Madrid — Right in the heart of Madrid, presiding over a huge square, is a statue atop a 60-foot column of Christopher Columbus, one arm raised pointing the way to the Americas.
Beneath him are a series of massive sculptured stone blocks on which are carved the names of the discoverers and colonizers of the New World. This is a constant reminder of Spain's cultural, emotional, and historic links with Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world.
These links may seem more emotional andhistoric, but the Falklands' crisis has shown how much Spain still identifies with its former colonies in Latin America. And it also shows the very real dilemma Spain faces in trying to be a fully European country.
This explains why Prime Minister Calvo Sotelo this past weekend offered to act as mediator for Argentina. Jose Pedro Perez Llorca, the minister of foreign affairs, was expected to leave Spain May 3 for talks in New York with United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, on the Falklands crisis, but said he had no mediation brief.
Spain has been the only major Western country not to back Britain in this crisis and which abstained in the UN Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of Argentine troops from the Falkland Islands.
Significantly, Argentina's claim to the Falklands is similar to Spain's over another British colony, Gibraltar.
Democratic Spain has been torn between supporting a military junta in Argentina--of which it disapproves but whose claim to the Falklands it supports--and being a full member of the Western club.
Spain has applied to join NATO and should be accepted in the alliance before the summer. It also hopes to join the European Community in 1984.
Spain's may not have a large financial stake in Argentina but there are nearly a million Spaniards living there, whose interests have to be considered.
The Spanish press and public opinion are showing a distinctive bias toward the Argentines. The right wing has been distributing leaflets in support of the Argentines, having never forgotten that at the time of the international boycott of Spain in the 1950s and early 1960s Argentina supplied Spain with much-needed foodstuffs.
Spain is also acutely conscious of being judged by Latin America after so much talk of Hispanidad, literally this means Spanishness--a sort of clannish brotherhood sharing the same religion, language, and often common ancestors.
Spain is referred to in Latin America as la madre patria (the mother country) , and this is a role that it has sought to fulfill. Under Franco, many Latin Americans felt that Spain was trying to lord it over them.
But, still, Hispanidad was strong enough for Franco to ignore US pleas to boycott Castro's Cuba. Thus even though diametrically opposed in their ideologies, Franco's Spain and Castro's Cuba continued to trade (Franco and Castro both originated from the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia, the source of much Spanish immigration to Latin America).
King Juan Carlos has made a personal point of improving these Hispanic links and has been more successful than Franco in ridding Spain of its condescending image toward Latin America.
Diplomats accompanying the King on his visits to Latin America cite frequent instances of people saying ''our king has come,'' meaning that the sense of Hispanidad covers the idea that the Spanish monarch is still the king of all the Spanish-speaking subjects.