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Spanish sailor faces 30 days in custody for signing declaration against Franco

Navy believes the first corporal jeopardized the neutrality of the armed forces by criticizing the former Spanish dictator

Do members of the military on active duty have the freedom of speech to criticize historical figures such as Francisco Franco, or must they remain neutral, despite the former Spanish dictator’s crimes? The Spanish armed forces believe the latter is the correct response, and have opened disciplinary proceedings for serious misconduct against a first corporal who signed a declaration against the military leader.

The tomb of Francisco Franco at the Valley of the Fallen.
The tomb of Francisco Franco at the Valley of the Fallen.

Last summer, 144 senior members of the armed forces, most of them retired, signed a declaration supporting Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and justifying the coup of July 1936. The action upset other members of the military who made a public declaration expressing their “absolute condemnation” of the dictator. “We do not have superior morality, nor do we assert to have any sacred historical inheritance. We depend on the national sovereignty that lies in the Spanish people,” the group stated.

Silence also humiliates the victims and turns us into accomplices of barbarity and treason

The statement was instigated by retired navy captain Arturo Maira, and signed by former members of the Democratic Military Union (UMD) as well as nine people on active duty: a second lieutenant, four corporals and four Civil Guard officers. Investigations have been opened into all nine and, in at least one case, they have led to disciplinary action.

A first corporal is facing up to 30 days in prison for allegedly adding a personal contribution to the declaration, in which he argued: “Silence also humiliates the victims and turns us into accomplices of barbarity and treason.”

The legal officer in charge of reviewing the first corporal’s case explains that while “adhering to, or sharing opinions about, a declaration on historical and apolitical issues” is protected by the sailor’s freedom of speech, the current debate around the exhumation of Franco’s remains “is generating a wide and heated political-social debate, with partisan participation.” For this reason, the officer believes the sailor “could be breaking the duty to political neutrality demanded by the military and the impartiality of a public servant.”

The legal officer did not specify whether this corporal’s actions qualify as serious misconduct for violating political neutrality or a minor misdemeanor for not fully complying with his obligations. Indeed, she admitted that the sailor had invoked his right to remain silent and has not confirmed whether he actually signed the statement. Despite this, the navy has opened disciplinary proceedings against the sailor for serious misconduct. If found guilty, he could be placed in custody for up to a month and lose his station, according to a precedent set by a Supreme Court ruling against then-Lieutenant General Mena, who criticized the Statute of Catalan Autonomy in 2006.

The sailor has not confirmed whether he signed the declaration

Mariano Casado, the lawyer representing the first corporal, argues that members of the military should not have to remain neutral on the historical figure of Franco. In his opinion, “criticizing Franco is not the same as intervening in a political debate or taking sides in favor of one political party against another, because today in Spain no constitutional party can defend the dictator.”

The declaration signed by the first corporal did not even mention the one issue that, according to the legal officer, has been the object of political controversy: the exhumation of Franco’s remains.

What’s more, according to Casado, the precedent set by Mena is not relevant given the general threatened a military intervention (in other words a coup) if the Catalan Statute overstepped certain limits. Mena was sentenced to just eight days of house arrest.

The Defense Ministry has also opened cases into five military officers in reserve (retired from active service but still subject to disciplinary action) who signed the declaration supporting Franco. There is no news that any of them have been disciplined.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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