Spain on the Brink

During this bizarre Spanish autumn, event followed event with the somberness of a Greek tragedy. For more than a year, the Spaniards have sensed that the end of the Franco era would come not in a graceful “transition” but in a harsh effort to preserve the old man’s dictatorial powers. Since the assassination of Premier Luis Carrero Blanco on December 20, 1973, Franco and his family had increasingly surrounded themselves with figures of the extreme right, such as Rodriguez de Valcárcel, president of the appointed National Assembly, and Torcuato Fernandez Miranda, a Falangist minister in the present cabinet, all opposed to even the timid attempts at liberalization advocated by Carrero’s successor, Premier Carlos Arias Navarro.

By the end of this summer, the ultra-right wing of Franco’s government, getting ready for a stormy winter, passed an antiterrorist law that not only imposed a mandatory death sentence for those convicted of killing or aiding or abetting in the death of a policeman but also made political protest a highly punishable crime; it also allowed policemen to enter private homes and make arrests without a warrant.

Thus the police were given an autonomy of action they had not possessed for fifteen years. On September 27 the antiterrorist law rapidly went into effect. After a summary kangaroo trial which caused a deep split within the government, five young members of the Basque ETA and a Maoist group known as FRAP were grimly executed by police firing squads. The armed forces, significantly, declined to participate, although normally they are in charge of political executions.

Following these killings, Franco’s government staged a strange, enormous rally in support of the government in the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid, a rally in which thousands of government employees and members of far-right groups were quickly recruited to shout their approval of Spain’s defiance of the rest of Europe, of the Vatican, and of the foreign press which had condemned the executions. For a moment, it appeared as though the country was in the hands of the ultra-right. But if one looked beneath the surface, even before Franco’s heart attacks three weeks later the ultras appeared to be floundering. In the past the large rallies in the Plaza de Oriente were organized in times of the regime’s weakness—not in moments of strength. As one observer close to the Spanish political scene remarked to me: “Make no mistake about it. Despite the government’s public bravado about Western Europe’s condemnation of Spain, privately they are badly shaken.” The trials of twenty-five additional members of ETA and FRAP awaiting death sentences were held up, and trials of other political prisoners were removed from the Military Tribunal to the more innocuous Court of Civil Order.

If outward calm had been restored, Spain remained in a state of confusion that worsened three weeks after the rally when Franco suffered his long series of heart attacks. But since Juan Carlos will not inherit any of the real power of Generalissimo Franco, there is a vacuum at the top. As the socialist lawyer Raul Morodo recently said to me, “Dictatorships cannot be inherited.”

During the tense period of Franco’s illness, Juan Carlos steadily remained in touch by telephone with his father, Don Juan, in Lausanne. According to those close to the inner politicking that goes on in Madrid, Juan Carlos’s first step, during this uncertain period, was to follow his father’s advice and avoid accepting a provisional arrangement to assume temporary powers during Franco’s illness; he changed his mind and took power on October 31 only after the crisis in the Sahara became acute.

It has long been public knowledge that the opposition groups in Spain—whether liberal, socialist, communist, Catholic, or Basque—have been scornful of Juan Carlos, seeing him as an ineffectual figure, totally dominated by the Franco family. What is equally true, although less publicly discussed, is that the attitude of the ultra-right toward Juan Carlos has been increasingly cool and suspicious. Their troubles with him began last summer. In June, his father, who still considers himself the legitimate heir to the Spanish throne and who is considered to be more forceful and intelligent than his son, made a statement in Estoril not only announcing himself rightful monarch of Spain but bitterly attacking the regime for its fascistic rule. The ultra-right wanted Juan Carlos to disclaim publicly his father’s avowed right to the throne. Instead, Juan Carlos, who has often felt humiliated by the Franco family and did not enjoy having to relinquish his power after Franco’s recovery from phlebitis last year, remained oblique. “I know how I was raised and I know where my duties lie,” was all the monosyllabic prince said. Then he spent part of his summer vacation with his father.

Clearly, Don Juan, despite his public utterances, would like to remain a power behind the throne while he helps Juan Carlos fight to preserve his shaky monarchy; he also wants to remain an alternative if his son fails. The disadvantage Juan Carlos faces is that, for the moment, most of the existing political apparatus—a good part of the government, a section of the army, and all of the police—still is in the hands of the ultra-right. During 1975, for example, Franco sacked his moderate chief of staff, Díez Alegría, as well as Alegría’s brother, a high and relatively tolerant officer in the Guardia Civil—replacing both with ruthlessly tough men committed to eliminating all opposition.

Even though “change” moves slowly in Spain, Juan Carlos in the next months must make some modest gains toward liberalization—hard to achieve with an ultra-right government, but necessary if he is to become a plausible leader of the Spanish people and not merely a front for the repressive cabal that Franco gathered around himself in order to hang on to absolute power until the last moment. Very high on the list of civil liberties is the repeal of the antiterrorist laws, which were used to arrest a socialist leader, Ruiz Yanez, the very day Juan Carlos took over. (On the same day, the secretary general of the Socialist party, Felipe González, who had earlier been meeting fairly openly with journalists, went into hiding.) A group of prominent lawyers, among them Joaquin Ruiz-Gimenez, belonging to a legal group called the National Commission of Justice and Peace, already have begun efforts to argue the legality of the antiterrorist law in the Spanish courts.

In the coming months the real battles will probably be fought between the ultra-rightists and the moderates within the regime, particularly such men as Pedro Cortina Mauri, minister of foreign affairs, and Pío Cabanillas Gallas, formerly minister in charge of censorship. If the moderates should make any gains, the first sign would be a general political and prison amnesty—and the logical moment for it would be during the Christmas holidays. But the best informed observers I have talked to in Madrid feel pessimistic at the moment about the chances of a genuine amnesty; the most that will be granted, they feel, are some token pardons.

Political and prison amnesty is now an intense issue in Spain. During the 1940s approximately three hundred thousand people were held in Spanish prisons and many of them were executed. Nearly all Spaniards have had a member of their family in jail. A justifiable obsession with prison dominates the atmosphere in Spain. When I am among Spaniards, the conversation soon drifts off to which group of friends were in which prison together, or whether their situation has changed:

In our time they didn’t allow us to hold Marxist study groups and have pictures on the walls.”

True, we had to keep the walls bare—but now the tortures have gotten worse.”

Last March, Cambio 16, the opposition magazine backed by wealthy pro-Common Market industrialists, which has a glossy Newsweek format and a mass circulation, showed Josefina Camacho, wife of Marcelino Camacho, the head of the illegal trade union movement called the Workers’ Commissions, embracing Francisco Acosta. Camacho and Acosta were both sentenced to jail in 1974 in the Carabanchel Ten case and Acosta was the first of the two to be released. The cover headline over the photograph taken outside Carabanchel prison said: “Now They Are Coming Out.”

Clearly American readers may be confused by a country which openly both honors its political prisoners and at the same time continues to arrest more of them; in which Don Juan may try to prop up with one hand the monarchy of his son, Juan Carlos, and with the other hand receive the blessings of the Spanish Communist party. One reason Spanish political life is so puzzling by American standards is its peculiar intimacy; it is often a matter of relations between friends and families—frequently upper-class families. Thus, one of the people Juan Carlos might be pardoning if he granted a prison amnesty would be his boyhood classmate, Nicolas Sartorius, a son of a leading banking family, who was imprisoned as one of the Carabanchel Ten. Angel Campano, the new brutal ultra-rightist head of the Guardia Civil, has a radical son who is being hunted down by the police. Josefina Camacho, who has been doing much political negotiating for the Workers’ Commissions while her husband is in jail, comes from the working class, but no one was surprised when she recently showed up at a cocktail party at the Madrid Ritz, where she met with officials high in the government. Such contradictions are common in the political life of Madrid.

The “moderates” in Franco’s regime know that the underground trade union movement, which has been able to organize impressive strikes and political alliances during the last six years—and has the backing of the Church—is a genuine force in Spain and now must be granted legal status. But whether the moderates can now assert themselves is far from clear. Franco’s premier, Carlos Arias Navarro, the most prominent among them, appeared as a somewhat weak figure under the ultra-rightist pressures of this autumn. The three other most talked about moderates within the regime are the present ambassador to England, Manuel Fraga Iribarne; the former chief of staff Díez Alegría; and José Maria de Areilza (Count Motrico), a millionaire industrialist and former ambassador to the United States. For the moment Díez Alegría, an intelligent general, seems concerned to show that he is neutral, notwithstanding the pressure from the Socialists and others that he become a Spínola-type figure. Fraga Iribarne, who has been actively promoting “reformist” measures, completes his term as ambassador in December.

Of the three, the most vulnerable to attacks from the far right—because he is considered its greatest enemy—is Motrico. He is a cosmopolitan figure, a man of refined literary tastes who discussed his ideas on Spain, among them the need for Spanish democracy, in a book called One Hundred Articles, published by Revista de Occidente in Madrid. Of all those leaders who have worked within the regime, he is the one who has most clearly broken with it, the most forthright in stating that Spain has “outgrown Fascism” and must bring opposition groups into politics. He is close not only to Juan Carlos but to powerful groups of industrialists and monarchists in Madrid, the Basque country, and Catalonia who have long wanted to get rid both of Franco and his system, and to enter modern Europe with a politics not far different from those of Giscard d’Estaing.

As for the much written about Spanish Communist party, and the Junta Democratíca coalition it now heads, they face problems that are much tougher and trickier than their rather optimistic statements and interviews might suggest. The biggest dilemma for the Communist leaders, during what may be a long, murky period of slow change, is that their party may be the last major party to become lawful. Though the Communists were highly effective in organizing resistance underground, they will be at a disadvantage during a period when their political activity is more restricted than that of other groups.

To offset this they have pursued a strategy of coalitions. During the 1960s the PC leaders put together their first coalition—the Pact for Liberty—which never quite got off the ground. When Franco was first thought to be dying, during the summer of 1974, they formed, more successfully, the Junta Democratíca, which now includes an assortment of independent Socialists such as Raul Morodo and Tierno Galván, as well as Don Juan’s éminence grise—Rafael Calvo Serer, the former editor of the left-wing Opus Dei newspaper Madrid, and at one time tutor of Juan Carlos. One can also find in the Junta members of the Carlist-Marxist party headed by the Carlist pretender Carlos Hugo de Borbón. But essentially the Junta is the Spanish Communist party.

The violent hatreds among Communists, Socialists, and ultra-leftists we have seen in Portugal are far less likely to occur in Spain. During the past fifteen years the opposition groups have learned to deal with one another with a fair degree of sophistication. The bitter animosities of the Civil War have been replaced by reasonable if cautious cooperation on essential issues. (One sees, however, a genuine united front only in Catalonia—where with increasing frequency the twenty or so opposition parties do work together.)

While it is uncertain whether the PC can work its way into legal status by forming temporary coalitions with other groups, its most likely prospect of becoming legitimate would be the legalization of the trade unions, in which the Communists are strongly entrenched. Here the reformers within the government cannot temporize. They have committed themselves to legalizing the unions, and if they cannot make good on their promise it will be a clear sign that Spain will again be an ultra-right-wing dictatorship. The trade unions, including the Workers’ Commissions, have a following of millions of workers; as soon as even primitive rights of assembly and free expression are granted to workers they will inevitably have a large role to play in Spanish political life.

In recent weeks the Communist leader Santiago Carrillo has been giving interviews in Paris, insisting that he respects political freedom for all, wants peaceful change, rejects the tutelage of Moscow, etc. Much of what Carrillo says is convincing. The Spanish PC was the first Communist party in Europe to break with the Soviet Union over Dubcek. Under Carrillo, the party is more open to internal dissent and more critical of Moscow than even the Italian Communist party. Like the Italian Communist leaders, Carrillo supported Soares in Portugal and he makes a point of showing himself to be different from Cunhal in every way. Carrillo has announced that he intends to reorganize his party along roughly Social Democrat lines—advocating a mixed economy, competing trade unions, parliamentary elections. Such a party would seem well suited to the needs and temperaments of Spanish workers, whose political views and fears tend to vary from region to region and who have good reason to distrust a centralized “dictatorship of the proletariat,” or dictatorship of any other kind.

Carrillo likes to play the “enfant terrible” of the Communist world, discounting such heroes as Marx, Lenin, and Mao; but when he does so he is also expressing a long-standing Spanish resentment of the USSR. A great many Spanish Communists were purged in the Soviet Union after the Civil War and there are bitter memories of the manipulation by the Russians of the Spanish left.

Still, when questioned by knowledgeable interviewers Carrillo can be sharply petulant when talking of his main political competitors, especially those on the left. His edginess and defensiveness emerge most clearly in Demain l’Espagne, a book of interviews between Carrillo and Regís Debray and Max Gallo, published in Paris last winter. Clearly he is very worried by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) which, like the PC, has roots in the Spanish Republican past as well as much international support in Western Europe and Mexico. It has its own illegal trade union, the UGT, which had a major part in the Civil War and now is in close touch with socialist unions in West Germany and elsewhere. Until two years ago the PSOE did not seem in a strong position to compete with the Communists during the post-Franco period. There was a musty air of exile politics about the party. Its leader Rodolfo Llopis was too orthodox and doctrinaire to have much impact on the modern Spanish political scene.

But then a struggle took place within the party in which a faction from Madrid defeated the French exiles and the party headquarters were moved to Madrid. Young Spanish intellectuals, such as Francisco Bustelo, who was recently released from prison, reorganized the party in much the same way that the PC was reorganized in the late 1960s. The party began to attract support from many in the new urban classes of office workers, service employees, and semiprofessional people, as well as from a good many intellectuals. After the Communists formed their Junta the Socialists organized their own Convergencía Democratíca, a loose amalgam of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, and Socialists. Recent polls published in Spain suggest that if there were free elections in Spain, the PSOE would be, by far, the most popular party.

The PSOE also threatens the Communists in the heavily industrialized Basque country which is traditionally Socialist. One of Carrillo’s great worries, as the Debray-Gallo interviews made clear, is how to deal with the Basque problem and what position to take toward the ETA, the organization of the Basque militants. Despite the Communists’ desire for coalitions, they have frequently been criticized for not giving their active support to protests against the political trials of other opposition groups. In Demain l’Espagne Carrillo reveals that he tried to make an alliance with the ETA after the Burgos trials of the Basque militants in 1970:

At that time, ETA had an enormous popularity especially in the Basque country. We tried to talk to them and we said, “This is the moment to transform ETA into a mass political movement; and if you do that [we should] combine the PC and the ETA, which will be a way of assuring that the Basque National Movement stays on the left, rather than the right. You can become a great political force. Otherwise, if you continue in your present plan, you will disintegrate.

What is striking is not that the ETA refused this offer—a refusal which Carrillo considered a grave error—but that he was willing to make such a proposal to them in view of his often stated opposition to militant leftist and separatist groups using terror.

The Basques will continue to be a major source of trouble in Spain, not only for the shaky new regime of Juan Carlos but for the PC as well. While condemning Basque terrorism Carrillo also insists that he will back autonomy for the Basque people. For one year after the assassination of Carrero Blanco, Carrillo evaded the issue of the ETA by claiming that Carrero was killed by the ultra-right. He is afraid that he will eventually lose the Basque country—a great plum because of its heavy industrialization—to the Socialists.

Though the militant nucleus of ETA numbers fewer than a thousand people, it must be faced that this Basque group, more than any other, has acted as a catalyst in Spanish political life. The Burgos trials in 1970 opened the first crack in what had hitherto appeared to be Franco’s overwhelmingly strong regime. For the first time the Spanish opposition groups were able to unite in open political protest to his brutal treatment of the Basques.

Members of the ETA were not only responsible for the assassination of Carrero Blanco but for causing the splits between the “hawks” and “doves” in the government and army that subsequently took place; and they were the main targets of the recent political trials. Violent as they have shown they can be, the ETA still has been the prime mover in forcing the Spanish opposition groups into the open and in arousing widespread support for them throughout Europe. Many of those who have protested the treatment of the ETA approve neither of its separatism nor of its terror. For example some prominent Spanish political leaders and writers who denounced the injustice of the grim political trials and executions of ETA members this autumn have also expressed to me their fears that Spain may become “like Argentina”—an utterly chaotic country with extreme violence rising on the right and on the left.

In spite of such fears no one could deny that emotional, not ideological, support for the Basques remains high throughout Spain. This is largely because the systematic and brutal use of torture by the paramilitary police in the Basque country is widely known and has recently become more and more sadistic. In September Amnesty International released a report giving explicit details on the torture of over 250 Basques. Amnesty provides evidence that women have been systematically humiliated—stripped naked, their public hair shaved, their breasts burned. Male and female victims have been subjected to mock executions, beatings with electric cables, and mutilation of sexual organs, among other practices. In October, according to recent reports, the police threw a young woman and a young engineer who had been severely tortured out of the window of the Bilbao police headquarters. Following the executions the police were apparently given carte blanche to commit any excess they wanted in the Basque country.

By the standards of Spanish militant groups, the ETA has engaged in little indiscriminate killing, unlike some of the extreme left revolutionaries who have randomly shot policemen in the streets. The ETA can still convince Spaniards that it is more like such resistance groups as the French Maquis than the Palestinian and the IRA terrorists. Indeed, all the opposition groups now endorse some form of autonomy, not only for the Basques but for Galicia and Catalonia as well. Should such a policy of regional decentralization be followed, the peculiarly intense expressions of Basque nationalism would probably be softened. But if the ETA militants should change their present tactics and become more violent they would risk losing middle-class support.

Juan Carlos will also have a hard time dealing with the often violent ultra-rightist groups such as “The Warriors of Christ the King”—which includes more than a few members of the Spanish police—and Blas Pinar’s Fuerza Nueva, which models itself on the Nazi Youth movement and has members in West Germany, Italy, and France as well. It cooperates with the embittered remnants of the French OAS group who settled in Spain after the Algerian war. During the last few months, there have been some thirty-three attacks by ultra-right-wing fanatics on Spanish exile organizations in France, most of them ignored in the American press. Three exile publishing houses have been bombed, notably Ruedo Ibérico, the main center for publishing uncensored books by many Spanish intellectuals. So have Basque refugee centers.

These fanatical groups will go on with their campaigns of terror against liberals and leftists, and particularly against dissident journalists and publishers. During the weeks after Franco’s heart attack, twenty well-known Catalan politicians and intellectuals of moderate views received letters threatening them with death unless they left the country immediately. Still, I doubt that such ultra-right fanaticism can succeed in Spain, above all because it fails to understand how Spain has changed. The Spanish Roman Catholic Church understood this when it split with the regime in 1971, insisting that civil rights, including the rights of workers to organize, could no longer be denied; one now finds worker priests among the leaders of radical movements.

The Church saw clearly what Franco both had created and could not himself adjust to: a much changed Spain whose economy is now more urban than agrarian and supports a surprisingly high standard of living; whose workers abroad, unlike the Portuguese, return home with their money; whose new urban middle class is not only used to tourism in Spain but has itself been taking to travel throughout Europe; whose population is the youngest in Europe and whose major industrialists are eager to join the Common Market. The most talked about publication in Spain is the mass circulation Cambio 16 which two years ago broke through the crust of traditional reticence and censorship and began printing the facts about the dictatorship and the case of the “opposition” in a format resembling L’Expresso in Italy or L’Express in Paris, which immediately appealed to the Spanish public.

No matter how narrow and confused the thirty-seven-year-old Juan Carlos may be he is still a creature of his own time. He will be even stupider than his critics claim if he does not perceive what most Spaniards now want. They want to live well; to avoid political turmoil that will disrupt their lives; and to have, at last, the modern freedoms of their European neighbors. Most would vote for the parties of the “middle”—for the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, whose programs are not very different.

Ironically Franco’s forty-year reign came to an end while a crisis was mounting in Spanish Morocco, the country where he began his military career and from which he led his insurrection against the Republic. Now the Spanish army, which has done no fighting since 1945, finds itself caught in a three-way conflict in North Africa that may take months to resolve. The Moroccans have developed their own phosphate industry and want access to the phosphates in Bou Craa in the Spanish Sahara. The Algerians, who sponsor a liberation group called the “Polisario Front,” are trying to keep this valuable mineral from falling into Moroccan hands.

The Spanish military forces are concerned to avoid getting bogged down in a North African war, and, at the same time, they have generally tried to remain neutral between the reformers and hard liners who are now jockeying for position around Juan Carlos. If he shows himself wholly unable to put together a stable government, many Spaniards fully expect that there will be a military coup—while the inner politics of the military are so obscure that no one seems confident which faction of officers would run it. The former chief of staff, Díez Alegría, is the hope of the moderates; but several ultra-rightist generals such as Blanco Iniesta are powerful and have allies in the Guardia Civil and certain departments of the police. The lower echelons of the Spanish army—the captains, majors, and sergeants—have also been undergoing a transformation as shown by the recent and continuing arrests of the progressive “Democratic Study Group” which claims one thousand members.

In the coming months it may seem that the old dictatorial forces of the far right-wing bureaucracy and the military will continue to hold power in Spain, in spite of endless talk about elections, parties, coalitions, and union recognition. But underneath the surface of Spanish life there is a broad agreement on at least one thing: that the fearful isolation in which thirty-five million Spaniards have been forced to live cannot now continue, that it must sooner or later change, and without another civil war.


Whither Spain? March 18, 1976