And he’s earned every right to say so
News story by Rose Maramba
EDITOR’S NOTE: Guidepost wrote this story less than a year ago, on 23 September 2013. We are reprinting it in its entirety as a matter of historical interest.
Don Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, 75, is back in the taller (“repair shop,” his word for the operating room) to fix the failing parts of his anatomy which, as Spain’s Royal House sees it, and so do many Spanish people, has in no way ever prevented the monarch from doing his work magnificently as Head of State.
In fairness to His Majesty, it must be pointed out that despite the seven surgeries he had had to undergo since 2010 on his Achilles tendon, hips, lungs (for a benign tumor), and spinal disc there has never been a moment when he neglected his constitutional duties. Moreover, he remains the only arbiter in the Spanish panorama capable of diffusing the centrifugal forces from secesionist Catalonia and other copycat autonomous regions before they could do irreparable damage to national unity. A charismatic statesman and savvy negotiator, he alone is capable of coming away from international bargaining tables with the best results for Spain’s interests in his pocket, including hefty construction contracts and significant political concessions, something that Spain is in dire need of these last terrible years – and will through the foreseeable future.
And yet pressures that he abdicate – and malicious rumors of impending abdication – have been swirling around the La Zarzuela royal residence in the outskirts of Madrid since Iñaki Urdangarin, husband of the Infanta Doña Cristina, the younger daughter of the king, has been indicted on tax fraud and the embezzlement of several millions of euros of public funds. The idea here is that the king is directly affected by the scandal due to the fact that Urdangarin is a member of the Royal Family.
To make matters worse, the Spaniards found out that in April of last year their king was out on an expensive elephant-hunting safari in Botswana. And this was at a time, too, when they were – they still are – reeling from the raging economic and financial crisis. King Juan Carlos’ popularity rating dipped to a historical low. So alarming was the public disaffection that he found it necessary to promise his subjects that the African misadventure wouldn’t happen again.
Foreign developments in quick succession have not helped create more favorable environs for the Spanish king who has suddenly found himself in the hot seat. First Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated in favor of her son, now King Wilhelm. Others followed suit, including no less than Pope Benedict XVI. Belgium’s King Albert II handed his crown over to son Philippe only six months after Beatrix did, and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who was at the height of his power and popularity, stepped down in favor of his son, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
The sensation-mongering speculations on whether or not Juan Carlos I is abdicating reached fever pitch when in the past couple of weeks or so the pain-riddled monarch became visibly frail and can hardly move around even with a walking stick. The country was rather shocked to see on TV the erstwhile bluff and hearty monarch turning feeble. He grimaced in pain as he, together with Queen Sofía, the Prince and Princess of Asturias, and the Infanta Doña Elena waited on the footsteps of the La Zarzuela for the young Dutch monarchs, King Wilhelm and Queen Maxima, who came for a whirlwind visit.
So much so that Queen Sofia, a stickler for protocol as could be expected from the great granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, was driven to give him a comforting kiss in front of all the press people covering the event. It was a touching gesture, specially in view of the rumor that the royal couple are hardly on speaking terms as a result of the amistad entrañable (“close friendship”) that the jet-setting German businesswoman Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, married in second nuptials to Prince Casimir zu-Sayn Wittgenstein-Sayn (she kept his name after they divorced), professes to share with the king. (Click here to see the video → http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RblzhzrRIBA )
The last time the Queen gave her husband a kiss in public was at that extraordinary moment in Vienna when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the finals match at the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship, signaling the victory of Spain against Germany.
Just before the unprecedented press conference at the Zarzuela last 20 September, many were sure that the announcement of the royal abdication was imminent. Opened to all the media, the dominant note at the conference was one of candidness. The Chief of the King’s Household (“la Casa del Rey”), Rafael Spottorno, as well as Dr. Miguel Cabanela, reputed surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who will operate on His Majesty, fielded questions from the reporters firmly, frankly and with total lack of subterfuge. For the first in a long long time the jaded media were satisfied with the answers they received and reckoned optimistically that from there on the Royal House would no longer resort to ambiguity when not outright secretiveness.
Spottorno was quite categorical: “Abdication is a matter of personal decision by the king alone and I can assure you that at no time did the king consider abdication.”
Neither was regency ever an option. Prince Felipe will represent his father during his convalescence but not at events where the king’s attendance is required as Head of State. The king is being operated on his infected left hip on Tuesday, 24 September, at the Hospital Universitario Quirón in Madrid.
Spain breathed a collective sigh of relief at Spottorno’s unequivocal disclosure. Some are relieved that the country is being spared the turmoil of the abdication at this very time when Catalonia is agitating for independence. ome are relieved that the country is being spared the turmoil of the abdication at this very time when Catalonia is agitating for independence. Others are glad that their king is sticking around. His popularity may have been eroded by recent scandals but to a broad segment of the Spanish society he was the tireless king who gave up the absolute monarchical powers that the dictator Francisco Franco handed down to him, in order that Spain would at last become a modern democracy. The Spanish throne is where he belongs.
The pro-abdication faction is adopting a wait-and-see attitude before it strikes anew.
Meanwhile, and always, the king has an unconditional ally in Prince Felipe who loves and respects his father without any reservation.
See video of the La Zarzuela Palace here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=bmsxWU5ONQs
King Juan Carlos, standing, taken during His Majesty’s state visit to Estonia in 2009, by the Estonian Foreign Ministry
The Ibero-American Summit, by Claudio Vaz
Prince Felipe and the Lehendakari, by Irekia. All three photos were taken from Wikipedia and used here under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license