ARMED FORCES

Franco’s grandson and 1981 coup plotters accuse Spanish government of threatening democracy

Retired military members, including one who was sentenced for his role in a bid to overthrow the state, have signed a letter warning Spanish unity is at risk

José Mena Aguado, one of the signees of the letter, during his 2006 speech in which he suggested military intervention in Catalonia.
José Mena Aguado, one of the signees of the letter, during his 2006 speech in which he suggested military intervention in Catalonia.JAVIER CUESTA / EL CORREO DE ANDALUCÍA

The celebration of the 42nd anniversary of the Spanish Constitution on Sunday was marked by controversy over a letter from retired military members accusing the Spanish government of posing a “serious risk to the unity of Spain and its constitutional order.”

The document was first signed on Saturday by 271 retired members of the armed forces, and by Sunday another 200 signatures had been added, including that of Division General Juan Chicharro, the president of the Francisco Franco Foundation, which glorifies the memory of the Spanish dictator and will be declared illegal under the new historical memory law.

The constitutional order is not at risk and no one can claim rights to patriotism or the love of Spain or the use of its symbols
Military and Democracy Forum

The text was also signed by Franco’s grandson, Cristóbal Martínez-Bordiu Franco, as well as by Commander Ricardo Pardo Zancada, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the failed 1981 coup attempt, and by Lieutenant General José María Mena, who was arrested for suggesting in 2006 that the army should intervene if Catalonia went too far with its “Estatuto,” the charter that lays out the region’s powers. Martínez-Bordiu Franco, the only one of the dictator’s grandsons to serve in the armed forces, hung up his uniform in 1982, after less than two years in active duty service.

In the letter, the former military members accused the government, which is headed by a center-left coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos, of “imposing a single line of thought” and pledge their “absolute loyalty to the king and supreme commander of the armed forces.”

The letter follows two similar missives sent last week by 73 former army officials and by 39 retired Air Force officials to Spain’s King Felipe VI. Attempts at getting navy officials to join the initiative reportedly failed, which forced a change of strategy: an open statement from all retired military members, instead of a letter addressed to the king.

The text also comes just days after Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles sent prosecutors information about a WhatsApp chat group in which retired military officials appeared to show support for military uprisings and mass executions. According to the online daily Infolibre, the following messages were shared in the private chat group: “There is no other choice but to start executing 26 million sons-of-bitches,” and: “What a pity not to be in active duty service in order to reroute a hot flight [carrying real ammunition] from Bárdenas [firing range] to the headquarters of those sons-of-bitches,” alluding to the separatist organization Catalan National Assembly (ANC), which played a leading role in the 2017 attempt at the Catalonia region’s unilateral secession from Spain.

In the latest letter, which was shared a day before Constitution Day on December 6, the retired military members said they did not support the message expressed in the private chat, but did “share their concerns” about the “social-communist government.”

The letter comes just days after prosecutors received information about a WhatsApp chat group in which retired military officials appeared to show support for mass executions

The signees said they continue to be members of the military in spirit, meaning they must uphold their promise to guarantee the sovereignty and integrity of Spain. However, they added that because they are retired they have complete freedom of expression and are not subject to the military’s disciplinary rules, which prohibit members of the armed forces from meddling in politics.

The premier of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), defended the letter on Sunday, arguing: “Many Spaniards are worried about the direction that politics is taking.” These comments were quickly criticized by the Madrid branch of the PSOE, which accused Díaz Ayuso of using “a condescending, anti-democratic and coup-like tone with those who supported executing 26 million Spaniards a few days ago,” according to Spanish news agency EFE.

The 400 or so signatures on the text are largely from retired military members over the age of 70 and represent a small fraction of the up to 20,000 former soldiers in Spain. The Military and Democracy Forum (FMD), the successor of the Democratic Military Unit (UMD), which opposed the Franco dictatorship from within the armed forces, released a statement criticizing the recent surge in missives from former military members. “The constitutional order is not at risk,” the statement said, “and no one no one can claim rights to patriotism or the love of Spain or the use of its symbols.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.