LEADING ARTICLE : Clouds over Felipe's reign in Spain

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The Independent Online
Felipe Gonzalez has served Spain well since becoming prime minister in 1982. He took office only seven years after the return of democracy, and only one year after a gang of foolish military officers attempted a coup in Madrid. Mr Gonzalez proved that Spain could be governed by the left without collapsing into anarchy. He also strengthened Spain's international standing by taking his nation into Nato and the European Union and by presiding over a period of economic expansion.

All the more reason, then, to regret Mr Gonzalez's handling of the crisis now building up around his government. Of course, he can hardly be blamed for the squalid financial scandals involving businessmen and bankers at the highest level that have recently burst into the open. But he is wrong to treat with such disdain the evidence of official complicity in the "dirty war" launched against Basque nationalists from 1983 to 1987. Twenty-seven people were killed in that period by an organisation known as the Anti-Terrorist Liberation Group, or GAL, and judicial investigations have established that several former senior Spanish security officers were linked to the group.

The most important accusation is not that Mr Gonzalez personally directed or supported GAL's activities. It is that the security organs were acting independently of the democratically elected government. It seems likely that the Socialists inherited a problem of rogue murderers in the security services from the centre-right government that led Spain after the death of Franco. Government ministers from the years between 1975 and 1982 also have a duty to explain what they knew about secret operations against Basque separatism.

But Mr Gonzalez has been the man in charge for the past 13 years, and he must take responsibility for what has happened during his rule. If the Spanish state's forces of law and order were fighting an illegal terror campaign against the Basques, and Mr Gonzalez's government was powerless to stop them, then Spaniards have a right to expect that their leaders will come clean about the whole unpleasant business. As in Italy, the crisis concerns not only the fate of one particular government but the politic al order itself. In the interests of Spain's stability, Mr Gonzalez should make every effort to ensure that the truth is told.