Among the assailants in Congress there was, that 23-F, one who wanted with all his might that those who had made him collect for the first time the complete supply of weapons – a regulation pistol with two magazines and a submachine gun with eight magazines of 30 rounds each. -; get on a bus – where he heard one of his companions shout: “Get ready, Carrillo!” – and interrupt the inauguration of President Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo with shots, they lost that game against democracy.
“What scared me that day was that the dictatorship would return,” says José Antonio Iglesias, 71. “I saw that if the coup went forward we would lose our freedom.” Looking for her, he had left Spain very young. “In London I was lucky to see the best concert of my life, the Rolling in Hyde Park, in 1969. Impressive.”
There he met his wife and his son was born. With Franco dead and after a bad run in Germany, he decided to return to Spain and give joy to his father, a civil guard. He entered the body and did the traffic course.
Surrounded by machine guns like Iglesias’s, that 23-F another man had also followed in his father’s footsteps. Nicolás Pérez-Serrano Sr. was a lawyer in the Cortes at the age of 22 and an advisor in the drafting of the 1931 Constitution, during the Republic.
The Franco regime came to open a court martial, a trial for political responsibilities and five purification files. The revenge of his son, named after him, was to obtain, by opposition, at the age of 27, the position of lawyer in the Cortes and participate in the elaboration of the 1978 Constitution.
On February 23, 1981 he was secretary general of the Chamber of Deputies. He was 33 years old, two years older than the traffic officer, and he sat next to the tribune, facing the hemicycle. “Suddenly I heard some strange noises, which looked like gunshots, and which came from, it seems, from the room where the ministers’ escorts were.
Instinctively I tried to go to close the two doors, but I came across a Civil Guard lieutenant with a submachine gun on his shoulder and a pistol in each hand. At that time isthe skirmish with Gutiérrez Mellado, with Adolfo Suárez pulling his frock coat, and the shots were fired, thunderous ”.
“I entered the second, behind Tejero,” recalls Iglesias. “I didn’t know him, but I had seen his photos in the press from Operation Galaxy”. When, in one of the first interrogations before the military courts, the executor of the coup was asked what the criteria had been for choosing the 158 civil guards who accompanied him in the assault, Tejero replied: “We chose the easiest personnel to locate: traffic and workshops ”.
“Still today I do not understand that there were no deaths,” says Iglesias. “Before entering the hemicycle they fired. And in the room where Gutiérrez Mellado, Carrillo and others were taken away, a sergeant said he wanted to shoot Carrillo.
Tejero replied: ‘Do whatever you want’, but the sergeant did not move. Some knew more than others, but I think most were errands like me. I still get very nervous when I remember it and I would not like to die without knowing the whole truth ”.
“We are making a fool of ourselves”
“A civil guard put his knee on my back, with one hand he searched me and with the other he held the submachine gun, pointing it at my head,” recalls Nicolás Pérez-Serrano. “I thought: this is a coup and they are going to leave me here stiff.
My heart was beating at 200. In my pocket I had a little book of political laws and I remember that all my concern was to be able to catch it in time to use it as a parapet to the head, thinking, deluded myself, that maybe the bullets would not go through it.
They took Gutiérrez Mellado, Suárez, Carrillo and it seemed like a sign of a walk. It was an unbearable feeling. Tejero was rigorously crazy, it was obvious that he was disturbed. Surly people predominated, barracks, they knew what they were doing.
But there were also people who had been deceived, captured at the last minute, among them one who accompanied me to the service once I went and who whispered to me: “It’s not my fault. Forgive me, we are making a fool of ourselves ”.
Inside the hemicycle, Iglesias, a native of Monforte de Lemos (Lugo) recognized a civilian and approached. “In what place we are going to see each other,” he told Juan José Rosón, acting Interior Minister, also from Lugo. “We talked a lot throughout that night.
He was close to the one with the transistor, Fernando Abril Martorell, and he asked me for information about how the street was and how those who had been taken away were. He also gave me money to buy him tobacco and I did. We smoke a lot. Him, his Marlboros. Mine was Winston at punt [smuggling].
The one with the transistor would occasionally drop things. I told them to be calm, that this was going to fail. As the announced competent military authority did not appear, the famous white elephant, I thought that things would be ending, but at the same time, the nervousness was very great and the situation, screwed up.
One of the moments of greatest tension occurred when Pérez Serrano noticed that the spotlights in the hemicycle were not prepared to spend so much time on and could catch fire. “Tejero appeared to say that he gave the order to shoot if anyone moved.
It was also very distressing when they were going to bring us some cookies for breakfast and Manuel Fraga started yelling, ‘Shoot me, they’re kidding us, they said we’d have breakfast at home!’ There was a large bill at the bar, paid by Congress [258,421 pesetas at the time, the equivalent of almost 7,500 euros today, including four bottles of Moët Chandon], because the assailants drank hundreds of bottles ”.
Juan Luis Herráiz, head of maintenance, attests to this: “We made the drink. The bar was devastated. They drank it all ”.
Juan Luis Herráiz, head of maintenance in the Congress of Deputies, tells how he lived on 23-F. CARLOS MARTÍNEZ
“Who could want a coup? Only an ignorant, ”Iglesias says today. “I just thought that all that effort, that work, that filigree of the Transition and the consensus was going to ruin”, recalls the lawyer, who suspected that, if he left alive, his only way out was “exile and working doing translations ”.
After the coup, the Civil Guard wrote a letter to Felipe González. “After that I was a member of the PSOE for a season. In the letter he said something like that things had to change and that it was better to defend democracy when you had to mourn it when it was lost. Julio Feo answered me, I think, telling me that the president was taking good note ”.
Gutiérrez Mellado’s gift to an usher
Pérez Serrano left the Congress at ten, with a group of deputies. “I saw civil guards who went out into the street through the window. When I got home I was unable to sleep, I was like a pile, and I began to take notes of everything I had experienced.
For example, the gesture of Gutiérrez Mellado, who gave his gold DuPont to the usher who lent him his Bic lighter when his ran out of gas. Or the hug of Suárez, after standing before the lawyer. “I still cry when I remember it.” Iglesias believes he was one of the last to leave.
“Tejero fired us one by one. He shook hands with us and wished us luck. Then they took us to the Valdemoro youth guards’ school, where they kept us locked up for about 20 days. I remember that in March a loved one died and I couldn’t go to the funeral because they wouldn’t let me go out.
Having clarified your role in the assault, the Civil Guard returned to duty, but very disappointed. “I held out for two years, until 1983. And then Rosón, who had called me a couple of times after all that, got me a job at Sintel, where he was CEO.”
Iglesias returned to Congress only once more, in 2001, as part of the group of Sintel workers who had camped out at La Castellana to protest the salaries they were owed. “As they were going to discuss the matter that day, they invited us to follow the session from the rostrum.
I was shocked to see the shots on the ceiling, but I didn’t tell anyone. My colleagues knew that he had been a civil guard, but not that he had been in the 23-F and I did not dare to tell them. I was afraid that they did not understand.
In 2011, three decades after the assault, the secret acts of 23-F were published in Congress. There it was told, among many other episodes, how one of the guards, by order of a lieutenant, had taken from the Catalan socialist Lluís María de Puig Olivé a book, The Poetry of Rafael Maso,from which tore the page on which the deputy had taken some notes.
It was Iglesias. “I don’t know why I kept it. I put it in my pocket, I forgot, and when I saw it again, some time later, I put it in a plastic. When I read the minutes of the Congress, I wanted to give it back to him and called EL PAÍS, which organized a meeting.
I didn’t get to tell him, but somehow giving him back was a way of asking his forgiveness for everything that had happened.
I was an errand, but it is true that there was a moment, when they formed us in the courtyard of the Príncipe de Vergara car park, where they told us something like that it was already well painted and that we were acting in defense of the King, the captain He said: ‘whoever disagrees, step forward.’
I did not agree, but did not take the step. It was easier to get carried away. Then I thought that I had a better chance of doing something for democracy being inside than outside. I was able to leave a lot of times, in fact, there was a moment when I went out and called my wife from a phone booth, to reassure her, but I came back ”.
Pérez Serrano retired in 2019. He is, with usher Paloma Santamaría, one of the most beloved people in the Chamber. In a few days, he will publish The Day Godzilla Took Congress , a compilation of testimonies from the deputies with whom he shared 17 hours of kidnapping.
Today it downplays those chats where the noise of sabers seems to resurface.“Later, I was a lawyer for the Defense Commission for 30 years. And I can say that the evolution of the Armed Forces has been spectacular; it has nothing to do with that vision of the military coup, involved in politics, of the 19th and 20th centuries in Spain ”.
Iglesias also does not believe that those manifestos and letters where old soldiers question the legitimacy of the Government are going to increase. 40 years have passed, but the memories of that long night are still very present, like a vaccine.