On top of Majorca: the Puig Major base

If Antoni Parietti's project had come to fruition, there wouldn't have been a protest thirty years ago. Three times Parietti tried, and three times Parietti was denied. On each occasion there was a military reason - the outbreak of the Civil War, the start of the Second World War, and the later alliance between Franco's Spain and the USA. It was Parietti who had wanted to build the funicular cable car to the top of the Puig Major, Majorca's highest peak.

The treaty was signed in September 1953. The Americans were creating a surveillance network. Spain benefited economically and militarily from the deal. From the moment that treaty was signed, the summit of Puig Major was destined to be off-limits. It still is.

Work started in 1957. Strategic command activated the radar in 1959. The US 880th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was charged with watching out for any sign of a Soviet attack. The road that had to be built was officially opened in 1960, the year in which Franco paid a visit. The Americans, for whom a military residence was opened in Soller, began to pull out in 1989. The last American soldier left in 1993. The Spanish military have been in charge ever since.

The year before the American withdrawal started, the US government had given the order for the Spanish military and civil personnel to take over. In that year, on Sunday, 12 June 1988, two hundred people marched towards the base. There were two groups - one had come from Palma, the other from Inca. Their protest had different targets - NATO, the use of the port in Palma by the US Navy, and the Americans at the Puig Major base, referred to as EVA-7, Escuadrón de Vigilancia Aérea del Puig Major.

The Guardia Civil and military police guarded the entry to the base and the route to the radars themselves. "Yankies out" was just one of the protesters' demands. Another cry was "hamburgers no, sobrasada yes". The march had been called by the Action Group for Peace and Disarmament, and represented among the 200 or so people were members of the Esquerra Unida (United Left, basically a communist party) and of Crida. The full name of this latter element was Crida a la Solidaritat en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalanes. It was dissolved in 1993, but it has a great deal of currency today. Crida took Catalan independence activism onto the streets. Among its spokespeople was Jordi Sànchez, currently in prison because of his role in the independence process.

The march was to end when a doll, dressed up as a US marine, was set alight. The security forces didn't intervene.

Pedro Vidal Terrasa has written a book about the Puig Major base. He was assisted in his research by contacts enabled through the internet, and specifically Klaus Fabricius' Mallorca Photo Blog. Eight years ago, Klaus posted an item about the base. That led to a host of responses. Pedro Vidal was among those who responded, as did people with memories of the base. One of them came from Bud Isel: "Station at 880th AC&W Squadron, Puig Major Nov 1959 to Dec 1963. Had apartment near Plaza Gomila en Terreno. Plaza Gomila is now a Ghost Town. We arrived before the radar was functional. Search radar had 152 nm range with a Height Finder. Radar Operations crew had about 15 military assigned. Pedro Vidal Terrasa and I went topside and I sat on the radar scope in 2007. All new equipment. Generalisimo Franco stepped on my right foot in +/- 1961 when he visited the station."

So here, at the very least, is proof that Franco was a visitor. But what of the base now? It is symbolic of the regime and a military past in a similar way to the facility in Puerto Pollensa, albeit there were different reasons - the Civil War in the case of Puerto Pollensa. Both continue to be used, the Spanish ministry of defence considers them both to be of strategic importance, and there are those who resent them for being representative of the Spanish state and military. A different objection has to do with the restrictions. A campaign to get greater public access to the Puerto Pollensa base has used the argument that, as it is on the coast, it is public domain. There has been less apparent interest in the Puig Major base, yet its symbolism is rather more powerful. Not as a military installation but as the island's highest point, on top of which sit the radars.

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