Spain is on edge. Unemployment is nearly 26%, youth unemployment over 55%. The government is mired in a corruption scandal. The economy is grinding to a halt. On January 23, the Catalan assembly declared that the region constituted a “sovereign political and legal entity.” A step closer to secession. And then a general gave a speech.
It’s just now percolating to the surface, but it happened on February 6, according to people who attended a conference on the Armed Forces and the Constitution at the Gran Peña, a club in Madrid that is a favorite hangout for retired military officers. The discussion was moderated by José Antonio Fernández Rodera, editor of the military’s magazine, Revista Jurídica Militar. Among the speakers were Ángel Calderón, Chief Justice of the Military Chamber; Pedro González-Trevijano, Chancellor of the King Juan Carlos University; and General Juan Antonio Chicharro, until 2010 commander of the Marine Corps and now in the reserves. About 100 people were in the audience.
There was nothing unusual until General Chicharro spoke. From the outset, he made clear that this wasn’t an impromptu speech. According to various attendees, he apologized; he would have declined the invitation to speak, he said, but the current “separatist-secessionist offensive” in Catalonia obligated him to come forward.
In the armed forces, “there is a general feeling of preoccupation, fear, uncertainty, and confusion” on this topic, he said. He lamented the dismissal of General José Mena in 2006 after he’d publicly suggested that military intervention might be needed to counter Catalonia’s demands for increased autonomy.
He criticized Catalan separatists for their distorted interpretation of the Constitution with regards to secession and offered his own interpretation of two articles: Article 8.1, which charged the Armed Forces with defending Spain and its territorial integrity; and Article 97, which spelled out the subordination of the military to the civilian government. The first was at the hard core of the Constitution, he said. The second was further removed, with less force.
And so, while using conditionals and turning statements into questions, he spun a theory on when the military would be justified in overthrowing the government. The problem would occur, he said, “if those responsible for the defense of the Constitution didn’t behave as their role required.”
He asked his listeners to imagine what would happen if the Popular Party (PP) were to lose its absolute majority in the next general elections, and the Catalan nationalists were to demand, in exchange for their support, a change of the Constitution to undo the doctrine of the “indissoluble unity” of Spain.
“So what do the Armed Forces do?” he wondered, but gave no answer. “The rules are one thing, practice is another,” he said enigmatically. “If the defense mechanism of the constitutional order doesn’t work, by act or omission, then....” He didn’t complete the sentence. “The country is more important than democracy,” he said. “Patriotism is a feeling, and the Constitution is nothing but a law.”
Rousing applause, a standing ovation, cries of “Bravo! Bravo!” The questions from the audience went even further than the General’s speech—until chancellor González-Trevijano cut them off: “The alternative to the constitution is collective suicide,” he said.
When the story began to leak out, Diego López Garrido, the Socialist spokesman in Parliament on defense issues, pressed the Ministry of Defense to take immediate action against the general; he was still subject to the military disciplinary code which frowned upon suggesting coup d’états—in public. And on Thursday, the Ministry said that it has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine what exactly the general had said and if it ran afoul of any laws.
Perhaps warned by the general, the government is taking the hardest possible line against Catalonia’s ambitions to secede. On Thursday, the State Council issued an opinion indicating that there were sufficient legal grounds to dispute the declaration by the Catalan assembly. On Friday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the government would roll out its biggest legal gun. It would take the declaration to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it violated the Constitution.
The economic nightmare with too many out-of-work restless young people on the streets, the secession of a region, a constitutional crisis in the wings, and dark rumblings by generals combine into a volatile mix. What had started out as a housing bubble that turned into a debt crisis then a broad economic crisis has morphed beyond the economy. It’s gnawing on democracy.
And not just in Spain. But the Eurozone. “I’m appalled that two clowns have won,” said the man who'd try to knock German Chancellor Merkel off her perch this year. He was referring to former comedian Beppe Grillo and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. One of them is “a professional clown who doesn’t mind being called that,” he explained; the other is “a clown with special testosterone boost.” Read.... The Utter Fragility Of The Eurozone: Even Democracy Is A Threat