried for the MPs detained. You cannot hide something of such major concern and who knew how things would develop in Jimena. Once the King spoke on TV at 01.30 on February 24 I knew the coup would not succeed. It would have been highly regrettable if our country, Latin and bloodied, had returned to the old ways. The behaviour of the people in the defence of democracy was exemplary.”

Footnote: Antonio Tejero is still alive. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail but in 1993 was given open regime status. He lives in Madrid but has a holiday apartment on the Costa del Sol in Torre Del Mar. He has refused to speak of the events of February 23 1981.


Mary said...

On that day, a list of Communists in the little village of Guadiaro was drawn up apparently by these peoples neighbours- those with a yearning to return to the good old days of the Regime, out of spite, or to settle old scores -what did they intend to do? String them up or shoot them all into a mass grave? It’s frightening how quickly people are ready to act – you can’t even say “revert” because the hatred has never gone away. Here we are in Europe thinking how democratic we all are now- doesn’t hold out much hope for the aftermath in Tunisia, Egypt and not to think even of Libya yet.

Francis said...

A really interesting read, and I remember the coup well being a schoolboy in Gibraltar. It's rarely mentioned these days, and I even had to educate a Spanish friend in London about it awhile ago, and it was a pivotal moment in recent Spanish history. I'm also fascinated that Col Tejero is alive, well and has a holiday home on the Costa....

One question that a couple of compadres raised with me, how would the likes of Antonio Herrera have got into Gibraltar given that the border was closed? I can recall that post 82 and on the run to EU membership, there was the occasional mercy passage for sick people, but that depended purely on the Spanish gates/authorities and not the Gibraltar gates, that of course remained open. I can't see the authorities at the time opening the gate to allow in fleeing Union officials ?

DAVID EADE said...

I suspect Francis that the unionists and left wing politicians would have sought to reach Gibraltar by sea - perhaps using friendly fishing boats. The coup caught everybody by surprise and soon ended but it would be interested to learn if unions in Gibraltar had been alerted of their need to escape.