Spain: top general warns of war over Catalan autonomy

As if the controversy over the Basque country wasn’t enough, now a Spanish general rattles the proverbial sabre over moves by Catalonia, Spain’s most industrialized region, to seek greater autonomy from Madrid. A lovely irony: as the world waits for Balkan republics like Croatia to outgrow recent fascistic leanings in order to gain European Union entry, we have EU member Spain displaying its own atavistic fascist tendencies. From Reuters, Jan. 6:

A Spanish army commander provoked a storm on Friday by warning the army would have to defend Spanish unity if the region of Catalonia won the far-reaching self-government it is seeking.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Felix Sanz Roldan responded by asking Defence Minister Jose Bono to dismiss Lieutenant-General Jose Mena Aguado from his post as commander of land forces over the remarks, the Defence Ministry said. Bono ordered Mena Aguado — who was due to retire in March — to report to the Defence Ministry for a meeting on Saturday morning, it added in a statement. Mena Aguado’s remarks were taken as a warning of military intervention if a proposed Catalan autonomy plan, currently before the national parliament, is approved unamended.

The role of the armed forces is highly sensitive in Spain, which suffered a bloody civil war from 1936 to 1939 after General Francisco Franco’s military uprising and which experienced a failed military coup as recently as 1981.

“I have always insisted soldiers must not get involved in political reflections … (but) it is our duty to warn of the serious consequences that the approval of the Catalan statute in the terms in which it is drafted could bring both for the armed forces as an institution and for the people who make up the armed forces,” Mena Aguado said in a speech in Seville.

“Fortunately the constitution set a series of impassable limits for any autonomy statute and so I repeat my message of calm,” he said in comments broadcast on state radio. “But if those limits were exceeded — which at the moment fortunately appears unthinkable — article 8 of the constitution would be applicable.”

Article 8 of Spain’s constitution, which Mena Aguado read out, states that “the armed forces … have as their mission to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain (and) to defend its territorial integrity and constitutional arrangements.”

The proposed autonomy statute passed by Catalonia’s regional assembly and sent to Madrid for its consideration defines the wealthy northeastern region as a nation within Spain. It calls for Catalonia to collect its own taxes and for the regional high court to replace Madrid’s constitutional court as its highest judicial authority.

Tough negotiations are under way on the statute in the Spanish parliament and between Spain’s ruling Socialist Party and the Catalan parties. Any version of the statute that is finally approved is likely to be greatly watered down.

The left-wing Izquierda Unida party called Mena Aguado’s comments unacceptable and demanded his dismissal. Catalan parties also criticised the comments.

The Spanish military regularly intervened in politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries and Franco ruled from the 1930s until his death in 1975. In 1981, Colonel Antonio Tejero staged a coup attempt, bursting into the parliament chamber during a debate, but the attempt failed.

See our last post on Spain.

  1. Startling update
    MADRID, Jan. 9 (UPI) — Spanish Defense Minister Jose Bono has ordered the arrest of the commander of the army after he suggested using military force against the region of Catalonia.

    Lt. Gen. Jose Mena Aguado was placed under house arrest over the weekend after he said that the military would step in if the government granted greater autonomy to the northern region.

    Mena said there would be “serious consequences” to such a move, El Mundo newspaper reported Monday.

    In September, Catalan regional government approved a new statute referring to Catalonia as a country and gives the province greater control of its judiciary and tax collection.

  2. Zapatero tilts right?
    From The Economist, Feb. 4:

    SPAIN’S prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, this week boldly went where no predecessor had for 25 years: to the north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. His two-day visit fulfilled a pledge last November, when thousands of immigrants tried to reach European territory over razor-wire fences. Eleven were killed, and human-rights groups attacked the Spanish for sending back others whom the Moroccans abandoned in the desert…

    He stressed his committment to “social initiatives” which would turn Spain into a shining example of humane welfare policies and respect for human rights. He had another agenda too. His first port of call was Melilla, now a hotbed of military disenchantment over Spain’s restive regions. Few Spaniards will have missed the echo: it was from Spanish Morocco that Franco launched his coup in 1936. Mr Zapatero’s visit was, in effect, a counter to right-wing hostility to greater autonomy for Catalonia.

    The trouble began a few weeks ago when a general spoke of “serious consequences” if the government ceded too much to the Catalans. Hed was sacked, but a captain in Melilla warned the preim minister of broad unease over how Spain was being “dismembered”. Last weeks the leaders of the failed 1981 coup, Colonel Antonio Tejero, backed calls for a referendum on Catalonia, saying in a letter tio a Melilla newspaper: “They [the Socialists] are playing with the integrity of Spain…they are trying to shatter the Spanish crown.”

    Mr Zapatero reasured rthe colony’s 70,000 people of Spain’s commitment to the territory. “The government is very conscious of the singularity of Melilla, which needs special attention,” he added. Because Spain has good relations with Morocco, which claims the enclaves, Mr Zapatero got only a mild rebuke from Rabat. But his words were not enough for the opposition at home, which wanted him to talk up the enclave’s españolidad, or Spanishness.

    Nicknamed Bambi by detractors and widely criticized as a lightweight, Mr Zapatero may now be finding his feet. His visit to North Africa has deflected attacks froom the right. And thanks to deft bargaining by his negotiatior, Alfredo Pererz Rubalcaba, he is close to an accord on Catalonia. Mr Rubalcaba’s trick was to win support from Catalonia’s conservative opposition, Convergence and Union. The latest draft recognizes Catalonia as a “nation” in the preamble and gives control over taxes. But it is a far cry from the radical text first proposed bgy the Catalans.

    This sleight of hand has not only wrongfooted the opposition; it has also sidelined the left-wing nationalists, who are threatening to quit Catalonia’s ruling coalition. But their leader, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, is willing to continue talking. No doubt the nationlists will ask for more, but Mr Zapatero has taken more steps towards his “plural” vision of Spain without ceding real sovereignty.

    See also WW4 REPORT #43