“The homeland comes before democracy”

Defense Ministry to clarify general’s comments about possible military intervention in Catalonia

General Juan Chicharro Ortega (l). / ROMÁN RÍOS (EFE)

The Defense Ministry said Thursday that it will investigate statements purportedly made by a general who justified military intervention in Catalonia as a measure to prevent the region from breaking away from the rest of Spain.

General Juan Antonio Chicharro, who is not retired but is active in the reserves, made his statements to a group of about 100 people who turned out for a panel discussion on February 6 at the Gran Peña, a club on Madrid’s Gran Vía avenue that is frequented by former military officers. According to those present, Chicharro said that he normally would not have accepted the invitation to speak, but the “separatist-secessionist offensive” in Catalonia obligated him to come forward and issue an opinion.

“The homeland comes first and is more important than democracy. Patriotism is emotion and the Constitution is just another law,” the general told the group.

Patriotism is emotion and the Constitution is just another law”

The only active military official to speak during the symposium, Chicharro explained that “there is an overall feeling of worry, fear, uncertainty and confusion” among the military divisions. He said he believed that it was unfortunate that another general, José Mena, was placed under house arrest and later replaced as head of the ground troops after he made a speech on January 6, 2006 criticizing that Catalan autonomy statute and suggesting that military intervention might be necessary to quell the region’s demands for increased home rule.

Among those present at the discussion was the Supreme Court Justice Ángel Calderón, chief justice of the military chamber, Pedro González-Trevijano, the chancellor at the King Juan Carlos University, and Judge José Antonio Fernández Rodera, who is the editor of the military’s in-house magazine Jurídica Militar.

Defense officials said that they have opened a preliminary inquiry to determine what exactly Chicharro said — the first step before ordering a formal investigation.

Diego López Garrido, the Socialist spokesman in Congress on defense issues, called on Defense Minister Pedro Morenés on Thursday to take immediate action against the general. While he criticized Catalan nationalists for interpreting the Constitution in their own manner, Chicharro also had his own opinion of what pertinent amendments mean.

“Article 8.1 does not address the autonomy of the armed forces,” he said, in reference to the clause that states that “the mission of the Armed Forces, comprising the army, the navy and the air force, is to guarantee the sovereignty and independence of Spain and to defend its territorial integrity and the constitutional order.” Article 97 states that the elected administration “shall conduct domestic and foreign policy, civil and military administration and the defense of the state.”

A problem would occur, in the general’s view, “if those responsible for defending the Constitution do not behave in the manner they are required to [by law]," he said.

Then Chicharro asked what would occur if the Popular Party (PP) were to lose its majority in Congress in the next general elections and the Catalan nationalists offered their support in exchange for reforming Article 2 of the Constitution, which outlines Spain as “an indissoluble unity” and recognizes “the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”

“What then would the armed forces do?” he asked, without providing an answer.

If Chicharro meant to be ambiguous, the audience didn’t interpret it that way. Those present gave him a standing ovation with cheers of “Bravo! Bravo!”

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