Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Alamán Castro brings back memories of dark times in recent Spanish history. The infantry officer expressed his willingness to sacrifice his own life for the integrity of the Spanish state, and said that any secession of one of Spain’s autonomous regions will only be “over my dead body”.
This ominous statement cannot be easily dismissed nor can it be disconnected from the worsening economic situation in Catalonia, Spain and all of Europe.
His words are in response to the intention of a small town named Sant Pere de Torelló to declare the area as a “free Catalan territory”. The officer called for the arrest of the town’s mayor Jordi Fàbrega for the crime of treason. The motion to declare the town of less than 3000 people as a “free territory” is set for Monday.
In an interview to Alerta Digital, quoted by mainstream La Vanguardia, Alamán Castro made a few references to the military past. He refused to admit the nationalist aspirations of people in Catalonia and the Basque Country, and said the visits of long ruling dictator Franco to Barcelona were more crowded than in Madrid.
In addition, he criticized the current decentralized model of Spanish governance and said that tensions are similar to 1936 (when the Spanish civil war erupted), just “without blood”.
Another scary comment was that the “military doesn’t serve the politicians, but the people”. His words were criticized by several politicians, with one even calling for the arrest of the general.
Many people in the northeastern region of Catalonia wish to see their region become an independent country within the European Union. Many others would settle for more economic autonomy over full independence. The model of the Basque region, where the regional authority collects its own taxes and only pays Madrid for specific services would make many Catalans content. Catalonia doesn’t collect its taxes.
Aspirations for independence exist for centuries, but have risen in recent years, as the economic situation deteriorated. Many feel that the central government mistreats Catalonia. Privately funded, non binding, referendums regarding Independence have been held since 2009 in various cities and towns.
In the last parliamentary elections, the Catalan conservative CiU party won over the nationwide left wing socialists and the right wing PP.
The European debt crisis is also felt directly in Catalonia: the region is unable to raise money in the bond markets to roll its debt. On August 31st, also rating agency S&P joined with a downgrade to junk status (BB/B). The outlook remained negative.
With the absence of funds, the Catalan government asked for aid worth around 5 billion euros from the Spanish government. This can accelerate Spain’s aid request from the European Union, yet such aid comes with conditions: more austerity.
Nationwide Economic Discontent
Discontent with the economic situation has risen during the summer all over Spain, as the government turned back on its promises and introduced a rise in the VAT (from September 1st), alongside other austerity measures.
In addition, funds for banking sector seem to be in abundance: on Friday, August 31st, Bankia reported another big quarterly loss and the government was quick to announce capital injection.
Some analysts have already compared the current financial crisis to the situation in the 30s, which led to a bloody civil war in Spain and later to the WWII. Democracies in Europe seem much stronger than in the 30s and a scenario of seeing blood on the streets doesn’t look realistic.
Nevertheless, statements like these serve as warning signs that a deep economic depression can also risk democratic regimes.