Spain in the 1980’s Part 2

by | January 11, 2022

The fight waged by ETA against the ” Spanish occupation forces ” did not end with the advent of democracy. In October 1977 the last terrorist was released from prison and took the road of exile: by the end of 1979 more than one hundred separatists were again detained, and about 450 were refugees in France. Bloody attacks carried out against the police forces, the army and also politicians and magistrates, inside Euskadi but also in Madrid and other Spanish cities, caused hundreds of victims in the eighties (sometimes the terrorists also hit indiscriminately the civilian population, especially in 1987, when a bomb in a supermarket in Barcelona caused twenty deaths). The police responded to the ETA violence, sometimes also using illegal means, and Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) began in 1983 to physically eliminate well-known ETA exponents also abroad. The change in policy in France, which especially since 1986 has ceased to tolerate trespassing, and the agreements stipulated by the Madrid government with a series of African and Latin American countries for a tacit confinement there of some terrorists, did not give the desired results; on several occasions secret negotiations between the parties were knotted and then interrupted. In fact, the question appeared to be blocked by the intransigence of the hardest wing of the ETA. The independence claim continued to enjoy the rest of the support of a non-negligible part of the population,(HB, “Unity of the people”), political arm of ETA (4 deputies in the Madrid Congress elected in 1989, and 13 in the Basque Parliament formed in 1986). Furthermore, despite the verbal condemnations of terrorism, the position of the other less radical ethnic-based parties present in the region often appeared ambiguous: the moderate-Catholic Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), already in the majority but halved after a split in 1986 (5 deputies a Madrid and 17 in the autonomous Parliament in Vitoria); the center-left group Eusko Alkartasuna (EA, “Basque Solidarity”, 13 seats in Vitoria); the traditional but ethnic far-left party Euskadiko Ezquerra (EE, “Basque Left”, 9 seats in Vitoria). The consensus in the region appeared to be limited to the Spanish centrist parties (CDS and CP, with two deputies each): the non-nationalist population concentrated their votes on the socialists (PSE-PSOE). After the split that had affected the PNV, they were, with 19 seats, the largest group present in the autonomous Parliament, but they were a minority compared to the sum of all the Basque parties: since 1987 the region still had a coalition government formed by the PNV and the socialists. The economy of the Basque Provinces, previously at the top in national statistics, in the meantime continued to decline, due to the practice of extortion and kidnapping used to finance itself from the ETA against entrepreneurs,

In the other autonomous communities, parliaments were first elected in May 1983 and national parties prevailed. The electoral dynamics, including municipal, regional, national and European Parliament consultations, were found to be fluctuating. The socialist prevalence was gradually reduced but not canceled. In the general political elections of June 1986 and October 1989, again earlier than the normal expiry of the legislature and always characterized by a low turnout of voters, the deputies of the PSOE were reduced, in order, to 184 and then to 176. The decrease the socialist consensus, however, did not significantly benefit the right and left oppositions, unable to produce a valid alternative to the ruling party. The major opposition line-up, Alianza Popular, was long troubled by the retirement and then by the return of its top manager, M. Fraga Iribarne, and even appearing in larger cartels grouping other formations (first Coalición Popular, then PP, Partido Popular) did not go beyond 105 and 106 seats, respectively in 1986 and 1989. The CDS sought, without finding it, an autonomous position in the center and, in an ascending phase in the middle of the decade (19 deputies in 1986 and a good success in the local, regional and European elections of the 1987), then dropped to 14 seats in 1989. The Communists, after the expulsion of the secretary Spain Carrillo, former theorist of Eurocommunism, split into several parties: the Izquierda Unidacoalition (IU) led by the PCE obtained 7 seats in 1986 and 17 in 1989.

After the political elections of October 1989, the political life of Spain was characterized by a series of scandals linked to episodes of corruption, which involved exponents of both the PSOE and the PP. In 1990 J. Guerra, brother of the Vice President of the Council, was accused of using his political knowledge to amass a considerable personal fortune. In the same year, the treasurer of the PP, R. Naseiro, was arrested for corruption, while that of the PSOE, C. Navarro, was forced to resign in June 1991 because he was involved in a scandal. At the beginning of 1993 the image of the Socialist Party, which in the local elections and regional parliaments held in May 1991 had lost control of several important cities (the CDS had suffered such losses that A. Suárez had resigned), it was further damaged by revelations of irregular party funding. The country’s economy, after a few years of expansion, had meanwhile entered a phase of severe recession starting from 1992. The continuous loss of jobs (in 1994 the unemployment rate reached 24.3%) and the decline in industrial production, particularly in the automotive sector, determined the most serious crisis of the last thirty years. The peseta was devalued by 5% in September 1992, again by 6% in November and by 8% in May 1993. The repercussions in the country were not long in coming: in November 1992 more than one million public sector workers took part in a strike against the freeze on wages, while in March 1993 a “ green march ” of farmers culminated in a demonstration of more than 100,000 people in Madrid. The violence of ETA also continued, despite the harsh blows inflicted by the government on the organization: in September 1990, JJ Zabaleta Elosegui (” Waldo ”), the number two of the ETA, was arrested in France and in March 1992 F. Mugica Garmendia (” Pakito ”), leader of the organization’s military wing.

Due to the scandal that had brought to light an illegal system of financing the PSOE and due to the protracted economic crisis, in April 1993 González announced the general political elections for June of that same year. The PSOE lost the absolute majority and dropped to 159 seats, the PP increased its representation by obtaining 141 seats, while the IU had 18, the CiU 17 and the PNV 5. The CDS lost all its seats. Following these electoral results, the PSOE opened negotiations with the CiU and the PNV, but no agreement could be found. Despite this, in July 1993 González inaugurated his fourth government, assuming the leadership of a minority administration that enjoys the support of some regional parties, such as the CiU and the PNV. Faced with the government’s attempt to resolve the economic crisis by intervening on public spending and in particular on unemployment benefits, a 24-hour general strike was called by the unions in January 1994, through which they also wanted to reject the government project to introducing greater flexibility into the labor market. In the first quarter of 1994, however, after more than a year of recession, gross domestic product recorded a modest increase.

The municipal and regional elections held in May 1995 saw a new setback of the government forces: the PP, led by JM Aznar, obtained respectively 35.3% and 44.6% of the votes, against 30.8% and 31.5% of González’s PSOE. These results led to a considerable downsizing of the power of the socialists in the municipalities and regions and the renewed call for early political elections by the center-right.

The foreign policy of the socialist government appeared more dynamic than that of the previous centrist governments, but did not substantially depart from it. Particularly relevant was the change of course regarding the presence of the Spain in NATO. Already an advocate of a withdrawal from the alliance when he was in the opposition, González, once he had ascended to the presidency of the government, first froze the issue: when, in March 1986, he ended up calling a long-promised popular referendum, he engaged all his strength propaganda by the government and the party to get the country’s stay in NATO accepted, albeit with a series of safeguards of national sovereignty and behind the promise of a partial withdrawal of US troops. This position put the opposition of the center and center-right in difficulty, to the point that they invited their supporters to abstention; the votes against the extreme left, the neutralists and the few nostalgic radicals of the past regime did not succeed in overturning the government option, which won by a certain margin. In 1988 González announced the withdrawal of US forces from the Torreón de Ardoz air base, near Madrid, and the reduction of personnel at other bases; subsequently a new defense agreement was signed with the United States. The socialist government has not spared occasional criticism of the policy followed by the United States, especially in Latin America, a continent of which the Spain, for historical and linguistic reasons, has assumed the defense within the European Union. In the first half of 1989 the Spain assumed the presidency of the EEC for the first time.

Spain in the 1980's 2