BRIEF HISTORY OF SPAIN


One of the characteristic features of the early history of Spain is the succesive waves of different peoples who spread all over the Peninsula. The first to appear were the Iberians, a Libyan people, who came from the south. Later came the Celts, a typically Aryan people, and from the merging of the two there arose a new race, the Celtiberians, who, divided into several tribes (Cantabrians, Asturians, Lusitanians) gave their name to their respective homelands. The next to arrive, attracted by mining wealth, were the Phoenicians, who founded a number of trading posts along the coast, the most important being that of Cadiz. After this came Greek settlers, who founded several towns, including Rosas, Ampurias and Sagunto. The Phoenicians, in their struggle against the Greeks, called on the Carthaginians, who, under the orders of Hamilcar Barca, took possession of most of Spain. It was at this time that Rome raised a border dispute in defense of the areas of Greek influence, and thus beguan in the Peninsula the Second Punic War, which decided the fate of the world at that time.

After the Roman victory, Publius Cornelius Scipio, Africanus, began the conquest of Spain, which was to be under Roman rule for six centuries. Once the Peninsula had been completely subdued, it was Romanized to such an extent that it produced writers of the stature of Seneca and Lucan and such eminent emperors as Trajan and Hadrian.

Rome left in Spain four powerful social elements: the Latin language, Roman law, the municipality and the Christian religion. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Suevi, Vandals and Alans entered Spain, but they were defeated by the Visigoths who, by the end of the 6th century, has occupied virtually the whole of the Peninsula.

At the beginning of the 8th century the Arabs entered from the south. They conquered the country swiftly except for a small bulwark in the North which would become the initial springboard for the Reconquest, which was not completed until eight centuries later. The period of Muslim sway is divided into three periods: the Emirate (711 to 756), the Caliphate (756-1031) and the Reinos de Taifas (small independent kingdoms) (1031 to 1492).

In 1469, the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, prepared the way for the union of the two kigdoms and marked the opening of a period of growing success for Spain, since during their reign, Granada, the last stronghold of the Arabs in Spain, was conquered and, at the same time, in the same historic year of 1492, the caravels sent by the Crown of Castile under the command of Christopher Columbus discovered America.

The Canary Islands became part of Spanish territory (1495), the hegemony of Spain in the Mediterranean, to the detriment of France, was affirmed with the conquest of the Kingdom of Naples, and Navarre was incorporated into the Kingdom.

The next two centuries, the 16th and the 17th, witnessed the construction and apogee of the Spanish Empire as a result of which the country, under the aegis of the Austrias, became the world's foremost power, and European politics hinged upon it.

The War of Succession to the Spanish Crown (1701-1714) marked the end of the dynasty of the Habsburgs and the coming of the Bourbons. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 formalized the British occupation of the Rock of Gibraltar, giving rise to an anachronistic colonial situation which still persists today and constitutes the only dispute between Spain and the United Kingdom.

In 1808 Joseph Bonaparte was installed on the Spanish throne, following the Napoleonic invasion, although the fierce resistance of the Spanish people culminated in the restoration of the Bourbons in the person of Fernando VII. In 1873, the brief reign of Amadeo of Savoy ended with his abdication, and the First Republic was proclaimed. However, a military pronunciamiento in 1875, restored the monarchy and Alfonso XII was proclaimed King of Spain. He was succeeded in 1886 by his son Alfonso XIII, although his mother Queen Maria Cristina of Habsburg acted as regent until 1902, when he was crowned king.

Prior to this, a brief war with the United States resulted in the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, in 1898, thus completing the dissolution of the Spanish overseas empire.

In the municipal elections of April 12th, 1931, it became clear that in all the large towns of Spain the candidates who supported the Monarchy had been heavily defeated. The size of the Republican's vote in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona was enormous. In the country districs the Monarchy gained enough seats to secure for them a majority in the nation as a whole. But it was well known that in the country the 'caciques' were still powerful enough to prevent a fair vote. By the evening of the day following the elections, great crowds were gathering in the streets of Madrid. The king's most trusted friends advised him to leave the capital without delay, to prevent bloodshed. As a result, Alfonso XIII left Spain and the Second Republic was established in April 14th. During its five-year lifetime, it was ridden with all kind of political, economic and social conflicts, which inexorably split opinions into two irreconcilable sides. The climate of growing violence culminated on July 18th 1936 in a military rising which turned into a tragic civil war which did not end until three years later.

On October 1st, 1936, General Franco took over as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The Spanish State embarked on a period of forty years' dictatorship, during which the political life of the country was characterized by the illegality of all the political parties with the exception of the National Movement. Franco died in 1975, bringing to an end a period of Spanish history and opening the way to the restoration of the monarchy with the rise to the Throne of the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos I de Borbon y Borbon.

The young monarch soon established himself as a resolute motor for change to a western-style democracy by means of a cautious process of political reform which took as its starting point the Francoist legal structure. Adolfo Suarez, the prime minister of the second Monarchy Government (july 1976) carried out with determination and skill though helped, certainly, by a broad social consensus the socalled transition to democracy which, after going through several stages (recognition of basic liberties, political parties, including the communist party, the trade unions, an amnesty for political offences, etc.), culminated in the first democratic parliamentary elections in 41 years, on June 15th, 1977. The Cortes formed as a result decided to start a constituent process which concluded with the adoption of a new Constitution, ratified by universal suffrage, on December 6th, 1978.

Between 1980 and 1982, the regions of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia and Andalusia approved statutes for their own self-government and elected their respective parliaments. In January 1981, the prime minister, Adolfo Suarez, resigned and was succeeded by Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo. On August 27th, 1982, Calvo-Sotelo presented to the King a decree for the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a general election to be held on October 28th.

Victory of the polls went to the Spanish Socialist Worker Party (PSOE) and its secretary general, Felipe Gonzalez. The socialists obtained 202 seats out of the 350 of which the Lower House consists and approximately 48% of the popular vote. Felipe Gonzalez was elected prime minister (December 2nd) after the parliamentary vote of investiture. The major losers were the Union of the Democratic Centre -which has split up following the defection of a number of its members- and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). The Popular Alliance, whose chairman was Manuel Fraga Iribarne, made considerable gains (106 seats and approximately 26% of the vote).

The subsequent general elections of 1986, 1989 and 1993 were also won by the Spanish Socialist Party and consolidated the the position of the Popular Party, led by Jose Maria Aznar, as the second largest political force in the country.


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