Words Said In More Than Jest

This news is surely not as grave as it seems, but the placing under house arrest of the commander of the Spanish Land Forces is hardly to be taken as a trifle. In a move which is reminiscent of the environment surrounding the military coup of 1981., the decision of Defence Minister José Bono to place Lt. Gen. Jose Mena Aguado under house arrest and relieve him of his duties may seem to be a strong one (Aguado was to have resigned in only a few months), as there is really surely no imminent danger of a military coup. It does however reveal just how sensitive the issue is in a country which has seen both civil war and attempted Coup d’Etat. The military is definitely not a welcome participant in the political process here.

What exactly did Aguado do? Well essentially he chose the opportunity of an occassion which is something like army day’ to cite in a speech a clause in the Spanish constitution that calls on the armed forces to intervene if needed to guarantee the unity, independence and sovereignty of Spain, using the example of the proposed reform to the Catalan Statute of Autonomy as an explicit case in point. He did not specify how he thought the armed forces should intervene.

So the rapid response of Bono is both welcome, and unsurprising, what is more surprising – or given recent events, perhaps it isn’t – is the reaction of the opposition Partido Popular:

Only the right wing Popular Party, the most vociferous opponent of the Catalan charter, pulled back from condemning the officer, saying his comments were the logical result of the uncertainty triggered by the charter debate.

So those who claim to be the staunchest defenders of the Spanish constitution turn out to be the most blasé when someone rattles some sabres which might actually threaten its integrity.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

9 thoughts on “Words Said In More Than Jest

  1. Would you please clarify that?
    A government minister orders a detention without bothering with a warrant or any such thing? What is going on? On the grounds of citing the constitution is rebellious?

  2. “Would you please clarify that?”

    Well I can’t clarify very much, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, still less an expert on the Spanish Constitution.

    Since the detention has been ordered by the minister of defence, my guess is the relevant law here is military law. The speech could be interpreted as a call to insurrection, although of course it wasn’t really, it was just the expression of a bigoted opinion. But technically….

    I don’t really see what you are worried about. The action of the defence minister is perfectly legal. Obviously if Aguade wants to participate in politics, he will soon be a civilian again, and will be free to do so.

    Meantime the Spanish parliament should also feel free to debate issues as it sees fit without having to worry about whether or not the Spanish army agrees. If this was happening in Turkey, someone or other would be busy pointing out how the armed forces are still in control there.

  3. No habeas corpus in Spain?
    Are there no military judges? Granted, free speech may be limited for soldiers. Strip him of all his duties, premature retirement – fine.
    But detention by cabinet order?

  4. “But detention by cabinet order?”

    Hasn’t he rather been confined to base by his commanding officer here. And being an officer and a gentleman, he’s allowed to consider his home his castle.

    Doesn’t the ordinary citizen forgo the right to bear arms as part of an implicit pact with the state, and isn’t one part of that pact the idea that those authorised to bear arms don’t then threaten to turn them on the civilian citizens.

    Maybe living in a mature democracy you are not so sensitive to this issue as those who have seen threat turned into practice in relatively recent times.

    And I repeat, would you be laughing all this off so easily if the statement had been made about Kurdish autonomy by a Turkish general, rather than Catalan and Basque autonomy by a Spanish one?

  5. And I repeat, would you be laughing all this off so easily if the statement had been made about Kurdish autonomy by a Turkish general, rather than Catalan and Basque autonomy by a Spanish one?

    I would think he would make the same comments about an islamist takeover and be relieved.

  6. “I would think he would make the same comments about an islamist takeover and be relieved.”

    But what if he simply said that he didn’t think the Kurds should be allowed to use their language, and that people like Orhan Pamuk should not be allowed to ‘denigrate Turkish history’, and that if necessary the army could come out of barracks to make sure, you agree, I take it, that that would not be a major indication that Turkey was fundamentally undemocratic.

  7. Would you please clarify that?
    A government minister orders a detention without bothering with a warrant or any such thing? What is going on? On the grounds of citing the constitution is rebellious?

    It’s illegal in Spain for members of the armed forces to make political statements. In this situation, the Defence Minister is invested with the duty and power to ask the military police to detain the offender.

    As should be pretty obvious from the story, ‘citing the constitution’ was not the problem here. The problem is that even after a generation of peaceful democracy, the Spanish army still contains elements opposed to democratic reform. Elements who are willing to overthrow the government should they deem it necessary. The very act of making this speech was a focused effort to disrupt the democratic reforms currently being debated.

  8. I shouldn’t post when just woken up 😉

    Well, but this has all the signs of making an example of a man. It may be perfectly legal, but it is not right. This is not a serious threat. Else the government would take much more drastic measures.
    It uses exceptional penal power for political means. Justice isn’t done that way. Such penal powers are justified only in emergencies.
    That man deserves early retirement, but not detention.

  9. He’s not being detained indefinitely. He’s being detained until Friday, when the cabinet can meet and have him dismissed.

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