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A worrying issue

Greater caution is needed when members of the armed forces fail to respect political neutrality

The Defense Ministry has announced that it will open an investigation into Lieutenant Colonel Miguel Ayuso, who has spent the last few years voicing opinions that are highly critical of the Constitution. Among his controversial views is a refusal to recognize King Juan Carlos’s claim to the throne. The legitimate monarch, in his opinion, is the ultra-rightwing Carlist Prince Sixtus Henry of Bourbon-Parma. What’s more, he is often heard to describe the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) as a “crusade” and considers the repression carried out by the Franco regime to have been “legal.”

None of these facts, however, have stood in the way of Ayuso being considered for promotion to the rank of colonel. What’s more, as well as being a professor of constitutional law at the University of Comillas, he is also currently a military judge — i.e. in charge of administering justice in the name of the king of Spain.

Only in the wake of the publication of his views by EL PAÍS on Monday has the Defense Ministry decided to react — and this is despite the fact that there have been a number of other episodes in the past that have seen members of the military violate the political neutrality that is necessary for their roles.

The integration of the military into a democratic Spain has been consolidated after the tense years of the Transition

For example, in February, General Juan Antonio Chicharro suggested that the military must intervene should Catalonia come close to leaving Spain. “The homeland comes first and is more important than democracy,” he said. Chicharro was still active in the reserves when he made his controversial comments; that was not the case of Lieutenant General José Mena, who in 2006 was relieved from his command of the army’s ground troops after criticizing the Catalan autonomy statute and suggesting that military intervention might be necessary to quell the region’s demands for increased home rule.

Fortunately, the integration of the military into a democratic Spain has been consolidated after the tense years of the Transition, which were peppered by saber-rattling and coup plots, the most famous of which culminated in the storming of Congress by civil guards on February 23, 1981. The incidents that have taken place since then, albeit of an isolated nature, illustrate the need to pay more attention to the persistence of certain figures in the military class who question the Constitution, and those who, despite claiming to be upholders of the law, end up establishing themselves as interpreters of it.

With good reason, there has been praise for the excellent work done by the Spanish armed forces on missions abroad, and their collaboration with troops from other advanced democracies. On such missions it would be inconceivable for military professionals to express opinions that were contrary to their respective constitutions and democratic systems. In the past, the politicization of Spain’s armed forces served to torpedo their relationship with the society that they were serving. That is why any risk that the re-established relationship could break down should be contained.

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