The Spanish government's decision to give the Army a direct role in the fight against Basque separatist violence confirms a trend that has been developing here ever since the Feb. 23 coup attempt:
A rightward shift by Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo's government -- in exactly the direction that the military plotters wanted.
Officials have been bending over backward to give the impression that Spain has now returned to normal. They emphasize that the country's democratic institutions, steadfastly upheld by King Juan Carlos at crucial moments during the coup attempt, are once again in control.
But the latest antiterrorist measures, the apparent hesitancy about rooting out right-wing sympathizers for the coup, the slowdown in pushing regional autonomy, all suggest an effort to conciliate rightist sensitivities. The antiterrorist actions include:
* From now on the Spanish Army will be included in a single antiguerrilla command based in the Ministry of the Interior.
* The Army is going to reinforce surveillance along the sea and land frontiers of the Basque country with France. Troops will serve alongside the paramilitary police force and Civil Guards, several thousand of which are already stationed in the northern region.
* One draft law, expected to be ratified by the Spanish parliament this week, will greatly increase the powers of the security forces at arrest guerrilla sympathizers, apologists, and the so-called "information commandos" (people who gather information for subversive acts) of the Basque separatist group, ETA (Euzkadi ta Azkatasuna). Hitherto these people had frequently been freed because of lack of proof -- to the profound annoyance of the police and Civil Guards.
* In about 15 days time parliament should have completed legislation defining the scope and limits of the Constitution's state of exception, alarm, and siege.
Overall the measures should go a long way toward placating the armed forces. The principal demand of the right-wing officers during the Feb. 23 coup attempt was that the military participate in the supression of the ETA.
The measures are also expected to ease tensions in the Army following last week's brutal killing of two senior officers by ETA members. The attacks have sparked fears in Madrid that the ETA is trying to provoke the armed forces, setting in motion a classical spiral of action, reaction, and repression, culminating in a military takeover.
Until now Madrid has resisted the direct involvement of the Army in the Basque region. It was felt this would be counterproductive and could swing popular support (which has been lagging in the last few months) behind the separatist guerrillas.
Instead the government has sought the support of the majority middle-of-the-road Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) which now controls the Basque regional government. The full cooperation of this party now is seen to be essential in the fight to repress ETA. Ironically, many ETA militants are the sons and daughters of PNV leaders.
Two other signs of a new conservative mood in Spain have been a call by the country's trade union leaders for "moderation to save the democracy" (i.e. for wage and strike restraint), and signs of a pulling-back on the regional autonomy program. Both the Basques and the Catalans, for instance, have been told to trim their demands for devolution of centralized powers. Spain's evolution toward a form of federalism has been a major grievance of the military.
Meanwhile, the government has announced action against the perpetrators of the coup. So far three generals, three colonels, one major, one Navy captain, 11 Army captains, and eight lieutenants have been indicted by military tribunals. But only one civilian has been indicted by civil courts and 222 of the 266 ordinary Civil Guards detained in connec tion with the assault on parliament have now been released.