A recent interview with former Spanish politician José Manuel Otero has revealed further details regarding his country’s entry into NATO and attests to the double-dealing politics of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).
Prior to Spain’s absorption into NATO, Otero was minister of the presidency and then minister of education. According to a recent interview he agreed to with the Spanish news outlet 20minutos, his country’s decision to enter the treaty was dictated by an implicit threat made by the U.S. government:
either you join NATO or we will make the Canaries independent.
As Otero recognized early on in the interview, before officially joining NATO in 1982, Spain had already been “indirectly integrated” for more than 20 years due to military and economic agreements with the U.S.; agreements which dated back to 1953 when the Pact of Madrid signaled the end of the country’s post-World War Two international isolation. In Otero’s words,
NATO, in the end, was the U.S.
Nevertheless, Adolfo Suárez, the first prime minister of Spain’s constitutional monarchy after the Francoist regime, was considerably more opposed to entering NATO than his successors, including those representing nominally socialist parties. As for Suárez himself, he ran on what is remembered as a center to center-right platform, with the now-disbanded Union of the Democratic Center (UCD) alliance. However, under Suárez, Spain even attended the 6th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1979 in Cuba, as a guest, for the first time ever.
In this regard, Otero’s testimony has shed light on the specific pressures that led Spain to formally join NATO in the midst of cold war tensions. According to him, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, was very concerned with Spain’s potential entry and had abandoned all hopes of PSOE aiding in the spread of socialism, as the USSR was principally concerned with preventing Spain’s incorporation into the Atlanticist treaty.
Interestingly, Otero has asserted that the process of joining NATO was accelerated when Spanish intelligence detected an increase in activity amongst the Movement for the Self-Determination and Independence of the Canaries Archipelago (MPAIAC), little more than a year after the newly-appointed soviet ambassador in Spain, Sergey Bogomolov, had met with him and Suárez to persuade them to abstain from NATO membership.
According to Otero, at this point, the Spanish authorities were fully aware of MPAIAC’s existence. Certainly, by that time, the movement had consistently been carrying out several attacks per month since their initial flurry of 11 attacks during November, 1976, which included bombings, bomb threats, and vandalization. He alleges that he found himself among the victims of one of these attacks; an unsuccessful attempt made on the life of Adolfo Suárez during his time in office. However, the author of this article has so far been unable to determine which MPAIAC attack Otero was referring to.
After being asked by Suárez for his opinion on the matter, Otero claims that he told the prime minister:
I don’t think our secret services, as they stand today, have the capacity to discover American secrets. I tend to think that the Americans are sending a message of their own through their channels. This means that it’s as if they sent us a letter saying: ‘either you join NATO or we will make the Canaries independent.’
As mentioned above, MPAIAC’s first official attacks were those of November, 1976. After this, and until the following November, they averaged slightly more than four attacks per month. Therefore, when Otero refers to a decisive spike in MPAIAC activity, “approximately a year after” the Bogomolov meeting, we must assume that he is referring to the period spanning November 1976 through February 1978, as these four months registered 13, 15, 11 and 8 attacks, respectively. From this moment on, the process of formally entering NATO was fast tracked, despite the fact that, according to polls carried out by El Pais, only 18% of Spaniards were in favor of Spain joining, while 52% were opposed and 30% did not answer.
According to Otero, the sequence of events was as follows: in 1978, the Saturday after the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelino Oreja had publicly declared, before the senate, that Spain would join NATO on March 9, the Spanish ambassador in Algiers notified the central government that Antonio Cubillo had been stabbed by two hired knives. Then, the Algerian government, which had previously supported Cubillo, shut down The Voice of the Free Canaries (MPAIAC’s radio station), a few collaborators were put on trial, and, as Otero put it,
we never heard of MPAIAC again.
Furthermore, the frequency of the attacks after Oreja’s pro-NATO declaration in early March coincides with an abrupt lull in MPAIAC activity (March and April saw one and three attacks, respectively), and shortly after, the organization all but disappeared. Similarly, all four of the attacks that took place after Oreja officially committed his country to NATO participation were either a “simulated artifact,” a “false bomb alert,” or a “suspicious artifact.” While attacks of this kind were common before Oreja’s March 9 announcement, they were vastly outnumbered by actual bombings, arson, and robberies. In fact, more than two false attacks of this kind had never occurred one after the other, and they were staged at a ratio of less than one to four, when compared to actual attacks on persons or property.
Yet it could even be said that the MPAIAC attacks had become less frequent before the attempted hit on Cubillo and the disintegration of the organization that quickly followed. That is, the moment at which attacks become rarer and more harmless more aptly corresponds to late February and early March, precisely when the Spanish government was planning to announce their willingness to join NATO. What is more, after the last string of bombings were carried out on February 25, the final six MPAIAC incidents were all false alarms with no resulting damage.
In any case, from the perspective of Otero’s testimony, there is no need to mark Oreja’s March 9 announcement as the date after which the U.S. would have responded to Spain’s acquiescence by toning down the MPAIAC threat. Surely it is safe to presume that the U.S.-NATO axis was aware of Spain’s decision on the NATO issue prior to the March 9 announcement, as Oreja is since reported to have admitted to the secret back-channels he maintained with NATO officials. Similarly, regarding MPAIAC’s final activities, one wonders if there could be any alternative explanation for the six consecutive false threats.
Moreover, we must also remember that this assassination attempt was carried out only five days before Cubillo was set to speak in New York at the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, and MPAIAC was enjoying substantial diplomatic success at the time, especially within the Organization of African Unity.
The fate of Antonio Cubillo
The Spanish government has since officially been held responsible for the attack on Cubillo, after which he never walked again. Moreover, according to La Vanguardia, upon returning to the Canaries, he even won a lawsuit against the Spanish government in 2003, which made him the only victim of state terrorism to be legally recognized for such a crime, for which he received €150,203 in compensation. Almost ten years later, he passed away in 2012 at the age of 82.
However, in a different interview with La Nueva España, Otero maintains that “I don’t think it was anyone from the Spanish government who intervened there (in the attack).” Similarly, according to the piece by La Vanguardia, one of the two Spaniards who confessed to the crime identified himself as “a soldier of the FRAP [Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front of Spain] with the mission of killing a CIA agent (Cubillo).”
However, José Luis Espinosa Pardo, who was held responsible for the crime, is widely recognized to have been a Spanish police agent who had infiltrated various organizations such as the FRAP, the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) and MPAIAC, just to mention a few. Unfortunately, at 90 years old, he died along with many of his secrets, just weeks before he was scheduled to be interviewed by El Confidencial.
Similarly, Cubillo himself knew that his assassins were convinced he was a CIA agent and has categorically denied these allegations. Yet, given the U.S. track record of using secessionist movements to apply pressure on foreign governments, it certainly seems plausible that the U.S. was at least leveraging the diplomatic successes of MPAIAC, which had caused so much concern in Madrid, as a means of assuring Spain’s compliance.
To obscure matters even more, German and French secret services are also said to have been interested in taking Cubillo out of the picture. Additionally, after the failed hit, Cubillo (the general secretary of MPAIAC at the time) was formally expelled from what remained of the movement. Interestingly, the remnants of the group pinned the organization’s disintegration on Cubillo’s behavior, claiming that, before the attack, he had compromised the identities of MPAIAC operatives and had even orchestrated attacks against dissident members. They also cited excessive his ties with foreigners, and even claimed that he had hosted José Luis Espinosa Pardo—the Spanish operative alleged to have hired the failed assassins—in his home on various occasions.
With regards to Otero, his denial of Spain’s involvement in the assassination attempt is congruent with his description of Cubillo’s attempted murder, and the subsequent quelling of MPAIAC, which he casts as the implicit result of Spain’s acquiescence to NATO entry, and not as the result of Spanish counterintelligence. However, given that the Spanish government ultimately admitted being behind the attack, we must digest both the official narrative and Otero’s testimony with a healthy degree of skepticism; we can only yearn for the missing pieces which, as he put it,
I can’t reveal for now.
During this time, both great powers apparently saw the numerous peripheral secessionist movements threatening the territorial unity of Spain as a card to be played in their efforts to keep the country in, or out of, NATO. Specifically, a Newsweek article appeared in 1979 claiming that the USSR had offered Marcelino Oreja help with resolving the ETA [Basque Homeland and Liberty] problem in exchange for NATO non-entry. However, the article did not mention its sources, and the claim was immediately denied by the Soviet embassy in Spain.
The Spanish socialists
Due to the Spanish electorate’s stance on the issue, PSOE (which succeeded the UCD governments of Suárez and Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo) was forced to present itself as unwilling to join NATO, only to later backtrack on these promises and make deals behind closed doors. Thus Felipe González, the prime minister under the aforementioned PSOE government, famously called for the 1986 referendum to halt Spain’s entry into NATO, only to change his position when the referendum actually took place.
However, the most shameless double-dealer is none other than Javier Solana who, as PSOE secretary for information and press, organized a night-time mass vigil against joining NATO. Yet when the 1986 referendum came around, he declared himself in favor of entry, and shamelessly went on to be secretary general of NATO, occupying numerous high-ranking European Union posts, presiding over EU and U.S. meddling in Ukraine, and standing behind Colin Powell’s notorious UN Security Council speech on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Admittedly, PSOE has been a compromised organization from the start, receiving the support of Western powers concerned with the formidable strength of the Spanish Communist Party during the country’s so-called transition away from the Francoist regime. Thus, early on, PSOE rejected its Marxist roots and opted for more moderate positions, while seeking to present itself as the true left.
As Alfredo Grimaldos wrote in The CIA in Spain, Felipe González’s arrival to power with PSOE in 1982 was “designed and controlled by the CIA in order to maintain their control over Spain.” With this in mind, PSOE’s behavior should be considered an endemic feature of the party as opposed to a degeneration with respect to a more idyllic past.
Indeed, thanks to declassified CIA documents, it is now a matter of fact that PSOE, practically from day one, was behind the dirty war against ETA in the Basque regions of northern Spain and south-eastern France. The party has also aided the CIA with transporting detainees to Guantanamo Bay by allowing CIA rendition flights to refuel at Spanish airports. While WikiLeaks cables have confirmed that, during the Iraq war, PSOE helped cover up the infamous gunning down of journalists by U.S. forces, which included Spanish journalist José Couso, the brother of whom is now a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.
To this day, PSOE continues to be a reliable partner of U.S. interventionism, always at the service of U.S. ambitions in Latin America, while offering its cadres to the EU-NATO bureaucratic machine. For instance, Josep Borrell, the current high representative of the European Union, is another PSOE career-politician turned pawn in the EU’s capitulation to U.S. interests.
Special for Orinoco Tribune