Washington, DC – Over a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Spain embarked on an uncharted path of transition from dictatorship to democracy. The initial, defining steps on this path were led by Adolfo Suárez González, the first democratically elected prime minister of today’s Kingdom of Spain, who died in Madrid on March 23.
“The life of Aldolfo Suárez is a reminder to us all,” said Mark Green, president of IRI “that the hard work of building the institutions of democracy comes down to giving the people a vision of what a country can be and engaging them in the process of moving it forward toward that vision.”
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems inevitable that Spain would become the modern democracy it is today after the collapse of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in 1975. However, IRI recognizes that very little in the evolution of a country toward stable democracy is inevitable. Leadership is required.
Working alongside King Juan Carlos I, Suárez provided this leadership, deliberately and thoughtfully putting into place the institutions of democratic governance that would move Spain from being a pariah state on the fringe of Europe to become a full member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an important force for democratic change.
Appointed prime minister by Juan Carlos on July 4, 1976 – the bicentennial of American independence – Suárez rose beyond his past in Franco’s National Movement and introduced the Law on Political Reform, which the Spanish people approved in a referendum in December 1976, and called for free elections in June 1977, which were won by Suárez’ Union of the Democratic Center. He then went on to lead the country through approval of a new constitution by referendum in 1978 and new elections in 1979, which he won. Moving to the multinational level, Suárez led the Liberal International from 1989-1992.
Former Prime Minister José María Aznar López said of Suárez that those “who were responsible for our country achieving political freedom did work that will remain forever as a model of what a nation considered hopeless by history is able to achieve when good and intelligent men govern.”