Spain shaken by discovery of pre-election coup attempt

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

With barely a month left before national elections, Spanish military coup plotters have again rattled their sabers, sending chills down the spine of Spanish democracy.

The spectacular coup plot uncovered over the weekend by Spanish Defense and Interior Ministry intelligence services follows last year's brief seizure of the Spanish parliament by rebellious military officers.

Three colonels were arrested Saturday for alleged activities against the security of the state. They are Cols. Luis Munoz Guitierrez, Jesus Crespo Cuspinera, and his brother, Lt. Col. Jose Crespo Cuspinera. According to Defense and Interior Ministry sources, the arrested colonels were alleged to possess documents outlining the logistics for a ''neutralization'' of communications and transmissions networks on Oct. 27, the day before the scheduled national elections.

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Information leaked by defense intelligence sources Sunday seemed to indicate that a much broader plot was under way, involving taking over state institutions and buildings, in addition to mobilizing different military units in several provinces. At time of writing, this had not been officially confirmed, although ''ramifications'' of the plot here and in the provinces were being ''investigated.''

Defense sources have indicated this plot, nicknamed ''Operation Cervantes'' after the author of Don Quixote, seems to have been better organized than the aborted coup of February 1981, although this was also not stated officially.

Several ringleaders of last year's coup, including Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero and Gen. Jaime Milans del Bosch, along with other condemned officers, were placed incommunicado Saturday afternoon in their respective military prisons - presumably because of incriminating evidence in documents that were confiscated from the arrested colonels.

The defense lawyer of Milans del Bosch termed the isolation measure ''illegal ,'' although one of the arrested colonels, who was not named, had visited Milans del Bosch recently. The possibility that Milans del Bosch and Tejero, both in prison, may have been supervising new coup plans has outraged public opinion here.

After the trauma of last year's coup, any announcement of even suspicious military activities tends to touch off deep anxiety in Spain. Nervousness increased over the weekend as several captain generals were called back to their headquarters. King Juan Carlos, who was attending several cultural activities in Oviedo, cut short his weekend visit and returned to Madrid early Saturday evening.

Although some Spanish journalists had commented that ''things had been unusually quiet'' on the electoral front, the discovery of a spectacular coup attempt for the day before the Oct. 28 elections has certainly caused alarm.

But all political and military sources consulted, in addition to the Defense and Interior ministries, concur in affirming it would be impossible to carry out another coup successfully due to a lack of broadly based support within the armed forces, most of whom would never support a plan to eliminate the King. Without the support of King Juan Carlos, who played a major role in stopping last year's coup, there is little likelihood of success.

Nevertheless, fear can be instantly mobilized with any sort of announcement of coup plots by remnants of 1981 coup sympathizers. This fear will work against the Socialists, who are expected to be the winners of the coming elections.

Socialist Party leader Felipe Gonzalez stated Saturday at a political rally, ''There cannot be a single military person who can interpret the will of our nation. We want professionalized and constitutional armed forces who will defend us against our enemies.''

Right-wing leader Manuel Fraga had told Agence France Press only Friday that ''in Spain there is no Army willing to carry out a coup.'' After hearing of the discovery of another plot, he said, ''It's lamentable . . . a very sad piece of news.''

The arrested colonels had been plotting the quixotic ''Operation Cervantes'' for the last three months, according to the Spanish news agency. Throughout the coup trials this spring, other harder line plots were mentioned; their remnants may be what came to the surface this weekend.

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