Almost 13,000 pages try to explain the 18 hours in which Spain held its breath waiting for an alleged White elephant. The pages of the summary of the case opened by the Supreme Council of Military Justice after the 1981 coup attempt, to which EL PAÍS had access, allow the protagonists to be heard from within the hemicycle and to reconstruct the 23-F from the preparatory meetings. “General Armada told me that there should be no bloodshed under any circumstances. That once we entered, the cry should be ‘Long live the King! Long live Spain! ‘ and that at all times he had to let the deputies know that we were under the King’s orders ”, declared Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero in the first interrogations. “We were going to be alone for two hours. Then the competent military authority would arrive ”, he adds in his statement. But the soft blow twisted and lengthened. The judicial investigation reveals why.
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On February 25, 1981, in Alcalá de Henares, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, 48, answered questions from the military justice system. It’s not the first time. He has already been sentenced to seven months in prison for conspiracy for the rebellion (for his participation in another coup plan in 1978 with Operation Galaxia), and in one of the interrogations for 23-F he will explain that since he left the jail, in May 1980, tried to “maintain contact with the military with a similar concern”, such as Lieutenant General Jaime Milans del Bosch. In turn, he maintains similar conversations with General Alfonso Armada, “and because of them,” he insists over and over again in the interrogations, “he assumed it was with the knowledge of his Majesty.” Armada had been with Don Juan Carlos, of whom he had been a tutor, since 1955 and blamed Adolfo Suárez for his replacement as secretary of the Monarch.
“The King is fed up with Suárez”
On January 10, 1981 they meet in Valencia. “Armada”, Milans recounts, “said that the King was already fed up with Suárez and that he was looking at the possibility of changing him as president. That they did not find any suitable. That the King favored a civilian government and the Queen, apparently, for a military one. They also spoke of the possibility of some violent action, to which the King had said, exactly, that ‘we would have to see how to redirect it.’ Asked by the prosecutor if in his meeting with the Navy there was talk of the occupation of Congress, Milans answered yes, but that there were less violent solutions, that is, that the Navy presided over a new government.
Tejero affirms in the interrogations that just a few days before the coup he met with Armada in a Madrid apartment. “He comes out dressed in gray, I think, elegant. He asks me if the whole operation is ready. I tell him that, yes, he is ready to take over the Congress on Monday around 6.15pm or 6.30pm. He replied that at 6:10 p.m., in these operations they count up to seconds. He tells me that the King was fully convinced of the need for this action, but that nevertheless, as it is somewhat fickle, his command post, that of General Armada, would be from the time of the taking of the Congress in La Zarzuela, next to the King [no fue así y cuando pidió ir, se le negó el permiso]. He hugged me wishing me luck and stressed several times that this was in defense of democracy.
Milans, for his part, affirms before the military courts that, after the resignation of Suárez, when the King gave “the safe name of Calvo-Sotelo as Prime Minister and that of Oliart as Minister of Defense”, it seemed “a good solution “, but that Armada told him:” I could not stop Tejero, this is done. “
“Out of respect for Gutiérrez Mellado, the guards would retreat”
At 6:24 p.m. on 23-F, Tejero broke into Congress. “As there was a commotion among the deputies, I fired a shot into the air, accompanied, as I had ordered, by a blast at the ceiling from the two guards in charge of executing it. I ordered a ceasefire and that’s when I said: ‘I am under the orders of the King and General Milans del Bosch.’ Faced with the attitude of Lieutenant General Gutiérrez Mellado, when confronted with great nervousness and observing that the Civil Guards, out of respect for their authority, were retreating, “Tejero continues,” I came down from the stage and grabbing the Lieutenant General, I tried to throw him to the ground by tripping , to prevent the force that supported me from losing my morale ”.
He has been preparing the assault for months. “I took countless photographs of all corners of Parliament, I got information on all the security and protection measures, and once the project was finished I commented on it to Lieutenant General Milans, who summoned me on January 18 [de 1981]”. They had insisted that the “surprise factor” was “fundamental” and that is why Tejero had bought six buses of 50 seats each in December, as well as raincoats in the Rastro to transfer 288 civil guards without attracting attention. He assures that the acquisition, “for about three million pesetas”, is financed with cash from the inheritance of an aunt of his wife, and that “in case it was not enough”, he had requested four payments in advance “with the confidence ”that he was going to be returned once the coup triumphed. To the lawyer who is entrusting the steps, for which he says he forges his wife’s signature, he assures him that the buses are for a Basque family that wants to invest “to get rid of the revolutionary tax.” The lawyer warns him that the coaches are “third-hand”, but that “walk, walk.”
Before the assault, he explained to Milans, who describes himself as a “visceral monarchist,” that he is not. Above all, he is concerned about “the softness against terrorism.” Before the instructor he assures that they promise to “freeze Marxism” and that is why, he says, when Armada enters Congress after pronouncing the password “Duke of Ahumada” and proposes his plan, he feels “betrayed.”
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A plane to flee abroad
By then, José Gabeiras, Chief of the Army General Staff, has already been informed that “the actions of General Armada [que tiene al lado] It is not clear ”- he will be the one who communicates his arrest at 3:00 p.m. on February 25-. Before the military judge, Gabeiras assures that the Armada was authorized to meet with Tejero at 11:40 p.m. “with the sole purpose of negotiating his delivery, promising him a plane to go abroad with his family” and “with the absolute prohibition of expressing his offer to preside over the Government ”. In a statement that bears a “secret” stamp, a general assures that the Navy told them: ‘You already know that I am not a friend of blandenguerías, but in this case I think that a plane should be offered to Tejero to avoid greater evils to the deputies ”. Tejero rejected the offer. According to Armada, he said that on the planes he made him dizzy.
Armada and Tejero discuss “hour and a half” in Congress. The first asks Tejero, according to his statement, to let him speak with the deputies to explain his government plan. But the lieutenant colonel wants to meet you beforehand. He asks him if he is going to be a member of the military, if he is going to “make Marxism illegal,” modify the Constitution in relation to the autonomous communities, and what measures he intends to take against terrorism. Armada replies, according to his account, that the Communist Party will continue to be legal, that it will try to bring Milans over as chief of the Army General Staff later on and that the measures against terrorism “would be seen”. Tejero says that that is why he has not assaulted Congress and is preventing him from entering the hemicycle. He cites several names of the alleged government that Armada proposes, and which includes, among others, Felipe González, Enrique Múgica and Jordi Solé Tura.
“Hold on, Antonio”
Tejero then speaks with the far-right Juan García Carrés, who will be the only civilian sentenced by 23-F. The transcript is included in the summary:
García Carrés: How has that conversation gone? Alfonso too?
Tejero: “Yes, the uncle wanted to make a mess. I wanted … (unintelligible) Carrillo and the minister, I don’t know what.
García Carrés: Don’t hang up, huh.
Tejero: I don’t hang up, I’m having a bit of a time.
GC: Villaviciosa and Pavía will come out. Hold.
Tejero: But how can I hold out? Do you think we can’t stand here? Milk! How are we going to get away with how bad it is now at night with the cold it is? Of course we hold on until the regiments come.
GC The victory is for Spain, courage, courage and courage. Men of honor will know how to reciprocate all this.
Tejero: Juanillo, don’t propagandize me, damn it.
Carrés informs him that his wife is very worried. “What’s wrong with my girl?” The lieutenant colonel suddenly asks. He puts it through another phone. “No, man no, there will be no blood, my daughter. Do not worry. What do I love you very little? ” And laughs.
The Chief of Staff recalls that Armada returned at 2:40 to tell of his failure with Tejero. “He has not managed to convince him despite offering him all kinds of guarantees, even stating that he was willing to die in Congress, turning it into a sanctuary of the Head” [en alusión al episodio de nueve meses de asedio de tropas republicanas a guardias civiles durante la Guerra Civil al santuario de la Virgen de la Cabeza, en Jaén], affirms before the investigating judge.
Milans also tries to convince him over the phone, but he tells him that this is “a cake.” By then he has already spoken with the King – he will do so three times that night – who has ordered him to withdraw the troops and the war side. When the instructor asks him if he did not notice that his side was “analogous to that of General Mola in July 1936”, the lieutenant general says: “I did not think so. The military groups are very similar, because naturally there is a unity of doctrine, especially if many documents of this type have been read and they remain in the memory ”.
At 10:40 am on February 24, Tejero telephoned the second chief of staff of Region III to inform him that he was ready to turn himself in and that he wanted to see Armada. The summary includes the paper where they write down the conditions: “No responsibilities of lieutenant down. No photographer. The officers who are sanctioned will go to military prisons ”.
Armada denies having met with Tejero to discuss the coup. To check his alibi, his daughter to the assistant, and people with whom he met at mass are questioned. He admits that in Congress he tried to put forward “a risky, but constitutional proposal” and always “in a personal capacity.” He also acknowledges previous contacts with politicians, such as Enrique Múgica (PSOE) – before the investigating judge, cited as a witness, the politician admitted a meeting in October 1980, lasting three and a half hours with the Armada, of which he informed Felipe González and in the one that assured that a new Government had not been spoken of. Asked, finally, if he was the famous White elephant, Armada answers: “It makes me laugh.”
The Supreme Council of Military Justice convicted 22 of the 33 defendants, acquitting for lack of evidence, among others, Commander José Luis Cortina, from Cesid, who according to Tejero, summoned him before the coup presenting himself as “the Armada’s henchman.” to wish him luck and inform him that “numerous decree laws that would come into force after the operation” were already prepared. Milans and Tejero received sentences of 30 years for military rebellion and Armada, six for conspiracy for the rebellion. But the Supreme Court raised the sentences considerably a year later. In the case of Armada, which he accused of a “double game” and of being “the main beneficiary” of the rebellion, up to the age of 30. He also convicted eight lieutenants of the Civil Guard who had been acquitted. The sentence establishes that “the royal impulse was nothing more than a fabrication of the main rebels, which served them for the execution of their plans, adding wills, dispelling misgivings and giving the appearance of legitimacy to what was only a crime of military rebellion” .
Milans was released from jail in 1990. Tejero, in 1996, Armada was pardoned and released in 1988. The Supreme Court alleged, among others, health reasons. The King signed the grace measure proposal the day before Christmas Eve. Armada passed away in December 2013, at the age of 93.