Spanish newspapers reveal support for military coup

Right-wing daily paper La Razón today continues its anti-Catalan campaign with another series of letters published in support of Lt Gen Aguado who was arrested for threatening military action against Catalonia. Yesterday, La Razón claimed that it had received a letter signed by 50 retired military personnel who strongly support the general, while today it is the turn of civilians to call on the Spanish armed forces to save us all from the agonising choice of democracy.

El Mundo and La Razón today also both lead on stories claiming that the upper echelons of the Spanish army are in turmoil over the proposed Catalan statute of autonomy. The suggestion – taken very smoothly from PP rhetoric – is that the Socialist government have brought Spain to the brink of… well no one wants to say quite what we're on the brink of… that Spain is in trouble and that the Socialists have maliciously pushed us all into this situation. This claim is pretty difficult to understand, given the positions of the two main parties on a range of issues.

It all started with the PP losing the election after their handling of the Madrid bombings.  For those who don't remember, the right-wing party tried to blame Basque separatist group ETA for the bombings, even when they knew it was impossible that ETA were involved. The truth was that Al Qaeda had carried out the attacks in retribution for Spain assisting in the invasion of Iraq – a PP policy opposed by nearly 90% of the Spanish population.

After losing the popular mandate, the PP felt that they had been cheated. Indeed, just before the vote – when it looked like they were going to lose – José Maria Aznar tried to cancel the election… a sort of quiet coup which would almost certainly have triggered mass civil disturbances. The King told him where to go. So the PP did what spoilt brats do best – had a tantrum and refused to ever play with the Socialists. In short, the PP swore to oppose any legislation whatsoever that was proposed by the Socialist party. If the Socialists proposed tax breaks for PP members, the PP would probably vote against it and go on television to declare it "the most dangerous policy idea in a million years".

Herein lies the problem. As the PP are fundamentally opposed to the Socialist party, they take every opportunity they can to appear on television railing against proposed reforms (minor and major) and more and more often suggesting that the Socialists are driving Spain into the abyss. This is what's referred to as brinkmanship politics, and it's a very risky game. The result of constantly claiming that the political climate is overheating and in fact about to boil over, is that you raise the political temperature. This is of benefit for the PP because firstly they can claim that it's the Socialists' fault, and secondly if things do go wrong, the PP will be the people who benefit. The other risk of this posturing is if nothing happens. if the PP spend four years gnashing their teeth and wailing about the impending disaster – and then nothing happens – well, they're going to look pretty stupid. The problem with this is that it is therefore in the PP's interests to plunge Spain into a constitutional crisis: they will benefit from a military coup, and will look stupid if one doesn't happen.

Yesterday's Financial times covers the whole Aguado debacle very well but it is the closing argument that I agree with most vehemently:

Spain's constitution should also be amended to spell out the supremacy of civil over military power. Unfortunately, the opposition Popular Party, still unreconciled to its ejection from power after the Madrid bombings of March 2004, seems to think Gen Mena has a point. That could represent a greater threat to Spanish unity than Catalonia's autonomy ambitions. (source: FT, 10-jan 2005)

This is exactly the point. The Catalan statute of autonomy is not something worth tearing ourselves apart over. Yes, I support it. But I support similar moves for tyhe Basque country, Galicia, Andalusia and any other country who have democratically chosen to expand their autonomy. The future of Spain does not lie with dogmatic Madrid-centric fascism. it lies in a vibrant, liberal society – devolved in its regions with political freedom, democracy and equality as its foundation.

13 thoughts on “Spanish newspapers reveal support for military coup

  1. Devolution sounds great in principle but in terms of governance has had very mixed results in Spain's 17 autonomous regions: for example, while the Basque Country, despite being blighted by violent separatist terrorism, has taken class-leading initiatives in housing, healthcare and telecoms, the Catalan Generalitat has established an exclusive ethnocracy which ETA fighters can only dream of.

    It is unthinkable for Spanish to be used in the Catalan Parliament, for instance, even though half of Catalonia's tax payers are mother-tongue Spanish speakers. For years, official AIDS-HIV public information was available only in Catalan, despite proof that Catalan speakers were the group at lowest risk of infection. Some would call this genocidal public policy. The Catalan civil service and the multifarious public-private joint companies – generally monopolostic – suffer a nepotistic staffing level which is seldom questioned by the local media. Non-Catalan Spanish companies, large and small, have usually had to pay bribes to win public tenders in Catalonia. This third-world situation is tolerated in the general context of corruption: I.T. company Indra helped make a son of the previous Catalan president a millionaire in order to gain sizeable contracts in Catalonia. I could go on with pages of examples such as this.

    It is my impression that most Spaniards are so tired of Catalan demands, fuelled by identity-politics rhetoric, that they feel a ghoulish delight at General Mena's comments, though they would in no way approve of martial law anywhere except Ceuta or Melilla.

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  2. Nepotism is despicable but it is hardly confined to Catalonia. Nor have I ever heard of non-Catalan companies being at any particular disadvantage when trying to do business here. There may well be pages of examples of Catalan nepotism, but I should imagine that Madrid competes fairly well in the wordcount!

    I don't agree that Spanish people are sick and tired of Catalan demands for greater autonomy. I think that anyone who has watched national TV in Spain over the last four years will know that the right are far more media-savvy than the left or Catalan nationalists. Spanish TV viewers are constantly bombarded with scare stories from the right wing (Rajoy – like Aznar before him – never lets a day go by without an accusatory press conference) – and it is this saturation of the news by the PP which is exhausting people.

    I think the secret at the heart of the right wing rhetoric in Spanish politics is that there is a large proportion of the population who for one reason or another really believe that things were better under Franco. I make no secret of my ideas: I'm opposed to the right and it worries me that their misleading stories about L'Estatut and so on have gathered such momentum.

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  3. Is very nice blog you have here. Where is kinkyjhon who post at my blog? I didn't realize you were english person living in spain.

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  4. Thanks, Manuel.

    All I know about Kinky John is that he sometimes posts comments to people's sites and leaves my address.

    You can find some more information about Kinky John here.
    "I am not an insect. I am a human insect".

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  5. Let me tell you a parable.

    About the year 1990, after the opening of Spanish telephony market, Catalonia and Basque Country created local telephony providers: Cable i Televisió de Catalunya and Euskaltel.

    Euskaltel was an emerging company and was widely implanted all over the Basque Country.

    Cable i Televisió de Catalunya found a lot of problems with cable works: Barcelona's area local authorities didn't give needed authorizations for these works on the street. Why? Because PSOE, the party which hold the local government of many of these towns, was strongly against this company.

    Well, the reason? Euskadi is about 5% of the total Spanish market of telephony while Catalonia is about 30%.

    End of parable.

    Now, translate this knowing to public finances and all you (or I, of course) will understand what are we talking about when we talk about the Estatut.

    And a final question: when people says we don't want to pay taxes, this isn't too accurate. What we want to is not to pay more than a 5% of our GDP. Nowadays this amount is about a 12% and solidarity in Germany is limited in a 4%.

    So, all this results that Spain will use every "weapon" (fig., I hope not lit.) in its hands against the loosing of this way of forced investment.

    One more thing (excuse me). I read in another comment Alex said Barcelona Olympic Games were funded by all Spain. Well, this is untrue. These years, from 1988 till 1992, Catalonia gave about a 4% of its GDP to common treasury, even it received a bigger public investment than ever.

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  6. As Spaniard, I am one of those who is tired, if not bored, of the continuous demands for more sef-rule coming from the Basque Autonomous Government and Catalunya. And I am speaking first hand here as I grew up in a place where Basque Nationalism impregnated with its toxic discourse every aspect of the social life, despite their being a small and insignificant minority. I am not saying the name of the place (although I think it is not hard to guess it) because I prefer to remain as anonymous as possible.

    I am tired of the lack of maturity of the Spanish society in its dealings with politics. It is a clear example of a society that will rather kill itself, and for the most stupid and insignificant reasons, than accept the challenge of becoming a prosperous and forward looking society.

    Tired, bored, having had it, I took the only smart decision at my hand: go somewhere else to live. It's been 5 years I have been living happily in my new homeland and I don't miss a single piece of Spain.

    Is there a risk of military coup? I couldn't care less.
    Catalunya and the Basque Country want to become independent countries? I couldn't care even less. All that is happening nowadays in Spain is nothing more than the will of the people (to be more precise, the will of those elected by the people and whose pupularity is almost intact). Let them, the people, have what they deserve.


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  7. David, thanks for your comment. I agree with your reading of the fiscal situation. I think there are powerful arguments from many angles, in favour of l'Estatut and proposed changes to the Spanish Constitution. Furthermore, I find the Spanish Constitution itself to be something of an embarrassment. It is not right that a modern democracy in Europe should have a constitution which was approved over the barrel of a gun.

    Fernando, thanks for your comment. It's sad to me that you could only find happiness in another homeland.Though at the same time, I am in a similar position. However, I can't agree with some of your opinions: how can you not care if there is a military coup here? While I think it's more likely that I will win the EuroMillions (€120M) Jackpot today, it's not something to be taken lightly. What of your family and friends who remain here? Would you wish another dictatorship on them? Perhaps you represent that large slab of Spain's population who were barely hindered by the dictatorship because you were good Spanish Catholics. Well, it would bother me.

    There's certainly something about this subject that can bring out the strongest opinions of people on either side of the fence. I'm happy to live in a country where this sort of discussion is encouraged, but I'm always disappointed when I see some of the hyperbole employed by extremists on either side. Fernando's ennui with the whole thing is perhaps the easiest and most natural opinion… but then he doesn't live here anymore.

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  8. Tom,

    I am agnostic and my family was not among those who benefited most of the Franco's dictatorship. I am not a radical, nor an extremist. In fact, I am young enough as to having known only democracy in my life. And that's part of my point: why the heck, given that everybody agrees that democracy has brought the longest period of prosperity to Spain in recent history, most politicians are willing to gamble with the whole system to gain a small political advantage here and there? The Spanish ruling class (and I include politicians and those who have the economic and social power) is completely sick (it has alwauys been). In the most advanced democracies of Western Europe and North America, politicians don't gamble with such serious things. Politicians are still crap (otherwise they wouldn't be politicians) but they know pretty well that it is not very smart (actually is very stupid) to gamble with the very foundations of society (and BTW of their own power).

    Spain would better stop thinking that it is the center of the world and that everything revolves around it. Nonetheless to say that the same applies to Catalunya and the Basque Country.

    My family and friends, who are spread accross the whole political spectrum, know as much as I do. I have already talked to them about this issue many times. They want to stay in Spain, fine. They must be willing to assume the possible consequencies of their decisions. We are all grown ups (not kids any more).

    Best and have a great weekend,


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  9. Fernando, thanks for clarifying your position.

    I still must disagree with you on a couple of points though. I absolutely agree that politicians are for the most part megalomaniacal, self interested swine – that's the same the world over. But I don't agree that they should avoid controversial or 'dangerous' issues. This is redolent of a type of self-censorship which renders dictatorship unnecessary. Politicians – just like any other citizens – should always question accepted truth, confront difficult issues and adapt to the changing world.

    Also, in what way are those in favour of l'Estatut gambling with the very foundations of society? That's not the case. They're merely attempting to enshrine in law the democratic will of the Catalan people. If Spanish society really is based on the subjugation of democracy then we haven't come very far.

    As to Spain considering itself the centre of the world… you're onto something there! But isn't that natural for any country, region town or village. Catalonia, Barcelona and the Vallès Occidental are central to my world because I live here.

    ..that said, I hope you have a good weekend too.


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  10. Tom,

    Thanks for your message. And you are free to disagree with my views, of course.

    Saying "democracy" is like not saying much. When most reasonable people refer to "democracy", they refer to "liberal democracy" which is a system which includes popular vote but also other aspects like division of powers, check and balances, inalienable individual rights (which nor the state or the vote can take away) , free markets and the rule of law. In most countries, there is a supreme law of the land or a set of "supreme laws of the land" above which nobody is. When such a law exits identified as such, it is usually named "Constitution", the oldest of which is the Constitution of the United States. In some cases, like the United Kindom, there is no such thing as written Constitution but a set of principles agreed upon by most which serve the same purpose. Direct democracy, many times despised as "mob's rule" is considered not workable for most societies by most political science experts. And in fact, "mob's rule" is the reason why the first democracies in old Greece felt, which made the whole concept of "democracy" being abandonned by almost 2000 years (until the founding fathers of the United States rescued and combined it with other mechanisms to assure that the newly created government would not fall victim of "mob's rule"). To give a more precise example, in California (where I live) there exist something called "initiative". Any group of people with enough number of signatures, not very high, can pass an iniciative to be voted by the people of California every two years. The initiatives that are approved must be adopted by the California legislature. If some approved initiatve violates the California Constitution or the US Constitution it will be overturned by the judges, which has happened in some cases.

    Sorry for the lengtg of the previous parragrah but it was necessary to explain the following. The "Estatut" as it came from the Legislature of Catalunyua violates the Spanish Constitution of 1978, no matter that it was voted by 90% of the representatives. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 is currently the supreme law of the land in Spain, which includes Catalunya. The latter is not a matter of political opinion, is a FACT. To me the gamble is clear:

    – The PSOE forced the Estatut to be approved in the Legislature of Catalunya in order to calm the people who put them in power, ERC. It is gambling it can make in the Spanish Congress constitutional a law that it is not. The mechanisms to modify the Constitution such that it can incorporate the provisions of the Estatut require the agreement with the PP (2/3 of the Spanish Congress), who was clearly not going to give its approval. Their reasoning is that they can reach a middle point where the new law satisfies ERC's demands and still complies with the Spanish constitution.

    – ERC and CIU fueled by their nationalistic ideas gambled that they could force the PSOE to approve a version of the Estatut with many unconstitucional provisions. Proving their lack of pragmatism: an inconstitutional law can be overturned by Spain's Tribunal Constitutional.

    It is clear that ERC is not going to accept a constitutional law (they have to sell their redicalism to their constituency) and it is clear that the PSOE is not going to propose an unconstitutional Estatut (the following day, the PP would file a claim with Spain's Tribunal Constitutional which would be won). If the latter happens, it would mean the fall of Zapatero. And to avoid any accusation that I am on the PP side, the latter too is gambling that by encouraging some of the comments from the military (like Mena's), they can return to power more easily.

    As a result, we are hearing in Spain things that remind not 1980, but 1934 or 1935. And for those skeptical, let me tell you that conditions can deteriorate very dramatically very quickly. In only 2-3 years Yugoslavia went from a reasonably prosperous society, given it was in the Soviet block, to civil war fueled by the very same ethnic hate we are seeing in Spain today.

    Now, was all this necessary? By no means!!!!

    As to being the center of the world… There is a difference between appreciating, and enjoying and being proud of, the place where one lives and thinking it is the center of the world. For instance, while few people would disagree that it is good for Catalunya to be host to several high tech companies, few people would also agree that Catalunya is the center of the technological world. The latter honor corresponds (and it might change in the future) to Silicon Valley.



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