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.