Ex-Army Officers Criticize Spain’s Authorities and Reward Franco

MADRID – Earlier this month, 271 former members of the Spanish armed forces used the anniversary of the country’s constitution to issue a manifesto criticizing the coalition left government and warning that Spain’s unity was threatened.

The manifesto was released shortly after chats were posted on the Spanish news media in which retired Air Force officers referred to General Francisco Franco, Spain’s ex-dictator, as “the irreplaceable” and gave a thumbs-up to the suggestion of being left-wing Spaniards. Some of the retired officers also sent letters to King Felipe VI attacking the government led by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Although the defense minister and chief of the armed forces said the statements did not reflect the views of the active military, the courageous foray into politics by former officers prompted the government to take legal action and worried analysts in a country that from a military dictatorship until 1975 .

Last week, the left-wing Spanish newspaper Público published screenshots of another leaked WhatsApp group chat in which active members of an artillery unit exchanged fascist greetings and threatening comments.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles sent the contents of the WhatsApp chat of retired Air Force officers to the prosecutor to see if there had been any criminal violations of the Constitution.

Defense Chief of Staff General Miguel Ángel Villarroya Vilalta issued a statement reiterating the “political neutrality of our armed forces” and warning that inappropriateness private messages “damage the image of the armed forces”, even if they come from retired officers.

“These people’s opinions cannot be taken as representing the collective to which they once belonged,” he said.

José Antonio Martín Pallín, a former judge at the Spanish Supreme Court, said in a telephone interview that he saw no reason to follow the contents of a private chat, but saw a justification in revoking a military honor, the Order of San Hermenegildo. from those involved, because “this sequence requires exemplary behavior.”

The royal household directed that of King Felipe VI. Letters received to the government continued, but Mr. Martín Pallín argued that “the King should have said something powerful publicly against this letter”. Overall, he added, “I understand that there are now officers who hold anti-democratic values, although I am not saying that their views are shared by the entire army.”

The growing influence of the far right within the military has also become a problem in other countries, particularly Germany, and coincides with the urge by governments to restrict individual rights such as freedom of movement due to the pandemic.

“Spain has its own singularity within what I believe to be a worrying western trend in which many people are increasingly accepting the ideas and necessity of authoritarianism,” said philosopher and columnist Josep Ramoneda. “Unsurprisingly, the military is particularly fertile ground for authoritarianism.”

José Ignacio Domínguez, a former Air Force officer who refused to sign the letter his cohorts had prepared for King Felipe, said it was an attempt “to get our king to step in and overthrow the government”.

Even when signed by retirees, the letter said the political leanings of the current armed forces were increasingly that of the Spanish far-right Vox. Last year, Vox became the third largest party in parliament, winning 15 percent of the vote and performing above the national average in provinces with large military bases.

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain’s transition to democracy “left the army completely untouched,” said Domínguez. “It is therefore not surprising that Spain’s new right-wing extremist party has found strong supporters among the many officers who continue to assume they will form.” a Pretorian guard and don’t seem to understand that they should obey any democratically elected government. “

Spain only removed an equestrian statue of Franco from its main military academy in Zaragoza in 2006, which means that “each of our army generals during two years of military training had to pass a giant statue of our former dictator would be unthinkable in any other modern democracy,” Domínguez said.

Luis Gonzalo Segura, former army lieutenant and anti-corruption whistleblower, said the messages exchanged by the former officers made it clear that “the only thing stopping them from calling for a coup is that it will not be viewed positively by the Spanish population and would be rejected by the rest of Europe. “

The leaked chat of former Air Force officers called for the shooting of “26 million sons of bitches,” an obvious reference to more than half of the Spanish population whom they said did not share their right-wing views.

Mr. Segura was expelled from the army in 2015 for violating military discipline after publicly accusing his superiors of corruption and other misdeeds.

Although the Spanish armed forces were not affected by the transition process after Franco’s death, columnist Ramoneda noted that three events significantly changed their role in the 1980s: a failed military coup in 1981, a major socialist election victory in 1982, and Spain’s accession to NATO in this year, “which forced our top military commanders to water down their political views, especially as they suddenly took great pride in measuring themselves against their counterparts in larger modern armies.”

Before Vox showed up, Ramoneda argued that the secessionist challenge in Catalonia, which peaked in 2017, “really changed the mood in the armed forces and gave many a new sense of their role as defenders of Spain and its unity. ”

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