A group of powerful righst generals met recently in a small town in Valencia Province to discuss "how to save Spain from chaos, a leftist takeover and fragmention of the nation by Basque and Catalan nationalists," according to informed military sources.
The meeting in Jativa, 240 miles south of here, appeared to be part of a growing drive by high-ranking officers who still uphold the authoritarian ideals of the late Francisco Franco to stop Spain's democratization program.
The sources said that the generals did not appear to be plotting a coup, but are angry at having been excluded from decision-making.
Yet their strictly political conclave poses a thorny problem for King Juan Carlos, 39, an advocate of democracy. Since the dictator's death nearly two years ago, the monarch as commander in chief of the armed forces, has held dissident rightist officers in line.
Military pressure also weighs heavily on Premier Adolfo Suarez, 44, who has his hands full with mounting economic problems, wildcat strikes, bombings of newspapers and magazines by rightist gangs, and Basque and Catalan Demands for self-rule.
News of the gathering sent shock waves throughout the beleaguered Suarez administration. Government spokesmen have gone so far as to ask editors of Spanish newspapers not to publish any details "because we would have to take action against either the generals or the newspapers." Publication of military activities is still forbidden in Spain.
The immediate target of rightist discontent however is retired Lt. Gen. Manuel Gutierrez Mellado vice premier and defense minister. The officers want to stop him from submitting to Parliament a bill to require officers which is almost certain - would eliminate from command posts thousands to retire at age 55. Approval of the law - nate from command posts thousands of officers who fought for Franco in the 1936-39 Civil War.
The generals at Jativa pointedly met without asking the minister's permission sources said. They were identified as Lt. Gen. Francisco Coloma chief of the Barcelona military region: Lt. Gen. Pedro Merry Gordon, commander of the Seville region, Lt. Gen. Angel Campano, head of the Valladolid region: Lt. Gen. Antonio Taix Planas chief of the Valencia region; and Lt. Gen. Mateo Pradda Canillas, commander of the Burgos region.
Also present sources say, Was Lt. Gen. Jaime Millan del Bosch commander of the tank division stationed at Brunete near Madrid. He is considered among the most reactionary Spanish officers. Others were retired Lt. Gen. Fernando de Santiago, former military vice premier and retired Lt. Gen. Carlos Iniesta, an outspoken proponent of Francos dictatorial ideals.
According to the sources the generals expressed deep concern over the expressions of nationalism in the Basque and Catalan regions. They were especially angered by Basque youths appearing in the uniform of the Basque Republic's army which was defeated by Franco. Other complaints were that during the Sept. 11 celebration of Catalonia's national day not a single Spanish flag was displayed during a demonstration by more than a million Catalans.
Throughout the 37 years of Franco's rule the military wielded unchallenged political power and could speak at will against democracy so long as they did not attack Franco or any of his ministers.
Military unrest in the Basque country controlled by Gen. Frada Canillas, with headquarters in Burgos, is so widespread that two weeks ago Lt. Gen. Jose Vega Rodriguez, army chief of staff, toured the region to speak to officers who wanted to take action against Basques demonstrating not only for self-rule but for "independence."
Several officers, sources said, complained to him that the Basque demonstrators were threatening "a new civil war" that would endanger national unity. Intelligence operatives also told the general. sources added, that ETA, the Basque separatist underground, planned to start wearing uniforms in guerrilla attacks and claim the prisoner-of-war rules if captured.
Gen. Vega, considered close to the king reportedly drafted a report that was discussed by the superior military council Sept. 13, sources said. Contents of the general's findings remain secret, but during the session other complaints were reportedly aired.
Despite repeated decrees by the king, the premier and the defense minister against political activities by members of the armed forces whatever their rank and politics, for months rightist officers have been organizing a "patriotic military union." Its aim is to save Spain from its traditional enemies - Communists, Freemasons and democrats.
The union has gained strong adherents among senior officers and even among some junior officers, sources said. Paratroop commander Agustin Munoz Grandes, son of one of Franco's most trusted generals, is reportedly a leading member. He refused to serve as an aide to the Defense Minister Gutierrez Mellado.
The union's apparent spiritual leader is Lt. Gen. Fernando de Santiago, who was fired by Suarez last year for warning that the premier's democratization policies would lead to violent strikes, a leftist takeover and the breakdown of the Spanish nation as a single state.De Santiago was replaced by Gutierrez Mellado, an avowed reformer.
Last week the military issued an order forbidding the sale of newspapers and magazines in military barracks and garrisons. It suggested that officers and soldiers avoid reading the newspapers of political parties.
There have been vague references to the generals' meeting in such newspapers as El Pais and Informaciones in Madrid, but neither reported names and reasons. The first reported that the corridors of Parliament buzzed with talk of the Jativa gathering. A columnist in the second said yesterday that in "recent days" there have been "high-level military meetings" to consider the self-rule issue and asserted that the military does not in any way oppose autonomy for the Basque and Catalan regions.
The minister for the regions, Manuel Clavero, said that the military backs self-rule "so long as autonomy is compatible" with national unity. This was the first indication by a Cabinet officer that the armed forces are questioning the government's self-rule program.