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Abortive Putsch gives boost to Spanish democracry

By Jane MonahanSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 25, 1981



Madrid

Spain's democracy has survived the bigtest threat to its existence to date. After the release Feb. 24 of more than 300 of Spain's leading politicians held overnight in the Spanish Cortes (parliament), and with the surrender of 200 Civil Guard rebels attempting to establish a military regime, the question now is: Where does the country go from here?

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On the positive side, the abortive Putsch has provided a boost for the democracy by revealing a broad consensus among Spaniards -- whatever the differences in their political opinions -- that they will not support a return to a dictatorial past.

This is borne out by the various communiques issued during the dramatic night of Feb. 23 by right-wing politicians, Republicans, Socialists, communists, trade unions, regional governments, Spanish bishops, and anti- clerics.

Second, as on previous occasions, King Juan Carlos, the head of the armed forces and a man deeply committed to the democratic process, showed himself to be in command of the situation and a rallying point for common sense.

It was the king who saved the situation when he set up a provisional government in the Ministry of the Interior in Madrid late Feb. 23. The secretaries and undersecretaries of state worked in conjunction with the committee of the General Chiefs of Staff to bring the situation under control.

A direct consequence of this move was that the rebels -- a group of about 200 civil guards led by Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero de Molina in Madrid and supported by Lt. Gen. Jaime Milans del Bosch in the southeastern region of Valencia -- suddenly found that they were isolated and that the rest of the armed forces were loyal to the King.

On the other hand, the questions raised by the revolt are equally important.

Spain is still imbued with a host of uncertainties. There is uncertainty about the democratic system so long as key institutions remain unreformed; uncertainty over the type of state, whether it should be centralist or federalist; uncertainty over the country's economic direction, over what industries should be singled out for assistance at a time of the country's worst-ever recession; over rising unemployment; over agricultural reforms needed for membership in the European Community; above all over the still-festering situation in the northern Basque country.

In these circumstances the breakdown in consensus politics in 1978 and subsequent persistent infighting in the leading political parties -- especially in the ruling Democratic Center Union Party -- reinforced a dangerous sense of drift and of weak administration.

Indeed, there has been no better example of the weakness of Spain's politicians than their inability and/or unwillingness to implement a thorough reform of the security forces. In particular of the Civil Guard and of the national police, which are still not autonomous institutions separated from the Spanish Army, and where senior posts are still held by exactly the same people as during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

It was therefore perhaps not surprising that after dozens of rumors of attempted coups and an abortive coup attempt in 1978, and Prime Minister Adolo Suarez's resignation Jan. 29, the most "nostalgic" and anti- democratic elements in the security forces felt that the time had come for revolt.

Spain's politicians have now set about picking up the threads of government. That said, it is still not certain that politicians will sink their differeces.