By Carlos Alberto Montaner
Juan Carlos I, King Emeritus of Spain, has left the country.
It is unclear where, when, or if he will return.
It seems that he left under a mutual agreement with his son Felipe VI, the current monarch after the abdication of Juan Carlos in June 2014. Both want to save the monarchy, and the Emeritus is accused of several cases of corruption.
Felipe, on the other hand, and Queen Letizia, maintain an exemplary behavior. That is why they stay. They are doing right.
When I arrived in Spain, in the summer of 1970, 50 years ago, I saw the monarchical institution with some perplexity. It seemed to me like something that smelled old, like mothballs. I came from a republican tradition that could not conceive of the existence of dynasties. However, shortly after living in Spain, I realized that if there was any nation that required a monarchy, it was precisely this one.
Why? Probably to avoid killing itself and for deep historical reasons linked to keeping the country united. During the First Republic all the “family demons” broke loose (the phrase belongs to Franco), and even the tiny Canton of Cartagena, in the midst of the brawl, tried to be annexed by the United States. The unrest ended, in that period, when the Bourbons were restored.
The Second Republic ended in war. The armed forces were divided.
Communists, anarchists, Falangists, liberals and conservatives, fundamentalist Catholics, and all sorts of exalted people, including some Basques and certain Catalan nationalists, fought against each other.
In three years, almost a million Spaniards were killed.
After his triumph, Franco continued shooting people without limits or mercy for almost a decade.
It was the American hand, guided by the Cold War, that transformed Francoism, and helped modernize it during Ike Eisenhower’s two terms in office.
In the late 1940s, Franco sent for Juan Carlos, who was in Portugal. He thought, once again, that restoring the Bourbons was the least bad way to guarantee the unity of Spain. The legitimate heir was the third son of Alfonso XIII, Prince Juan, father of Juan Carlos, but Franco didn’t like him. He was too liberal and pro-American. The negotiations were not easy. Franco was not a fanatic monarchist, but someone who had come to the conclusion that a firm hand was needed to control the passions of the Spanish.
Juan Carlos was a ten-year-old boy who had been born in exile, in Rome, in 1938. Given his age, Juan Carlos was nothing. Franco believed that he could shape him the way he wanted. Franco was a soldier, a man of order. Juan Carlos went through the three branches of the Spanish Armed Forces under the supervision of several advisers who repeatedly taught him the virtues of the principles of the Movement, a totalitarian amalgam that emerged as a result of the Civil War (1936-1939).
But it was impossible to transplant the personality, experiences and perceptions of a person who had been formed in the colonial wars of the 1920s, like Franco, and then had led the insurrection against the chaotic “reds” with the uprising of 1936.
Juan Carlos did not say it, but, after Franco’s death in November 1975, as soon as he inherited the power, his true face appeared: he was a young man of his time – it could not be otherwise – who wanted to reign like the European royal houses, subordinated to a democratic parliament in which everyone fit, including communists and separatists. His world, his generation, was that of World War II and the Cold War.
The moral rules of the transition (1976-1996) were much more relaxed. At the beginning, “conflict of interest” was not even classified as a possible crime. The political parties and their leaders, that emerged like mushrooms, were financed by powerful companies in exchange for “studies” that nobody reviewed later.
In that environment, I don’t doubt that King Juan Carlos I accepted “commissions” from other royal houses, such as the Saudi or the Emirates, for goods and services sold at an excessive price. It was wrong, and surely criminal, but, at the same time, for a person of his era it meant a minor offense “that everyone committed.”
It wasn’t “everyone,” but almost everyone. For example, Felipe VI would not think of accepting commissions.
Is his probity enough to sustain the monarchy?
Judging by current polls, the monarchy would not resist a referendum. Roughly 55% do not want it. Nor is it known if society’s discomfort is a result of Juan Carlos’s crimes and infidelities, or if it is a generational issue. In any case, although the direct cost of the kings is very small (about 18 cents per capita per year), I believe that the Spanish do not see a clear usefulness in the monarchy.
In medieval times, kings justified themselves by “saying the law”. That was the “jurisdiction.” They judged, acquitted or condemned. Today that’s the task of the judiciary. What can they do today for the benefit of society?
Perhaps put the weight of the monarchical institution on the ombudsman’s role. To serve in order to prevent abuses by the State. That would be their best role. Perhaps the only one who would allow Leonor, the dynastic heiress, to reign one day. ©FIRMAS PRESSCarlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is Sin ir más lejos (Memories), published by Debate, a label of Penguin-Random House.