Adolfo Suarez, former PM who led Spain to democracy, dies

Agence France-Presse

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An undated picture shows Spain's former Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez in Madrid. Adolfo Suarez, the prime minister who led post-Franco Spain to democracy, died on March 23, 2014 at a Madrid hospital. AFP photo

MADRID, Spain – Adolfo Suarez, the prime minister who led post-Franco Spain to democracy, died on Sunday, March 23, at a Madrid hospital, his family’s spokesman said. He was 81.

Suarez, Spain’s first prime minister after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past decade.

“Adolfo Suarez has died,” the family spokesman Fermin Urbiola told reporters at the Cemtro hospital where the former premier was admitted Monday.

His son Adolfo Suarez Illana told reporters on Friday that his father’s illness had progressed and his death was “imminent”.

Suarez was one of the last surviving players in Spain’s historic “transition” — the delicate dismantling of dictatorship followed by democratic reforms that he and King Juan Carlos helped achieve after Franco died in 1975.

“His role in the transition was second only to that of the king,” said the historian Javier Tusell.

‘Changed course of history’

Despite being born the son of a Republican, Suarez became a member of Franco’s regime, serving as head of the state broadcaster and a senior leader in the National Movement, a Francoist party with fascist roots.

The king, Franco’s successor as head of state, named Suarez prime minister in a new government in 1976 at the age of 44, and he was confirmed as leader in an election the following year.

“The king’s relationship with my father has always been exceptional,” Suarez’s son said.

“Thanks to the king, he was head of government. Thanks to the king, he was able to do what he liked at a unique moment in the history of Spain,” he added.

“Together, they changed the course of history.”

A charismatic leader admired for his talent for conciliation, Suarez oversaw the legalisation of political parties and helped them forge a consensus as they hammered out a constitution, approved in a referendum in 1978.

In time he was overwhelmed however by various perils: splits within his party, Spain’s economic hardship, a dissenting military and regions, and armed attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA.

In 1981, two years after being elected for the second time, he resigned unexpectedly. Days later, soldiers took members of parliament hostage in an attempted coup that was defused with the help of Juan Carlos.

Suarez was one of only three members of parliament who did not hide under their benches. He remained in his seat even when coup leader Antonio Tejero seized parliament, gun in hand.

“They ordered us to get down on the floor,” he said in a television interview years later. “I was the prime minister and the prime minister should not do that.”

Despite his troubled departure from government, Suarez ran for leader again in 1982 at the head of a new centrist party, which later broke apart.

That election was won by Socialist Felipe Gonzalez, opening a new era of reforms.

Suarez withdrew from public life but received the Golden Fleece, Spain’s top civil honour, in 2008 from his old friend King Juan Carlos, who also bestowed on him the title Duke of Suarez.

The effects of Alzheimer’s meant that the ex-prime minister did not have a cognitive relationship with his family in his later years but he did have an “emotional relationship”, Suarez’s son said.

“These past two days have been happy,” he added. “He has given us more smiles perhaps than in the past five years.” –

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