by Rose Maramba

King Juan Carlos, the father of the reigning King of Spain, Felipe VI, isn’t coming – can´t come – home for Christmas much as he wants to.

“My legacy, and my own dignity as a person, demand my well-considered decision to leave Spain at this point.”

At the height of summer, sometime between late July and early August 2020, with the ominous cloud of financial and amorous scandals hanging over him, Juan Carlos left Spain. On his departure, he wrote to Felipe: “With the same quest for service to Spain that inspired my reign, and faced with the public repercussion of some of my acts in the past, in my private life, I wish to show you my absolute willingness to help contribute to the peace and tranquility that the high level of your responsibility requires. My legacy, and my own dignity as a person, demand . . . my well-considered decision to leave Spain at this point.”

Since then, he has self-exiled in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.

As Christmas looms, Juan Carlos longs to return home.

Now, however, as Christmas looms, he let it be known that he wishes he was homeward-bound. But he has become such a controversial figure it is said that both King Felipe and President of Spain Pedro Sánchez don’t feel comfortable having him back. At least not these days.

Juan Carlos was a central figure in the Spanish transition to democracy, la Transición Española. That period in modern Spanish history during which Spain moved from the Franco dictatorship to the consolidation of Spain’s parliamentary monarchy.

The Spaniards tend to romanticize the Transición Española as a period of seamless regime change wherein Juan Carlos, grandson of the deposed King Alfonso XIII and Franco’s officially designated heir, adroitly, and even selflessly, guided the country into democracy. After his renunciation of absolute powers vested in him as the dictator’s successor, Spain was able to adopt a democratic system that the Spanish people, after nearly four decades of stultifying dictatorship, clamored for.

Different historians cite different chronologies for the Transición. To wit:

Juan Carlos, left, with Franco in 1969, the year he was officially designated Franco’s heir apparent

  1. From the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in November 1975, and hence the beginning of the reign of Juan Carlos I, to the general election in June 1977 to elect the bicameral Spanish Cortes: 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 207 seats in the Senate.
  2. From Franco’s death to when the new Constitution was approved in 1978.
  3. From Franco’s death to the 1981 coup d’état staged by Francoist Civil Guards which was crushed after King Juan Carlos intervened, upholding the democratic principles framed by the Constitution of 1978.
  4.  From Franco’s death to the first transfer of executive power following the victory of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in the 1982 general election, incidentally the largest landslide victory in a Spanish democratic election.  

Bullet holes on the ceiling of the Plenary Hall of the Congress of the Deputies from the assailants’ gunfire during the attempted coup d’état in 1981

Insofar as the role of Juan Carlos in the democratization of Spain is concerned, every Spaniard today knows about the dramatic event of 23 February 1981 when he appeared on national TV as Commander-in-Chief and ordered the armed forces to take all necessary measures to crush the revolt by the 200 paramilitary Civil Guards who had broken into the lower house of parliament. Gun-toting, the assailants held the 350 deputies hostage for 18 hours. The idea was to prevent the election of a Prime Minister and overthrow the civilian government.

Wearing his uniform as Captain-General, King Juan Carlos addressed the nation thus: “The Crown cannot tolerate in any form any act which tries to interfere with the constitution which has been approved by the Spanish people.”

Never again would there be another headline-grabbing attempt at coup d’état. Which does not mean to say that Spain has not suffered from other forms of political destabilization, foremost of which was the terrorism of the Basque nationalist-separatist group ETA (disbanded in May 2018), and the ongoing Catalan secessionism.

The proclamation of Juan Carlos, behind lectern, as King of Spain at the Palacio de las Cortes (the Spanish Congress of Deputies) on 22 November 1975, two days after the dictator died

Having said that, Spaniards are quite proud of their consolidated democracy. They would not hesitate to admit that they owe a debt of gratitude to Juan Carlos for his crucial contribution to the establishment of the democratic regime they now enjoy.

King Juan Carlos in 2013. Who was to say he would abdicate only a year later?

But one gets the impression that, save for a remaining handful of juancarlistas, they would rather the octogenarian King Emeritus who abdicated in 2014 in favor of his son, now Felipe VI, stay away from what was once his kingdom. Some want him prosecuted for alleged tax evasion and money-laundering, “just like any other Spaniard” has to be.

Juan Carlos can’t come home for Christmas. Citing high risk of contracting COVID-19, he has had to backpedal and say he won’t be showing up in Spain these Holidays.


Related posts
Controversial King Juan Carlos Bids Adios to Public Life, 29 May 2019
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned, 19 July 2018
Don Juan Carlos’ California Dream, 6 January 2015
Spain’s King Juan Carlos Says “¿Abdicación? ¡No Gracias!” (23 Sept ’13), 3 June 2014
King Juan Carlos’ Abdication: what the International Media are Saying, 5 June 2014
Does Spain Want Another King?, 9 June 2014
The New King and a New Era, 23 June 2014


Featured image: Three Kings vector, left/Oberholster Venita from Pixabay, cropped. Three Kings vector, right/OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay
Vector of abdicant king/OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Christmas in Spain/Herman Piñera, CC BY-SA2.0
Juan Carlos with Franco/Dutch Nationaal Archief Anefo, CCO via Wikipedia
Bullet holes in the ceiling of the Plenary Hall of the Congress of Deputies during the failed coup d’état in 1981/ Benjamín Núñez González via  Wikipedia, CC BY-SA4.0
Juan Carlos proclamation as king/Fotocollectie Anefo Reportage , CCO via Wikipedia
Juan Carlos in 2013/Irekea, CC BY2.0