More than 30,000 people turned out to wait in line outside Congress early Tuesday morning to pay their last respects to Adolfo Suárez, the man who led Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.
People of all ages waited patiently in a line that snaked around the block and up the steps of the lower house of parliament, on Carrera de San Jerónimo, where Suárez once spearheaded far-reaching political, economic and social reforms that would change the country in a matter of five years, between 1976 and 1981. It was also here that he sat unflinching while a Civil Guard official named Antonio Tejero unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the democratic government on February 23, 1981.
The wake ended at 10am, and one hour later the coffin was taken out of the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (the Hall of Lost Steps) for a funeral procession that was initially going to end at the nearby Plaza de Neptuno. However, the massive attendance outside Congress, where people braved the cold and the wind for a last glimpse of Suárez’s coffin, prompted organizers to extend the procession down Paseo del Prado to Plaza de Cibeles.
Observers noted that Suárez, the man who represented a rare spirit of consensus not seen in Spanish politics since, has managed to unite once more in death: Spain’s three former prime ministers – Felipe González, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Socialists) and José María Aznar (Popular Party) – along with current leader Mariano Rajoy (also from the PP) came together on Monday to pay their last respects. On Tuesday morning, high-ranking politicians from both main parties mingled on the front steps of Congress as they awaited the beginning of the funeral procession. Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba stood between Madrid Mayor Ana Botella and regional premier Ignacio González, both of the PP.
Also standing on the steps were members of Suárez’s family, including his son Adolfo Suárez Illana, who has been the family spokesman since 2005, when he revealed that his father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It was Suárez Illana who announced last Friday that his 81-year-old father had no more than 48 hours left to live, after being hospitalized for a serious respiratory condition associated with his disease.
At 11am sharp on Tuesday, 10 service members carried out the coffin, which was covered with a Spanish flag, and slowly walked down the flight of steps between the two lions that flank the entrance to Congress. Several military and law enforcement corps as well as the Guard of Honor stood to attention while the national anthem played. Following a short military parade, the body was placed on a horse-drawn hearse and taken down Carrera de San Jerónimo.
Suárez will be buried later on Tuesday in Ávila, next to his wife Amparo Illana.