Monday, May 05, 2008

Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, Spanish prime minister for nearly two years (February 1981-December 1982) died on Saturday at age 82. He was an accidental prime minister, succeding Adolfo Suarez after the latter's resignation; he was defeated in the 1982 election by Socialist Felipe Gonzalez. Calvo-Sotelo was the second prime minister of democratic Spain, and the first to die.

(Sadly, Adolfo Suarez doesn't have long to live; he has a severe case of Alzheimer's.)

Calvo-Sotelo's most important achievement was surviving and keeping the young democracy alive. Elements of the army and Guardia Civil attempted a coup on February 23, 1981, the day Calvo-Sotelo was invested with the premiership. He weathered the storm, overcame another abortive coup conspiracy, and was also forced to deal with a severe economic downturn (with inflation and unemployment both at 15-20%) and ETA's murderous rampage (they were killing fifty people a year in the early '80s). Most importantly, he led Spain into NATO and established the basis for Spain's admission into the EU.

Calvo-Sotelo had been a technocrat in the late Franco regime, held a couple of ministries (Commerce and Public Works) in the post-Franco transition government, and then became Suarez's top economic advisor before succeeding him as premier. He was considered honest, competent, and moderate, and was respected by all political groups.

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