March Past on Sunday Will Close Chapter in Spanish Military History
LA CORUNA, Spain (AP) _ On Sunday 6,000 troops will march past their commander-in-chief, King Juan Carlos, in the last annual armed forces day parade, closing a chapter in Spanish military history.
From 1939 to 1977, the Spanish armed forces paraded every April 1 to celebrate the victory of Gen. Francisco Franco’s rebel forces over soldiers of the Second Republic in the 1936-39 civil war.
Three years after Franco’s death in 1975, the then-vice prime minister, Gen. Manuel Gutierrez Mellado, convinced the military to change their annual parade to the Sunday closest to May 30, the Feast of San Fernando, patron saint of the Spanish army.
Since 1978, the parade - complete with Spanish foreign legionnaires in their washed-out green uniforms, soldiers from the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in white capes and blue sashes, and paramilitary civil guards in their trademark black patent leather tricornered hats - has been held in a different military region of the country each year.
La Coruna, an important port in northwestern Spain, will be the site of the last national parade.
Starting next year, a token parade will be held each Oct. 12 - Columbus Day - the day Spain and many Latin American nations honor what they call the Hispanic ″race.″
For many Spaniards, including Defense Minister Narcis Serra, a Socialist, discontinuing the parade signifies the beginning of a new era for the military, historically an underpaid but coddled organization, top-heavy with officers and fond of saber-rattling.
Under Serra, 42, the former mayor of Barcelona, Spain’s military regions have been reduced from nine to six. Most service personnel have been moved from city barracks to areas where they can confront threats from theoretical foreign enemies.
But some militay analysts question the wisdom of creating regional armies in such staunchly nationalistic areas as Catalonia, the troubled three- province northern Basque country and Galicia.
The army - and the national police and paramilitary civil guard under its command - have been hit hard by Basque terrorists seeking independence for the three-province north Basque country.
Since 1968, the Basque separatist organization ETA has taken responsibility for the murders of more than 500 police and military officers, including top- ranking generals.
Serra, an economist by training, has also succeeded in substantially cutting armed forces strength.
The goal by the end of the year is to reduce the army from 240,000 to 195,000 men, including 170,000 conscripts, and to cut the number of generals from 300 to 143, with comparable reductions down through the ranks to non- commissioned officers.
Naval strength currently stands at 57,000 with 44,000 conscripts. There are 33,000 men and officers in the air force.
A recent law shortens compulsory service in the army from 15 to 12 months, and emphasizes training that will be useful to conscripts returning to a civilian workforce burdened with 22 percent unemployment.
Serra and many younger officers believe integration into the NATO command structure will provide the push to modernize and ″Europeanize″ the traditionally isolated Spanish armed forces.
Ramon Balmes, military correspondent for the Barcelona daily Vanguardia, wrote that Serra’s reoganization plan has ″almost completely banished from Spanish society the syndrome of the so-called ’military problem,‴ weakening the officer corps that has on several occasions emulated Franco’s overthrow of the Spanish government.
The unsettling prelude to the 1981 parade was a coup attempt on Feb. 23, when civil guard units stormed the lower house of Parliament in Madrid, holding legislators hostage for more than 18 hours.
During a live television appearance in the early hours of Feb. 24, the king, in full military regalia, told rebels the coup would only succeed ″over my dead body.″ The rebellion did not spread through the ranks. Conspirators later were sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.
The last known coup attempt came the day before the Oct. 28, 1982, general elections, which swept the Socialists into office. The plotters drew prison terms.