THE NEW YORK TIMES, SUNDAY, JANUARY 3,1971
Franco May Never Be the Same Again
MADRID — After death senténces were pronounced on six Basques at a military court-martial in Burgos last Monday and Spain caught one more glimpse of her old, violent nightmare, the editorial plea in all the papers was: "After justice — mercy."
It Wednesday night, General Franco went on televisión — aged, disembodied as an oracle or grandfather´s ghost, and impressive to Spaniards just because he lacks their fleshy attributes, their humanity — and told them that disaster was not yet upon them. None of the six would die. The sentences were commuted to 30 years in prison.
It is hard to describe or prove, but there was a tangible feeling of happiness here Wednesday. Convinced members of the opposition spoke of their relief with something cióse to tears in their voices, and the old Basque exile leader, Telesforo de Monzón, said he felt like dancing. If anything, the relief was even greater within the Government and among the regime´s most devoted followers.
On Thursday, with the shadow pasrt and the exhilaration beginning to ebb, the editorial theme became: "Mercy — and now, justice." Now that clemency has been exercised and the Basque guerrillas are not to die, the papers said, it is time to make very clear that the regime will not tolérate disorder or flouting of its authority.
Spain has allowed herself the luxury of small and growing freedoms in recent years. The regüne keeps its whips in the closet, though — a reminder that this is stíll a dictatorship. When there are signs that granted freedoms may be followed by seized freedoms, the regime goés to the closet and contemplates the whips.
And then everyone is frightened and remembers that once there were not only whips but whippings as well.
The Burgos court - martial provided just such a scare.
It seems much longer, but the Burgos trial started a month ago. It became a showdown between the regime and its opponents and then — more important for the immediate future of Spain — between the regime´s own conflicting impulses toward evolution and dictatorship.
During the hearings, which spanned a week, an unparalleled publíc spectacle of opposition to the regime was played out within the courtroom; there, the defendants, members of a Basque guerrilla organization, told of torture and the oppression of their people and shouted defiance. Outside, there were massive protests in the Basque country, demonstrations elsewhere and a flood of petitíons and declarations.
Then the court-martial panel recessed to consider its verdict, and there was silence.
But the deliberations, which were to last five or six days, dragged on and on. And then the five judges delivered their bombshell.
Not only were the six death senténces demanded by the prosecutor — an angry, fanatical man — granted, but three more were imposed for good measure, although in the form of double penalties on three of the same six prisoners. All had been charged with banditry and complicity in the killing of a pólice inspector.
The verdict presented the regime with a terrible problem.
To carry out six executions would wreck the gradual improvement that Spain has made in her international image, destroy her cautious acceptance by the rest of Europe and bring political ruin to those modérales who have done most of the Government´s work in recent years. And it would result in a total break with the church, one of the regime´s traditional pillars. And the Army was demanding a show of strength.
Of the scores of pleas from important figures abroad, the most important was a personal telephone cal] made by Pope Paul to General Franco, an action with little
precedent. There were more publicized appeals by the Governments of Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and others.
The United States was silent, which earned gratitude neither from the regime — many of whose members hoped for an American plea — nor the opposition.
General Franco called a Cabinet meeting and made each Minister give his opinión. Thirteen reportedly asked" for clemency, six for executions. Franco said nothing. He called a meeting of the Council of the Realm, a powerless but prestigious body. The members advised clemency and also a Cabinet
reshuffle. Franco said no thing.
He met with various generáis, and whether he acceptéd their demands, ordered them to heel or struck a bargain is not known. Perhaps Franco said nothing.
He said nothing publicly, in fact, until Wednesday night. Then he made hís usual year-end speech, talking of the nation´s accomplishments and referring to clemency only at the end.
The surge of good feeling that followed was not enough to mask the political damage done by the Burgos cycle of opposition, repression and clemency.
In previous cycles of evolution toward comparative tolerance, followed by demands for political freedom, followed by repression, General Franco managed to keep matters more or less under control. This time, his hand weakened.
The regime´s divisions — between modeates and the right, between the Army and the civilians — were fought out almost publicly. More and more Spaniards, including many in responsible positions, doubt that the regime can live out the new year without drastic changes that involve, in one way or the other, the disappearance of General Franco as its final authority.
Whether the fundamental change will be the result of an Army push, of an effective coalition of political forces or of the general´s own conviction that he should step aside — either naming a successor or relinquishing political power to a strong Prime Minister — is not clear.
But it seems bound to come.