6 SEPTEMBER 1975, Page 9

The officer corps breaks ranks

John Organ

Spain's 13,000-strong officer corps, which for so long appeared monolithic in support of General Franco, is growing increasingly restless as the dictator, nearly eighty-three, selfishly clings to Power and blocks democratic reforms.

Informed sources estimate that between 900 and 1,000 majors and captains already belong to a clandestine officers' ginger group called Union Democratica Militar (UDM). At least nine officers, and possibly as many as twenty, are under arrest and awaiting court martial on Sedition charges for their UDM activities.

What is known about the major and eight captains being held at officers' quarters in various barracks around Madrid shows that they are not misfits or isolated trouble makers. They form a cross-section of the most brilliant Younger officers in the Spanish armed forces: highly professional military men enjoying considerable prestige in their units. They have all graduated through military staff college, and several of them hold university degrees. Some of them must have gone through the Saragossa Military Academy at the same time as Prince Juan Carlos of Bourbon, Spain's thirty-seven-year-old King-designate. The Prince became acting Head of State last Summer for a couple of weeks when General Franco was seriously ill, but he was humiliatingly pushed back into the wings when the dictator recovered his health.

Most of the arrests were carried out simultaneously, at dawn, on July 29 while the officers were at home with their families on the eve of departing for the August holiday. Informed sources say they were seized with certain Papers. Although this has to be proved in court, there are indications that the officers were about to launch a UDM manifesto, and that they had prepared draft statutes for the UDM.

Copies of the aborted manifesto are completely unobtainable in Madrid, but the thrust of the document apparently reflects the younger officers' desire for moderate political and administrative reforms. As informed sources tell it, most of the manifesto is taken up with professional claims over the perennial gripes of Poor pay and a restrictive promotion system (it IS not uncommon for officers to moonlight at a second job in civilian life and in general they find themselves on the margin of the affluent new middle class). But some sections of the manifesto are understood to be political; Presumably they favour the rapid installation of Prince Juan Carlos as King so that he can quickly steer the country to a more democratic future, lead Spain into Nato and the EEC, and avoid the chaos that eventually engulfed Portugal because of the suicidal passivity of Salazar and his heirs.

The indignation that the arrests have caused among hundreds of brother officers is reflected in the kid-glove treatment which the authorities are giving to the case. The office of Lieutenant-General Angel Campano, tough commander of the Madrid military region, has only issued two brief and respectful communiqu6s to the effect that certain officers are under arrest for possible infraction of the Code of Military Justice. The Army Minister, Lieute

nant-General Francisco Coloma, and the Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Carlos Fernandez Vallespin, have both issued bland statements playing down the affair. A government news agency quoted General Vallespin as saying: "Not to beat about the bush, and to go to the heart of the matter, ever since the revolt in Portugal there have been elements who dreamed of staging an April 25 [date of the 1974 Lisbon coup] here." But the next day General Vallespin hurriedly back tracked and clarified that he was referring to opposition politicians and not to the arrested officers.

The most senior of them is Major Luis Otero, forty-three, of the Engineer Corps, orphan of an infantry officer executed by the Republicans in 1936, at the beginning of the Civil War, for his sympathies with General Franco's Nationalists.

A devout Catholic, he has a degree in electronics and data processing, and holds an important staff post at the Army Ministry.

Major Otero is a close friend of Major Julio Busquets, a military intellectual who published the first sociological study of the Spanish officer class and was recently released and posted to Salamanca after serving six months' arrest in the north African garrison of Ceuta.

Busquets fell foul of the authorities in Barcelona last February when, with other officers, he deplored the use of the army for degrading police chores.

The case arose from the punishment of a captain who, on the grounds that he was an officer and not a policeman, refused to help compile a list of Barcelona Metro employees who supported the illegal left-wing workers' commissions; it snowballed to reveal discon tent among officers in the Catalan region over General Franco's refusal to allow the cautious political reforms sought by Senor Carlos Arias Navarro, a well-intentioned conservative who became prime minister after the assassination of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco.

Major Otero's wife Maria del Carmen, a mother of five who is studying for a sociology

degree, has been allowed to give interviews to the Catholic daily Ya and to the progressive magazine Posible defending her husband and

describing his arrest. Some of her comments: "I am absolutely certain that Luis has done nothing which is not noble. In addition, he has always received utmost consideration from his superiors . . . the lieutenant-colonel who arrested Luis telephoned me to say that I should not worry, and he added: 'He is fine, among colleagues who are gentlemen like himself.' ... My husband is very well, in body, spirit and morale, convinced that all his detained colleagues are in enormously good spirits." Senora Otero also told Ya that she hoped the court martial would be open to the public and its proceedings "blown to the four winds."

If the trial ever takes place, it promises to be political dynamite. Another of the arrested officers, Captain Restituto Valero Ramos, of the crack Parachute Brigade, has been a sort of military hero since birth. He was born in 1936 in the Nationalist garrison of the Alcazar at Toledo while the old fortress-academy held out an heroic siege for ten weeks as the Republi cans pounded it into rubble. Other arrested officers include Captain Jose Fortes, of the Infantry, who has written a university thesis on politics and the military in nineteenth century Spain, when the army intervened in favour of liberal as much as reactionary political causes; Captain Jose Fernando Reilein, another paratroop officer who is a professor at the Toledo infantry academy and whose father won the Iron Cross as a volunteer on the Russian front during World War II; Captain Fermin Ibarra, of the artillery, thirty-nine, an electronics expert who installed Spain's Hawk missiles on the hinterland overlooking Gibraltar; Captain Manuel Fernandez Lago, thirty-five, a cavalry officer who rates among the three most highly qualified officers in the Spanish army for gradings •he has won in specialist courses including paratroops, tanks, transport and anti-guerrilla operations; Captain Jesus Martin Consuegra, infantry officer, graduate and psychology expert on the army staff; and Captain J. Ruiz Cillero, of the air force, an experienced Phantom pilot.

There is no real evidence of Spanish officers preparing a Portugal-type coup. The indications are, rather, that most officers are moderates who want Spain to move towards democracy, fear conflicts if it does not do so, and resent any attempt at being manipulated by the ultra-rightist 'Bunker' which has grouped around General Franco over the past year.

It is true that a majority of Spanish officers supported General Franco's Nationalists who crushed the left-wing RepubliC in the 1936-39 Civil War, and up until a few years ago they believed the future would be 'Francoism without Franco.' But their thinking has been changing, aided by the fact that most of the ultra-rightist generals, and more than 4,500 officers of the Civil War period, have gone into retirement over the past three years.

Army officers began to be disturbed by intrigues and splits inside the Franco establishment, financial scandals, the assassination of Admiral Carrero and the increasing power vacuum. They were upset by their bad image as a result of the 1970 Burgos military trial of Basque nationalist guerrillas, which received maximum international publicity at a time of internal tensions in Spain, and they felt the government was making fools of them. They are likely to receive more gratuitious opprobium this autumn as they have the task of conducting military trials of gunmen of the Basque Marxist movement ETA and of the lunatic fringe ultra-leftist group FRAP who have been arrested for random assassinations of police offices and members of the para-military Civil Guard: charges which, on conviction, must carry the death sentence under the government's recent anti-terrorist law.

Above all, officers are becoming increasingly anxious about the way in which General Franco, whom they respected above all as an unselfish patriot, refuses to relinquish power, vetoes democratic reforms, and humiliates in the process both Premier Arias and Prince Juan Carlos, to whom they feel deeply committed. Informed sources report that moderates like Lieutenant-General Jose Vega Rodriguez, Director General of the Civil Guard, Navy 'Minister Admiral Pita da Veiga (who has moved into a liberal stance after an ultra-conservative past), and the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Manuel Diez Alegria, are so concerned that they want General Franco to step down soon so that Juan Carlos can become King and guide Spain towards a sensible democracy. They must fear that if this does hot happen, then the politics of Spain, and the young officers, will become increasingly radicalised and, in the subsequent upheaval, the powerful underground Spanish Communist Party may reap the harvest.