Christian Science Monitor ~- Monc´ay, Oct. 25, 1982
Elections in Spain: why the US should care
By Richard J. Bloomfleld
Spanlards go to the polls this week to choose a government. It will be the third na-tional election since
democracy was reestab-lished ín 1977. It may well be the first in which the "outs," in this case the
Socialist Party, oust the "ins," the crumbling centrist coalil« tion which has governed for the past five
years. If that happens, the elections will be of signal importance: One of the tests of a de-mocracy Is
whether there can be peaceful al-ternationof parties in power.
The reemergence of democracy in Spaín after 40 years of dictatorship should be a cause for rejoicing ín
the Western world. The Spanish Civil War marked the first of a series ofí betrayals of freedom by the
leaders of the Western democracies that contributed to the spread of Nazism. The survival of fascism on
the Iberian Península, in Portugal as well as Spain, for three decades after the fall of Hitler and Mussolini
was a blot on the Allied victory in World War II.
Yet Americans seem largely indiffercnt to vhat has been happening on the península. Only In 1974-75,
when there was chaos in Portugal in the wake of the fall of the Salazar/Caetano regime and the
Communists seemed poised to grasp total power, did the rest of the world pay attention. As soon as
democratíc forces seemed to have things in Lisbon under control, Portugal disappeared from the
Similarly, in Spain ít ís only the high drama, such as the sporadic terrorist attacks or the coup attempt in
1931, that merit the oc-casional headline. Sad to say, this indif fer-ence is reflected in Washington, where
atten-tion to Spain and Portugal focuses almost exclusively on the problems of securing the continuation
of US base ríghts ín both countries.
Does this begin neglect matter? Yes, it does. Imporlant Western interests are at stake in the fate of free
instutions on the Iberian Península: -
• Democracy in both Portugal and Spain is still a fragüe plant, struggling against the blight of economic
recession and centuries of authoritarian tradition and habits. Because of ¡TJücracy in either country would
be a blow to Western morale. It would also have an impact on perceptions in the third world, especially
since Portugal and Spain supposedly enjoy a special relationship to the stronger Western democracies,
Americans and Europeans should care oven more about how democracy fares in Portugal and Spain than
in places lite El Salvador,
»The collapse of democracy in either country would produce severe strains within the Western alliance.
Both countries are NATO allies,´both are candidates for membership in the Europcan Community. A
number of West Europcan democracies would feel compelled to ostracize a Spanish or a Portu-guese
dictatorship, much as was done when the two countries were ruled by Franco and Salazar. A NATO
alliance divided on the issue of dictatorshipi vs. democracy would be a weaker alliance.
Even America´s narrow interest in mantaining base rights would be jeopardized if democratic institutions
did not succeed in the two countries.
If an authoritarian regime were to take over in either Spain or Portugal, the US would not easlly go back
to the situation prevailing before 1974-75, when ít was able to maintain bases in the Iberian nations in
spite of the undemocratic character of their governments. Base rights require money and the US Congress
is no longer the compliant provider of funds to an expedient Executive Branch foreign polley that it once
was. The issue would be as divisive in the US as El Salvador has been.
The Portuguese and Spanish peoples have made a choice - to "Join the West" after decades, some would
say centuries, of self-imposed exile, of looking to other worlds and other valúes. "Joining the West" for
them means practicing democracy, becoming members of the European Community, and assuming a full
role In the NATO alliance. Yet, the two nations are encountering serious. obstacles in achieving thesec
Democratic palítical parties in both coun-íries have yet to prove themselves capable of copíng with the
challenges which history and circumstance have thrust upon the two na-tions: growing unemployment,
high inflation, and foreign indebtedness in both; ín Spain, the regional autonomy issue, terrorism, and the
role of the military; in Portugal, a grow-ing sense of aimlessness brought on by the constant guerrilla
war/are between the Presi-dent and-the parties, and within the parties themselves.
On the external front, the entry of both into the EC has been delayed, largely because of disarray in the
community itself and the re-sistance of vested interests in certain EC countries to Spanish competition.
Finally, the role of the Iberian countries in NATO could become the source of the great-est
disappointment with the Western option. Spain has just become a member of NATO but the Spanísh
military, many of whom are still suspicious of the new political dispensation at home, are already finding
that their expecta-tions that NATO membership would bring low-cost access to military equipment from
abroad were unrealistlc.
In Portugal, disappointment with NATO (and fear of bring overshadowed by the new ally next door) are
already serious problems, The Portuguese believe that the allies, includ-ing the US, have fallen íar short
of their obligation to help their armed forces acquíre the equipment they need to assume a credible NATO
role, after years of being a pariah ín NATO circles because of the colonial wars in Portuguese África. The
low level of military assistance is particularly galling to the Portu-guese because of the strategic
importance of the airbase in the Azores.
The picture is not all gloomy, of course, In both countries there are strengths - the prestige of King Juan
Carlos in Spain and his total commitment to democracy, the innate moderation and conciliatory spirit ofí
the Portuguese people, and in both countries an obvious desire of the great majoríty, as demonstrated by a
high level ofí participation in election after election, that democracy and the Western option succeed. Yet
if some of the disturb-ing trends citcd above are not corrected, the time may come, some years down the
road, vhen those leaders who in 1974-76 chose the democratic, Western path are discredited. In both
countries there are others with diíícrent valúes and objectives who then would come to the fore.
The Spanish elections merit our applause and satisíaction. They should also remind us of what all of us
have to lose if things go wrong on the Iberian Península. Democratic forces in Spain and Portugal need
more attention and support from Western capitals than they have been getting.
Richard J. Bloomttcld, director od the World Peace Foundation, • was US Am-. bassador to Portugal in