Royal Unrest in Spain

Carlos Vera, Staff Writer

After nearly four decades as the head of the Royal Family in Spain, King Juan Carlos is abdicating the throne.  The announcement came first from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and then in a televised address. The King told the people of Spain that it is time for his son, Crown Prince Felipe, to take the throne. “A new generation is quite rightly demanding to take the lead role,” the king said, as he started thinking seriously about stepping down when he turned 76 in January. While some were surprised about this announcement, it is no secret that the recent scandals within the Royal family heavily contributed to him deciding to step down.

These past years have not been favorable to the King nor the Spanish royal family. It began two years ago when it was revealed that the King had broken his hip on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana. A photo of the trip was released where the King is seen posing with a dead elephant. Further reports stated that the private jet which he flew in to Botswana was paid for by a Syria-born Saudi businessman. To further complicate matters, it was revealed that the King had gone on the hunting trip with a woman who was not Queen Sofia. The Spanish press claimed that he had gone on the trip with Corinna zu Sayn Wittgenstein, a German aristocrat who apparently was his mistress. While she later denied it, it caused many Spaniards to question how authentic the relationship between the King and Queen was.

The year 2012, long considered the “annus horriblis” for the Spanish royal family, worsened when the King’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, the Duke of Palma, was accused of embezzling public funds through his nonprofit foundation and using his royal pedigree as a way to skip standard bidding procedures. His daughter, Infanta Cristina, is also a suspect in the ongoing tax fraud and money laundering investigation. While royal families are no strangers to scandals and controversy, these scandals greatly damaged the standing of the King in the country, mainly because of the ongoing recession and high unemployment; this is quite an unfortunate ending for a man that was revered by Spaniards as the single individual that led the countries’ transition to democracy in the 1970s.

As the New Yorker reports on his past achievements, “Juan Carlos, who announced on Monday that he is abdicating the throne, was long revered for his role in vouchsafing Spain’s transition to democracy following the death, in 1975, of the country’s geriatric Fascist leader, Generalissimo Francisco Franco. In what was perhaps Carlos’s finest moment, he went on television, on February 23rd, 1981, to face down a right-wing military coup that was already under way; his address was seen as having saved Spain’s nascent democracy, earning him the gratitude and the affection of two generations of Spaniards.”

Many monarchist supporters in Spain believe that Crown Prince Felipe and soon to be King has the best shot at helping the royal family regain their standing and popularity in a country that has grown disillusioned with the Spanish monarchy and their opulence. Unlike his father and family, his favorability numbers are high and he is seen as a generally well liked figure in Spain. After all, he bucked royal tradition and decided to marry Letizia Ortiz, a Mexican journalist with no royal background. King Felipe put it best in terms of why he is passing on the crown to his son: “[Juan will] open a new era of hope combining his acquired experience and the drive of a new generation.”

Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science.  He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.

The New Yorker
The Washington Post