King Juan Carlos is Spain’s best king since Carlos III of the eighteenth century and one of the most consequential statesmen of the twentieth century. He is overlooked in the United States because Spain’s success is taken for granted and because his life has been chronicled in Spanish. He is far more appreciated in Latin America than in the United States. His reign tinged with sacrifice and tragedy, he succeeded General Francisco Franco, orchestrated Spain’s transition to democracy, faced down a major coup attempt in 1981, drove Spain’s full return to the West, and built bridges to Latin America and the Middle East.
With his active support, Spain became largely prosperous, a net provider of security as a member of NATO, and even became a significant donor of foreign aid. Spain’s transition to democracy is seen as the “textbook” case. The historic transition placed far higher responsibilities on Juan Carlos than almost any other twentieth-century European monarch.