The Nicaragua issue is an emotional one. Spain has made the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy only during the last decade, and, as a new democracy run by Socialists, it feels that it has a role to play, even if only as a model, in the Third World. In addition, after years of isolation under [Francisco Franco], Spain is trying to strengthen ties with the Latin American countries, most of which were once Spanish colonies.
To confuse matters further, [Reagan] arrives at a moment when Spain is struggling with the question of whether to remain in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Prime Minister [Felipe Gonzalez], who now supports remaining in NATO after campaigning against it, has promised to fulfill an election promise and hold a referendum on the question early next year. Many Spaniards opposed to Spanish membership identify NATO with the United States and are protesting the Reagan visit as a way of campaigning for a vote against NATO in the referendum.
Perhaps to assuage anti-American sentiment that contributes to opposition to NATO, Gonzalez has pledged to reduce the number of American troops on Spanish soil. Under a treaty, which the Spanish intend to renegotiate, the United States operates three air bases and one naval station in Spain. This pledge by Gonzalez has led to a series of testy public comments by both American and Spanish officials.