Marco Werman: The King is gone, long live the King. After four decades, Spain's King Juan Carlos is stepping down and handing the throne to his son, Prince Felipe.
Big historical moment for Spain, so I asked my colleague, Gerry Hadden in Barcelona, to remind us what the reign of Juan Carlos has been all about.
Gerry Hadden; He's had a remarkable career, if you can call it that, as the king. He started out, you know, as the protÃ©gÃ© of the dictator General Francisco Franco. He was expected to carve out power for himself essentially when Franco died in 1975, to continue to the autocratic system of government that Spain had.
He didn't do that. He actually became the father of Spanish democracy, helpign to usher in a parliamentary democracy. And then a couple of years later he actually saved that same system, when there was a coup attempt in 1981, when he was able to get on national television and convince the Spanish military to stay in the barracks and not to participate.
So, early on in his stewardship of the throne, he was a hero and considered, as I said, a father of Spain's modern democracy.
Werman: Of course, there were some pretty memorable moments from his rule. We've got some tape here, Gerry, that I wanna play for our listeners. This is his unforgettable "Shut up" that King Juan Carlos delivered to Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, a few years ago.
Werman: Okay, my Spanish isn't good enough to pick out what was the phrase "Shut up" in there. What was happening there, Gerry? Do you remember that?
Hadden: Yeah, this is the Summit of the Americas, in which Spain and Latin American nations get together yearly to discuss regional cooperation and so forth. I've actually attended one of those summits, and I'd been around Chavez a couple of times when I used to work in Latin America.
And the guy, you know, used to go on, and on, and on, and just speak forever, and the King - at that very moment - said probably what was on the mind of 90% of the people watching that summit and present there, and probably his popularity in Spain and other places spiked in that very moment.
Werman: So, Juan Carlos, a hero and quite popular in many ways, but then his reputation, I gather, took a turn for the worse following the financial crisis in 2008. He went on some secret hunting trip to Botswana and was shooting at an elephant? What was that all about?
Hadden: He went on a lavish saffari to Botswana, and the Spanish people only found out because he tripped and fell, and hurt his hip again, and needed yet more surgery on hips that were operated on several times.
So it got out, and it was particularly scandalous because just weeks before he'd gone, he'd told a reporter here in Spain, that he was literally unable to sleep at night; he was so upset and worried about all the poor Spaniards who couldn't find work. Unemployment at that point was over 25%.
So here's the King who's suddenly supposedly upset about the situation at home, not sleeping, off shooting elephants in Botswana in secret. That really, really damaged his reputation for being a king with a lot of integrity.
Werman: And then he got caught up in this corruption scandal involving his daughter, Princess Christina, and her husband, the Duke of Palma. What exactly has been going on there?
Hadden: Yeah, he's not directly involved in this scandal, but essentially his son-in-law has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from a do-good foundation that he was the head of for years. Prosecutors are saying that the king's daughter also knew about that. She denies any wrong-doing, as does the son-in-law, but again, it tarnished the king.
Werman: King Juan Carlos is not the only European monarch to abdicate recently; there was Beatrix in the Netherlands last year, Albert II of Belgium also last year.
Werman: What's going on? Why now?
Hadden: Well, I think, you know, this generation of kings and queens is simply getting older. You know, there's no particular scandal going on, they all keep saying, "It's time to pass the torch on."
You know, I think if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be yawning. You know, there is no Richard III, there are no Hamlets in the European royal houses these days. There's no Machiavellian intrigue and scheming going on, and that's principally because, you know, thrones in Europe at least no longer represent power. They're figurehead positions.
Werman: The World's Gerry Hadden in Barcelona. Thank you, as always, Gerry. Good to speak with you.
Gerry: My pleasure, Marco.
Werman: This is PRI.