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Spain's coup attempt may have been success after all

"I do not know of any coup attempt that has failed 100 percent," a senior Spanish civil servant says, commenting on the first two months of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo's administration that came to power just after the abortive Feb. 23 military coup.

Since then there has been a subtle but definite change in the direction of Spain toward a right-of-center policy of national salvation. And everyone seems to be playing roles.

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King Juan Carlos, the symbol of national unity, has alientated broad sectors of the armed forces for preventing the February coup. Underground publications now circulating in Army barracks say he is the only Bourbon monarch to have gone against the military. And the armed forces, who regard themselves as the ultimate guardians of the nation's destiny, are breathing down the politicians' backs, helping to mold policies in the Army's favor.

The political parties, meanwhile, have lost much of their separate identities. All are once again frightened of provoking the Army. Even the trade unions have fallen into line. In these abnormal and inherently unstable circumstances, it is increasingly clear what situations could impell the military to move again.

Confidential reports compiled by Army officers and leaked to the liberal Diario 16 newspaper in April reveal deep concern over the terrorist violence perpetrated by the Basque separatist organization ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom). The gist of these reports is that if the military feels civilians are unable to control an escalated campaign by the eta directed specifically against the armed forces, then there will be strong pressure for military government.

Another factor that could goad the military would be any move that is seen by them as an attempt to humiliate the armed forces. The Army, for instance, would not take kindly to any attempt to purge officers known to have undemocratic views, or any moves by the Cortes (parliament) to reduce its extensive influence. Nor would tough sentences against the Feb. 23 plotters be acceptable.

Reflecting this, one report states: "There is preoccupation now over the consequences that would follow the condemnation of generals involved [in the coup attempt]. These now enjoy a position of prestige in the armed forces as a whole, where they are viewed as patriots and men of honor."

At a more general level the military may also be tempted to intervene if it feels the politicians are failing to govern Spain, especially if too much authority is delegated to the regions.

Faced with these alternatives, the military could react in two ways.

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There could be a hard coup, instigated by pro-Franco generals, and designed to place only military personnel in government. This type of coup, which still cannot be excluded, is the most dangerous prospect because it would almost certainly involve strife, repression, and have major consequences for Spain's trade with the European Community, tourism, and foreign investment.

(Foreign investment to Spain increased considerably after General Franco's death in 1975 as Spain approached entry into the European Community. A survey carried out in 1977 by the Ministry of Trade showed that the foreign stake then was worth $2.5 billion.)

Secondly, there could be a soft coup. This would either take the form of a creeping annexation of power by the Army (such as in Uruguay and Argentina during the mid-70s) or involve a discreet pact, approved by the King, between the military and the bulk of politicians, if, for example, political terrorism go out of hand. This coup would result in a government of national salvation and it would have the backing of right-wing civilians and of powerful sectors in the banking community.

In a secret report submitted to parliament by Defense Minister Alberto Oliart , the Feb. 23rd coup attempt was precipitated by Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez's resignation and was a combination of both these ideas. But the main thrust of the plot, according to this report, was for a soft coup.

This explains why so many generals hesitated and finally refused to join hard-liners Antonio Molinas Tejero, who led the Civil Guard assault on parliament, and Gen. Milans del Bosch, who put the region of Valencia under military control. It also explains, however, why there is a growing impression now that a soft coup attempt actually succeeded.

This is borne out by the following developments:

* Growing signs that the punishments of the coup plotters may not amount to more than a whitewash job with merely token sanctions.

Indeed, even though investigations into the coup have been going on for two months, still only one civilian has been charged with involvement. The sentencing of members of the armed forces, now in prison, is not expected to take place for at least nine months. At the same time, 64 more members of the paramilitary Civil Guard were released over Easter. This leaves only 17 gaurds in preventative detention out of an estimated total of 260 who took part in the parliamentary assault.

This wave of releases has led to speculation that the government may now be complying with one of the conditions set by Colonel Tejero for the freeing of Spain's politicians, held as hostages in parliament, on Feb. 24th.This was that junior officers in the Civil Guard who were acting on his orders should not take responsibility for the parliamentary attack.

* Signs that the plotters who are in prison are receiving exceptional treatment. Colonel Tejero for instance, who is now being held in a prison at El Ferrol in northwest Galicia is receiving what he describes as "five-star hotel treatment," receiving up to 50 visitors a day and gifts of flowers.

* The approval of new legislation, in which law and order has become a top priority. This has included a decree law on March 23 that for the first time directly involves the Army in the antiterrorist struggle in the Basque country.

And the approval late in April of legislation on the declaration of a state of siege. If a state of siege is declared,this law permits the temporary suspension of all fundamental freedoms and constitutional guarantees, and allows the government to close any publication, radio, television station, film, or theater without a legal warrant.

* A new restrictive approach to regional autonomy, reflected in the setting up of a seven-man commission of legal experts whose job is to "rationalize" autonomy. This fits in with one of the demands made by the insurgents on Feb. 23 that the unity of Spain be reinforced and that the devolution of powers to the regions be strictly controlled. As a result, the commission is widely expected to trim concessions already granted Spain's "historic" regions (the north west Basque country and northeastern Catalonia), while limiting devolution to Spain's other regions to mere administrative decentralization.

To sum up: The armed forces are being kept in check because of a basic unwillingness to launch events they cannot control, yet they are quite happy to go on breathing down the necks of the politicians.

So lon gas they feel the Feb. 23 coup attempt succeeded they will probably not try and intervene again. It is an anomalous situation. However, judging by the first two months of Mr. Calvo Sotelo's administration it is a situation that can be sustained for some time to come.

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