Photo: Adolfo Suarez
Former Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, who played a key role in Spain’s transition to democracy, died in Madrid on Sunday. He was 81.
The former premier was hospitalized last Monday with respiratory problems related to Alzheimer’s, his family said.
Suarez, who served as prime minister from 1976 to 1981, was recovering from pneumonia, but his general health declined in recent days.
The Spanish politician had not appeared in public since 2003.
King Juan Carlos praised Suarez as an “exceptional contributor” in bringing democracy to Spain and praised the late politician for defending “the unity and diversity” of the country.
The former prime minister’s son, Adolfo Suarez Illana, told the public last Friday that the man who led Spain’s first democratic government after the end of the Franco dictatorship was near death at a Madrid hospital.
Suarez, who was born on Sept. 25, 1932, in the central town of Cebreros, is considered one of the politicians who played a decisive role in Spain’s transition to democracy following the 1939 to 1975 Franco dictatorship.
“My gratitude (to Suarez) is deep and permanent, and my pain today is great,” King Juan Carlos said in a statement posted on his Web site.
Suarez played a role in “one of the most brilliant chapters in the history of Spain: the Transition led by the Spanish people,” the king said.
Suarez, who held important posts in the Franco regime, was chosen by King Juan Carlos to dismantle the old political system in 1976 and create a democratic government.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Sunday cancelled his trip to The Hague for a security summit and praised Suarez as a figure of “historic greatness” and a “man of concord.”
“This is the time to show respect and gratefulness to the man who made Spain’s democracy possible” and “opened the doors of Europe” to the country, Rajoy said during an appearance at the Moncloa Palace.
Rajoy said Suarez had the ability to “forge consensus” during the transition to democracy and the best homage Spaniards can pay to the late prime minister was “to continue on the path that he laid out for us, that of understanding, harmony and solidarity.”
Suarez’s government enacted laws protecting basic freedoms and legalizing political parties, including the communist party, a move that created enemies for the premier in some sectors of the traditional right and in the army.
The different political parties worked to draft and ratify the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which is still in effect today.
Suarez, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 11 years ago, led the Union of the Democratic Center to victory in the June 1977 elections and again in 1979.
He stepped down in January 1981, a month before Civil Guards and military officers disrupted the swearing-in of his successor, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, as part of a attempted coup that was ultimately thwarted by King Juan Carlos.
Suarez will be remembered for helping to guide Spain through the turbulent years in the late 1970s and early 1980s when terrorist attacks were causing deaths each week.
In 2008, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia presented Adolfo Suarez with the Order of the Golden Fleece, Spain’s highest honor.