Who is he: Juan Carlos de Borbon is the King of Spain. His reign began on November 22, 1975, a mere two days after the death of Francisco Franco. As King, Juan Carlos is the Head of State and the Commander in Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces. Spain operates from the place of monarchy with a parliamentary system of government.
Juan Carlos is an extremely popular king who has promoted Spanish relations with the United States. He is the president of the Ibero-American States Organization which represents over 700 million people worldwide. Globally, Juan Carlos experiences a great deal of popularity.
Background: He was born in Rome, Italy after his family relocated there following the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. His father was Infanti Juan, the Count of Barcelona and his mother was Princess Maria Mercedes of Bourbon. His young life followed a path created by the political concerns of his father and by General Francisco Franco, who was making every effort toward a continued dictatorship in Spain.
In 1948, he was permitted by General Franco to leave Rome and to be educated in Spain. He studied in San Sebastian and later at the San Isidro Institute located in Madrid. In 1954, he joined the army and did his officer's training course over a 2 year period, from 1955-1957, at the Military Academy of Zaragoza.
In 1962, Juan Carlos married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, the daughter of King Paul. The wedding took place at the Church of St. Dennis in Athens, Greece. They have two daughters and one son.
In 1982 Felipe Gonzales was elected as the socialist Prime Minister of Spain, at which time he took over most of the decision-making power within the government, rendering the king ineffective in day-to-day political matters. The king retained his title and is still considered the ultimate moral authority in all Spanish issues. Gonzales governed for 10 years, and in that period of time was able to stabilize the nation in its newfound democratic principles.
In 2005, Juan Carlos endorsed a bill that would legalize gay marriage and all of the rights that marriage invoked. Law 13 became effective on July 3, 2005. He had previously endorsed abortion as a woman's right to care for herself.
Juan Carlos has been noted for both his courage and bold speech. In 2007, at the Ibero-American Summit held in Santiago, Chile, Juan Carlos boldly interrupted Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and asked him, "Why don't you shut up?" Chavez himself had been interrupting others and calling them vile names. When Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua shot accusations at the king that he had intervened in Nicaragua's elections, Juan Carlos abruptly rose from his seat and left the hall.
On the "lighter" side, the king and his family enjoy sailing and skiing in the Pyrenees Mountains during the winter months. In 1972, Juan Carlos entered the Dragon class event at the Olympics. He did not win any medals but at least he showed up and competed. He and his wife speak several languages fluently. He states his only regret is that he never learned the Greek language, his wife's native tongue. He is an amateur radio operator and loves motorbike riding. With his motorcycle helmet on, he told a humorous story about meeting the king in the backwoods where he had run out of gas. He said he went to the nearest petrol station and returned with a small container of gasoline so that the king could get to his destination. When he took off his helmet, the good Samaritan who had rescued him from his predicament turned out to be none other than the king himself.
Juan Carlos has had many honors and honorary degrees bestowed upon him during his reign. Still in power, he is admired and respected by most today, though it is possible that Juan Carlos II is out of favor with Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega.