On February the 23rd 1981 there was an attempt in Spain of a coup that would end the Parliamentary Monarchy and the democratic transition initiated after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. King Juan Carlos played a vital role to deactivate the attempt that caused 32 military and a civilian to be indicted and most sentenced to imprisonment.
Adolfo Suárez was one of the key figures in the Spanish Transition. Born in 1932 in Cebreros (Ávila), he had a degree in law. He was civilian governor of Segovia, general director of RTVE and general secretary minister of The Movement (the only party there was during Franco’s regime) in the first government formed after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Ever since he was invested president in 1976, until he resigned in 1981, he transformed Franco’s regime into a parliamentary democracy with several legal reforms. As leader of the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) he won the legislative elections in 1977 and 1979. During his tenure political parties were legalized, the constitution was approved and the so called Pactos de la Moncloa were reached.
His government was affected by a severe economic depression, the ETA terrorism and the ordination of the emerging autonomies’ state.
Furthermore, he was a witness of the disintegration of UCD due to internal struggles among different tendencies, factors that caused his resign as president on January 29th 1981
In the time he was in Moncloa he overcame a couple motions of no confidence and faced two coup attempts, “Operación Galaxia” and the assault to the congress on February 23rd the same day he was going to transfer the position to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo. After his exit of the government he founded a new party, the Centro Democrático y Social, but continuous elective failures made him retire from politics in 1991. Adolfo Suárez died on march 23rd 2014.
LEOPOLDO CALVO SOTELO, Suárez’s relief.
Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo became in charge of the government after Adolfo Suárez who proposed him as successor. He had been minister, was a deputy and was second vice-president for economic affairs of the government of the Unión de Centro Democrático. In the plenary session of the investment of February 22nd he did not achieve absolute majority in the first voting, and in when the second took place the next day, lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero attempted the coup.
ALFONSO ARMADA Y COMYN (1920-2013)
Division General of the Ejército de Tierra, he was the man the conspirators had designed to become president. His part in the coup were known when he was dismissed and arrested, five days after the coup attempt. Sentenced 30 years of imprisonment and his military rank was taken away for the coup attempt he was reprieved due to his health issues on December 24th 1988 after six years of imprisonment.
JAIME MILANS DEL BOSCH (1915-1997)
General Captain of the 3rd Military District, he was one of the main heads of the coup attempt when he imposed the state of exception in Valencia and deploying the tanks in the streets the night of the 23-F. In june of 1982, he was sentenced by the Supreme Council of Military Justice to thirty years and loss of his employment for military rebellion. Freed in July the 1st 1990, Milans del Bosch died on july 26th 1997 and was buried in the crypt of the Alcázar of Toledo, for he was a defender of the place during the Civil War.
ANTONIO TEJERO MOLINA
Born in 1932. lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil, he broke in the Congress of Deputies on February 23rd 1981 and leading a group of his men he kept the government and deputies kidnapped for 18 hours. Sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment for a crime of military rebellion, he was the last of the accused to leave prison where he remained for fifteen years and nine months, most of it in the castle of Figueras (Gerona), where he was the only intern. He is currently retired.
THE CONGRESS OF DEPUTIES AFTER THE GENERAL ELECTIONS OF MARCH 1979
General elections celebrated in Spain on march 1st 1979 were won by president Adolfo Suárez and his party, the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) who obtained 168 representatives. The next political party with parliamentary representatives was the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), led by Felipe González, who received 121 representatives. The results were almost the same than two years before. Regardless of that, Adolfo Suárez and UCD were not able of keeping a stable government. The damage to the government of president Adolfo Suárez was caused by the multiple terrorist attacks of the secessionist Basque organization ETA, the end of the consensus among the parties with the beginning of hard opposition by the PSOE and the rise of the nationalists to the Basque and Catalonian governments, the conspiracies of the far right wing military circles, and ultimately the internal disintegration of the governing UCD.
In the image the deputies stand from their seats and look at the door where lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, gun in hand, has just broken in the Hemicycle during the second voting to invest Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as president.
The Spanish Guardia Civil, popularly known as Benemérita, is a military security corps that is part of the Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad del Estado.
Olive green mulch and a black tricorne are symbols of this armed institution created in 1944 that has more than 80.000 men. Their functions include border watching and road monitoring as well as the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism, or nature protection among others. They have a double dependency, on one hand to the Ministerio de Interior when it comes to retributions, postings, means and services and by the other hand to the Ministerio of Defensa, when it comes to promotions and military missions. Most of the 30 military processed for the coup attempt were from this corps.
MANUEL GUTIERREZ MELLADO (1912-1995)
Spanish military and politician, he was vice-president and lieutenant general of the army on February 23rd 1981. He faced lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero who shook him, while several machine gun burst hit the dome of the hemicycle. President Adolfo Suárez went in his rescue. Promoted to honorific captain general, he was one of the key figures in the Spanish transition to democracy, which he led a major role in it ever since September 1976 when he was named vice-president for Defence affairs. He died in a traffic accident on December the 15th 1995 when he was 83 years old.
SANTIAGO CARRILLO SOLARES (1915-2012)
Historical leader of the Partido Comunista de España (PCE) he was a key figure of the opposition to Franco’s regime and of the transition in Spain. Born in Gijón (Asturias) he joined the PCE in 1936 and fought in the civil war against general Franco. He was responsible of public order of the Junta de Defensa de Madrid in the republican side. After Franco’s victory in 1939 he left Spain and in 1960 he was designated general secretary of the communist.
After a 38 years exile, he returned to Spain after general Franco’s death and took part in the democratization of the country. With the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) he was elected deputy in 1977. He was one of the three politicians, with Adolfo Suárez and Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, who remained in his seat when colonel Tejero assaulted the Congress on February the 23rd 1981. He resigned the general secretary of the PCE in 1082 and three years after he founded the Workers Party- Communist Unity. After many years away from politics he died when he was 97 years old in Madrid.
THE DECISSIVE ROLE OF MASS MEDIA
Mass media had main role during the night of the assault. Editorials transmitted to their readers and listeners the news about the coup attempt.
Besides, the 23F was the first coup reported live by radio. That night , newspapers “El Pais” and “Diario 16” published special editions informing about the events, and the main headers next day positioned favoring the people and democracy. There were many Spanish who kept informed about what happened around the Congress of Deputies via radio. The international press also reported about it offering their readers the details of what happened in Spain. Agencia EFE spread immediately among their subscribers exclusively the photographs made by photographers Manuel Pérez Barriopedro and Manuel Hernandez de León of lieutenant colonel Tejero inside the Hemicycle.
TANKS IN THE STREETS OF VALENCIA
Shortly after lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero, leading a group of civil guards, took the Congress of Deputies on February 23rd 1981, general captain of the 3rd military district, that encompassed Valencia, Murcia and Cuenca, Jaime Milans del Bosch, ordered the exception state in all the area under his command and deployed the Motor Division “Maestrazgo” with 1.800 men, dozens of tanks and vehicles in the streets of Valencia, Military forces spread from the docks to downtown so that night the city was occupied by military with armored and other vehicles from the nearby bases of Bétera and Paterna. Milans del Bosch tried to convince other military chiefs to do the same but failed.
MESSAGE OF KING JUAN CARLOS THE NIGHT OF 23-24 FEBRUARY 1981
“When directing to all Spanish with brevity and concisely in the extraordinary circumstances that we are living in these moments, I plea all for serenity and confidence, and I make them know I have ordered the Captain Generals of the military districts, sea zones and air space the next command: After the situation created by the events in the congress palace, and to avoid any possible confusion I confirm that I have orderd civilian authorities and the Joint of Chiefs of Staff to take whatever means necessary to keep the constitutional order within the current law. Any military action that would have to be taken must be approved by the Joint of Chiefs of Staff.
The Crown, symbol of permanence and unity of the motherland, can’t tolerate any how the actions or attitudes of people who try to interrupt by force the democratic process that the constitution, voted by the Spanish people, determined already through referendum”.
In the picture at 1:14 am on February the 24th, the King appeared in Spanish Television, dressed as Captain General of the Armies, to defend the Spanish Constitution, call to order to the Armed Forces as Commander-in-Chief and disavow Milans del Bosch.
SUBSECRETARIES PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT
At nine O’clock on the night of February the 23rd of 1981, after the assault on the Congress of Deputies by Guardias Civiles under Antonio Tejero’s command, the minister of Interior informed of the constitution of a provisional government with the sub-secretaries of all ministries., with Francisco Laína, State Security director as president. This sub-secretaries government was always in contact with the Joint of Chiefs of Staff.
Hotel Palace is placed in the San Jerónimo Road in front of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid and during the coup attempt of February the 23rd 1981 it became the headquarters of the democrats. There remained authorities, political figures and many reporters that followed, expectant, the course of events. General director of the Guardia Civil, general José Aramburu Topete, and general inspector of the National Police, general José Saénz de Santamaría, gave from there their orders. Even Division General Alfonso Armada, that was later found guilty as a promoter of the coup, left Hotel Palace to negotiate with lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero his surrender in the Lower House.
JOSE LUIS ARAMBURU TOPETE (1918-2011)
General Aramburu Topete was during the 23F the general director of the Guardia Civil, position he had held ever since April 1980. He remained loyal to the constitution and as responsible of the Benemérita he commanded and directed the services organized by this corps as well as by other Security Forces of the State, to end the assault on the Congress.
JOSÉ SAENZ DE SANTAMARIA TINTURE (1919-2003)
General Inspector of the National Police ordered his men to surround the Congress building where the Deputies were being held. His later words as a witness during the trial of the participants in the coup caused his enmity with lieutenant general Milans del Bosch, when he compared the coup attempt with the hijacking of an airplane which caused Milans phrase “I’m disgusted, I’m leaving”. Promoted to lieutenant general in 1982, he was general director of the Guardia Civil with the government of the PSOE.
The coup attempt of 23-F was condemned by the countries of the then European Community, with which Spain was negotiating their inclusion. Support to the constitutional State was unanimous and most governments repulsed the participants in the coup. Then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, called the coup a “terrorist act”.
King Juan Carlos (c) presides the meeting of the National Defense Joint, that has taken place this afternoon in the Palace of Zarzuela, after the failed coup of 23F, assistants (left-right) lieutenant general Emililiano Alfaro Arregui, member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; captain general of Madrid Guillermo Quintana Lacaci; admiral Arévalo Pelluz; president of Joint Chiefs of Staff , lieutenant general Ignacio Alfaro Arregui; minister of Defense, Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún; president Adolfo Suárez; first vice-president for defense affairs, Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado; general Secretary of the House of H.M. the King, Sabino Fernández Campo (standing); the Minister of Interior, Juan José Rosón; the director of Security of the State, Francisco Laina; Lieutenant general José Gabeiras Montero; and other high ranks.
LEOPOLDO CALVO SOTELO INVESTMENT AS PRESIDENT
Having failed the coup attempt, the investment session continued on February the 25th and the candidate obtained majority of the entire membership, so he was elected president. He obtained 186 votes (UCD, Democratic Coalition, CiU and deputies Clavero Arévalo, Jesús Aizpún and Gómez de las Roces), 158 votes against (PSOE, PCE, PNV, PSA and 7 of the Mixed Group) No abstentions and 6 absences : 2 of PSOE, 3 of HB and 1 of PSA).
LEOPOLDO CALVO SOTELO
Invested president two days after the coup attempt of February 23rd 1981, during his tenure the military considered responsible for the attempted coup were arrested and judged. He remained in office until socialist Felipe Gonzalez was elected in 1982. Born in Madrid on April the 14th 1926, he became president after being minister of several portfolios in both governments of UCD and vice-president of economic affairs. The most relevant decision he had to take during his 21 month tenure was Spain joining NATO. He also had to face the terrorist waves of ETA the Toxic Oil Syndrome and the approval of the law of divorce. Retired from active politics in 1987 he died the following year on May the 3rd.
DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER THE 23F
On February the 27th there were massive demonstrations in all cities of Spain, rejecting the failed coup attempt and pro freedom and democracy. The Madrid demonstration gathered up more than a million people and became a symbol of rejection to participants in the coup. Demonstrators were united behind a banner that said “For freedom, democracy and the constitution”.
Politician leaders head the demonstration “For freedom, democracy and the Constitution” that took place in Madrid after the 23F. From left to right: Nicolás Sartorius, Simón Sánchez Montero, Mugica Herzog, Joaquin Leguina, Nicolás Redondo, Santiago Carrillo, Felipe González, Calvo Ortega, Rodríguez Sahagún, Fraga Iribarne y Marcelino Camacho, Miguel Cabrera and Jorge Vestrynge (with a scarf).
Drawing made by Javier Serrano of the indicted for the coup attempt of 23F at the entrance to the courts in Madrid. Among them, military lieutenant, Jaime Millans del Bosch (1st), division generals, Alfonso Armada Comyn (r), Luis Torres Rojas (2nd) and Lieutenant Colonel, Antonio Tejero Molina (5th).
MANUEL PEREZ BARRIOPEDRO
Photographer of Agencia EFE, His exclusive obtained inside the hemicycle during Tejero’s assault went worldwide. For this reporter job he was renowned with several prizes among them the World Press Photo 1981. To avoid the guardia civiles confiscating the film he kept it in his shoe.
MANUEL HERNANDEZ DE LEON
Photographer of Agencia EFE, he immortalized in exclusive with his camera the coup attempt on February the 23rd 1981. Former chief of photograph on Agencia EFE, he earned among others, the National Journalism Prize of 1981. He protected the photographs from the participants in the coup inside his underwear.
Agencia EFE S.A.U.
Coordinator: Luis de León González
Documentation and Graphic Archive Department, Commercial and Marketing Department and Technology and Systems Department.
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