5 JUNE 1982, Page 11

Colonial conundrums

Simon Courtauld

Madrid Reading here of the Argentine air attacks

on the task force in the Estrecho San Carlos and on the Isla Soledad of Las Malvinas, I am reminded of the battle-cry of the Falangists in the Spanish Civil War

Viva la Muerte. So many seemingly suicidal raids have been made in the past ten days that it is easy to imagine that the nArgentine pilots take the traditional Vanish view of death as constituting vic- tory. 'Commend your soul to God,' said Colonel Moscard6, the commander of the Alcazar garrison in Toledo in 1936, to his son held hostage and threatened with death unless the Alcazar was surrendered to the hero.' 'shout Viva Espana and die like a hero.' But is this apparent glorification. of cl,eath really reflected in the Argentine renaracter? Many Argentinians of Spanish blood are from republican families who left Spain after the Civil War; many more are of Malian descent. 'Spain backs the junta' ... But it is not so straightforward.

For several reasons Spain's attitude to

rieess Argentine invasion of the Falklands is than clear. Its support for General °Alfieri is far from being unqualified. Although Spain abstained in the vote. for the United Nations resolution at the beginn- ing of April, there seem to be few Spaniards here who are prepared to argue that their historical claim is well-founded. And you certainly do not get the impression that the Arc, gentine invasion has overwhelming aPanish approval. What is said is that the Falkland Islands are part of Argentina's territory — because of contiguity — in the anle Way that Gibraltar is part of Spain. It ,s, I have been told more than once, another colonial situation'. t' The sympathies of Spain lie with Argen- Ta, up to a point. One of the better ways o trying to understand the point is to read the e widely differing opinions to be found in Madrid newspapers. Plenty of anti- British sentiment is expressed in the right: Wulf Papers — the more fascist ones rail against Mrs Thatcher, confusingly, as a `racist ... reminiscent of Hitler' — while the centre-left El Pais wrote in an editorial last week of 'the infamous adventure of a military regime which in the past devoted itself to torturing its citizens, and which has behaved like an armed gang.' It is easy enough to identify the views of the various newspapers by whether they refer to Puerto Argentin° or to Puerto Stanley (no one has tried to translate Goose Green). A friend here tells me that La Prensa of Buenos Aires has been giving more reliable information than the right- wing El Alcdzar which, among many misstatements, claims that 'the United Na- tions has recognised three times the sovereignty of Argentina over Las Malvinas'. Argentine propaganda film is shown on television here — I saw old ladies handing over their earrings to raise money for the war — but my Spanish companions reacted to this quite objectively, even cynically. (They might have been more im- pressed had the pictures been shown by the Bac.) If it is simple machismo that spurs the Argentinians, as Olivia O'Leary wrote in the Spectator last week from Buenos Aires, it is certainly true that the Spaniards also have a well-developed macho mentality. Now that the British forces appear to be winning, to be on the point of recapturing the Falklands, there is a perceptible change of sympathy away from Argentina. The Spaniards respect and admire Britain for reacting to aggression with force, and for doing it so successfully. Even El Alctizar has been moderating its anti-British line in recent days.

What the Spanish Government would like to see is a negotiated solution — after the British repossession of the islands — in which Spain can play some role. Both the Prime Minister, Calvo Sotelo, and King Juan Carlos have separately offered themselves as mediators. The King is said to have written to the Foreign Office in Lon- don and to have received a fairly curt reply. The somewhat ambiguous position of the

Government on the Falklands reflects an understandable concern to be seen to be reacting moderately and responsibly. There are the other countries of the EEC to be con- sidered, of which Spain hopes soon to be a member, and NATO, which Spain formally joined last Sunday.

The Government clearly does not wish to embarrass its new partners in this alliance. (Dr Joseph Luns, NATO'S secretary-general, rather overstated the position when he said on Monday that all NATO countries remain- ed firmly behind Britain in her battle with Argentina.) At the same time Calvo Sotelo has to deal with increasing opposition to NATO from within Spain. Spain's member- ship is opposed now not only by the left- wing opposition Socialist Workers' Party (PsoE) but by those Spaniards (mostly on the right) who support Argentina. The PSOE, having gained an impressive victory in elections in Andalusia last week, poses a serious threat to the Government in the general election which is less than a year away.

There are many who feel that member- ship of NATO will lead to a compromise over Gibraltar, that an accommodation will be reached giving the Rock some special status as a NATO base and deferring the question of sovereignty. When negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are resumed (it is still being said officially that talks will start on 25 June when the frontier is due to be reopened) the Spanish Government will need to play its hand with great skill. As a member of NATO and a prospective member of the EEC, Spain will be under pressure to reach an early settlement. Yet she must hold fast to the long-standing claim to sovereign- ty, not least because a compromise would probably lead to the Government's defeat next year. Whatever the future for the Falklands, Spain will continue to draw parallels with Gibraltar to its advantage, and to bend those parallels where events in the Falklands make this necessary.

In fact — and quite naturally, because of the land frontier — Gibraltarians have much closer ties with Spain than the Falkland Islanders with Argentina. Most are Catholic, and have relatives living in Spain. But the irony — and a potential dif- ficulty for the future — is that Gibraltarians were granted full British citizenship under the recent Nationality Act, whereas the Falklanders were denied it. It is all very con- fusing.

The confusion becomes greater when you consider Spain's own 'colonial situation' on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar. On the mainland of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla belong to Spain — not to mention the islands of Chaffarinas, Alhucemas and Pelson de la Gomera. It would be surprising if King Hassan did not raise this matter when the future of Gibraltar comes to be discussed. A PSOE member of the Spanish parliament, Luis Solana, wrote an article in El Pais the other day under the heading: `How do you say Malvinas in Moroccan?' It is an enjoyable question to ask here, but not one which Spaniards enjoy answering.