Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: No, no. I was sitting at my desk listening to the radio, there's a new government, it was a vote of confidence. Adolfo Suarez's government, a confidence vote. And we were curious to see how it would come out, so I was sitting there listening to it in my office, and as they called the names there was shouting—I forget what the word was they were shouting. And then there was shooting. They shot into the ceiling, repairs for which they later had to pay. And in came this Lt. Colonel Tejero waving his pistol. By that time, when the shooting took place, I reached into my drawer and pulled out my little pocket dictating machine and set it by the radio. It was being televised but I don't think it was live, but the cameras kept going. So, he came in and these Guardia Nacional, who in the best traditions that the Guardia Nacional, thought they were carrying out legitimate orders, trained their submachine guns on the assembled audience, which was quite distinguished. And Tejero said, “Everybody on the floor.” And down they went behind their desks, and before long he said, “Shut off those cameras.” So they had to stop and shut down the radio. So in keeping with Spanish hours that must have been 8:00 at night by then, 7:30 - 8:00. So we called the Operations Center, opened the line and kept it open for the next 15 hours, and watched the scene evolve. Al Haig was Secretary of State. At that position all we were trying to do was describe what was happening, and figure out just exactly what it implied, and how far it was going to spread because Spain is divided into military regions, and at that time each region had a captain general in charge of the military establishment within that region. And we did not know which ones, and indeed one or two were waffling. The one in Valencia, in fact, did more than waffle, he did things for which he was later punished. But in any case we monitored the situation which was, say if it was 7:00 in Madrid, was 1:00 in the morning in Washington. The President had gone to bed, there really was not much the Washington establishment could do although at that point in the early hours, we were, as I say, trying to see exactly what was happening, what was going to happen. So we did not do what the Europeans were able to do since it was also 7:00 or 8:00 in western Europe, and that is have their chiefs of state get on the telephone. When we raised that possibility we were told the President was asleep, and Al Haig said, “Well, it's an internal affair at this point it's strictly a Spanish internal affair,” which enraged the Spaniards. But having just been criticized for having said so much about other situations in other countries that had proved to be inopportune, he was just not saying anything.
Early the next morning when the President was up, we got him on the telephone with the King, but by that time it was all over, and the Spaniards saw we were watching to see which way it was going to go. We weren't at all. We told the Department about 11:00, I guess, the situation had been contained, and that was before the King went on television. The ambassador had no instructions, of course, and wasn't likely to get any at that hour from Washington so there anything that he could do. In retrospect, of course, he should have acted on his own. He would have taken a great risk, it would have paid off, but ambassadors are taught to be disciplined.