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After almost two years of forced exile due to the unrelenting expansion of his corruption cases, Juan Carlos I has returned to Spain at the same point from which he left it, in Galicia. It is only a long weekend of yacht races, social gatherings and a visit to Madrid on Monday to meet with his family before returning to the United Arab Emirates. But it is also more than just a brief visit: it is the beginning of a state operation to whitewash the king emeritus and normalize something that up till now has been impossible, his ability to visit Spain with a certain normalcy. So much so that another trip is already scheduled for June. The return of the person who was head of state between 1975 and 2014 takes place through the back door and is a leap into the void for a Spain discredited in many of its institutions, starting with the monarchy.

The fact that the return has taken place without any explanation and that it has been prepared as a silent partnership between the royal house and the Spanish government is nothing less than a leg-pull for the vast majority of Spaniards. Juan Carlos did not leave Spain in 2020 to embark on a long vacation, but rather, he fled pursued by a rampant corruption that swept through the Zarzuela royal palace like a hurricane. In this period we have come to hear about situations unfitting for a head of state and have seen prosecutors working to certify that the offences he had committed were time-barred or that he was protected by the immune status granted in his capacity as head of state. This has got him off the hook of facing a trial, but has completely destroyed his public image. Thus he does not return amid congratulations, except for the handful of local residents of the day who applauded his return. The reality is much more cruel and hence the media protection that will accompany him and that has been carefully prepared.

He returns head-bowed and defeated; also, humiliated and discredited. Without the profligacy of the ruler that he was, who was able to get on the phone with anyone and demand the most impossible thing, but rather like a lonely old man living tired and bored in the luxury of Abu Dhabi and always well feted through friendships with the monarchies reigning there. Let us get ready for four days of relentless information in the press, radio, and TV whose underlying purpose will be to soak up the discharge of corruption that surrounds him. In part, it has already begun this Thursday with his arrival in Sanxenxo and his trip to the home of one of his close friends in the area.

The king emeritus owes an explanation that will not be given. But his son and the rest of the royal family also owe one. This has not been individual corruption, but rather, has been institutionalized from the head of state. The monarchy has not shown itself worthy of its position and, therefore, it is the monarchy as a whole that is being debated in public opinion. The failure to see this problem in its entirety is to practice the politics of the ostrich and not be aware that the problem of the monarchical institution is not just Catalonia and the Basque Country. It is also Asturias and the Balearic Islands, where previously unthinkable protests have also taken place in recent times. And not because the monarchy is an anachronistic institution, but because it is perceived as far removed from the citizenry and enmeshed with cases of corruption.

Anyone who might have thought that all this could be undone through regular visits by the emeritus, since the worst has passed, is reading the situation wrongly. Because far from helping his son, in the eyes of the public, it also makes the son responsible for much of the father's legacy.