Obituary: Lt-Gen Manuel Gutierrez Mellado

Lt-Gen Manuel Gutierrez Mellado joined the uprising of Franco's forces in July 1936 that opened the Spanish Civil War and served the Caudillo loyally until his death in 1975, but then turned his energies to persuading Franco's army to serve Spain's emerging democracy. He became a key figure in the process by which Spain's dictatorship organised its own destruction.

Isolated among his fellow officers, he often faced insults and mutiny while trying to persuade them to still their rattling sabres.

He is best remembered for standing up to the rebel Civil Guardsmen who burst into the Spanish parliament building on 23 February 1981, and held MPs at gunpoint for 24 hours. Gutierrez Mellado jumped from his seat and darted across the chamber to tell the intruders sharply that they had no business in the place. They grabbed him by his jacket collar and tried to manhandle him out of the way, but the frail old man stood his ground.

It was in the early days of the televising of parliament and his actions were seen by millions of Spaniards, who spent the night glued to their television screens as the coup attempt unfolded live before them.

With his hatchet face, heavy spectacles and close-cropped moustache, "Guti", as he was nicknamed, looked the perfect image of the despotic general. He started his career as a Francoist as an under-cover agent for the Nationalists in the Republican zone during the Civil War, and then became a distinguished staff officer and unit commander. But, after Franco's death, between 1976 and 1979, he transformed the Spanish armed forces from a sclerotic war machine built to crush democracy into a modern professional body at the service of a democratic state.

As Chief of General Staff, he was alone among 16 generals in the unreformed parliament to support the government's plan to legalise trade unions in 1976. And he had to disarm open revolt in the armed forces when the reform-minded prime minister, Adolfo Suarez, decided to legalise the Communist Party.

Gutierrez Mellado threw himself with gusto into the task of shaking up the army. Working with a small staff, sleeping little, he drafted a string of decrees reforming the pay structure, curbing the armed forces' extensive political privileges and abolishing their jurisdiction over terrorist offences.

Above all he abolished the Francoist command structure. He put the armed forces under the government's thumb and replaced the three separate armed forces ministries by a single defence ministry after free general elections in 1977. He headed the new ministry but in 1979 stepped down in favour of a civilian to become deputy prime minister with responsibility for security and defence. He withdrew from government in 1981.

Gutierrez Mellado was a man of few words and simple tastes, and although the King and Queen of Spain attended the mass in his honour his funeral was of military austerity. Santiago Carrillo, the former Communist Party boss, said that, even though they were in "opposing camps", he liked and respected the general for his fight to bring Spain to democracy without traumas.

He was heading out from Madrid to Barcelona to ad- dress a conference on "The Armed Forces and the Democratic Transition" when he died in a traffic accident on the icy road.

Manuel Gutierrez Mellado, soldier and politician: born 30 April 1912; created 1994 Marques de Gutierrez Mellado and promoted Honorary Captain General; married 1939 Carmen Blasco Sancho (four children); died Guadalajara, Spain 15 December 1995.

Suggested Topics
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London