Luis Gonzalo Segura: “The Spanish army has adopted NATO’s standards but remains Francoist at heart”

  • An interview with the whistle-blowing army lieutenant who was expelled from the Spanish military after reporting corrupt practices

Oriol Bäbler
26.11.2018 - 07:05

A geographer by trade, a conscientious objector and a serviceman, Lieutenant Luis Gonzalo Segura is an unorthodox man with a raucous laughter who was expelled from Spain’s armed forces nearly four years ago. His crime? Being unruly. He refused to toe the line and, tired of being ignored, he exposed all the dirt for everyone to see. No longer in uniform, he is engaged in a court struggle to be readmitted into the army. He is also a contributor to some media and writes books as a means of exposing the flaws of an army that has not forgotten General Franco’s dictatorship yet. His latest title is El libro negro del ejército español [The Spanish’s Army’s Black Book].

—Why did you decide to join the Spanish army?
—I enlisted in 2002. At the time Spain’s armed forces were supposedly changing their ways —or so they claimed— and adapting to the 21st century. Like many others, I believed it. I was looking for a career opportunity. I had a Geography degree and I got a job with the Army’s Geography Centre. My work was mainly of a technical nature. I wasn’t born to kill and shoot … In fact, I had been a conscientious objector, prior to that [he laughs].

—Did you get into trouble while working in the Centre?
—I didn’t. While there it seemed as if they were delivering on their promises. The Centre is, indeed, a 21st century institution, probably because it is staffed mostly with civilian employees. And clearly they aim to be productive, as any business would. The hierarchy in place was not inflexible, either. I worked with lieutenants and NCOs and we used to go for a cup of coffee together, like you do with your workmates.

—When did you bump into the army’s dark side?
—I applied for officer training and got accepted. That’s when my problems truly began. I got to the Officer Training Academy and was met by tearful cadets who were complaining that [then-PM] José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wanted to have Franco’s equestrian statue removed in accordance with Spain’s Historical Memory Act.

—What did you do?
—I did what many on a nice wage and in a good position would do: I tried to fool myself. Besides, I was always the black sheep of my family. Some of them have a background in the armed forces’ legal service, very close to the Franco regime and the far right. They were delighted when I joined the army and I got a lot of support from them. So I tried to stay in my comfort zone and go through the motions. But eventually it became impossible to adapt my views to a structure that is thoroughly Francoist and corrupt.

—Did you try to change the state of affairs?
—First I submitted some internal reports on the irregularities that I had observed, all to no avail. Since nothing had changed, in 2011 I took the matter to court but my complaint was dismissed. In 2014 I decided to go public and wrote a book titled Un paso adelante [One Step Beyond]. That triggered a chain of events which eventually got me expelled from the armed forces.

—At one point you were actually arrested for whistle-blowing, weren’t you?
—I was indeed, it’s that crazy.

—What are your memories of that?
—It was very tough. I even went on a hunger strike as a protest. All in all, the trial lasted about five months. I remember it as the worst time of my life. My jailers where the same people that I had exposed for corruption and I was being abused by them.

—In what way?
—They’d strip me naked to humiliate me or would keep me in solitary confinement so I couldn’t talk to anyone. I felt very lonely and left out. As if my suffering was in vain. I was speaking out, but never got any media attention.

—You have taken matters to court in an attempt to be readmitted. How far have you got?
—It’s a very costly, very complex legal process. I am contesting the three serious offences that justified my discharge. Each one is at a different judicial stage: one is being seen by the Supreme Court, another by the Constitutional Court and the third one by a European court. We’ll see how it pans out. The Supreme Court’s verdict is important because, should it dismiss my allegations —as a press leak has suggested—, then it would go straight to the Constitutional Court. Beyond that, the army would be under no real obligation to take me back.

—What about compensation?
—Yes, sure. If the case goes to Europe and I win, the army will have to pay damages. But the court won’t be able to force them to reinstate me as a lieutenant.

—Excuse me but, why do you want to go back after all the hardships you’ve endured?
—I’ve thought a lot about that all these years. We progressives have not stopped giving up spaces which the far right has seized. If my expulsion from the army is confirmed, it would be a defeat for the more progressive forces in society. Who is left in Spain’s armed forces? You have hundreds of former Franco-era officers who [recently] signed a public statement in favour of the dictator. There are no end of Francoist rituals and symbols being paraded in the armed forces. If progressives do not begin to occupy these places, we will never be able to change things.

—Speaking in the Spanish parliament, you once mentioned that you were really struggling. How are you doing now?
—I’ve had a truly rough time. At the moment I make ends meet by writing for some news outlets. But people don’t want to hire a whistle-blower. Mine is not the only case. Ana Garrido and Roberto Macía went through the same thing, to mention only a couple of names. A businessperson would much rather employ someone neutral over someone who has challenged the system. But it’s not just that. The minute you blow the whistle, the State uses every means available to make your life hell. They defame and slander you, and they do everything they can to undermine your credibility.

—Have you received any threats because of your books?
—Very many. I even got a [threatening] email message signed by someone named F. Alejandre M. The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is called Fernando Alejandre Martínez, you know. I reported it, but the courts chose not to probe where the message had originated.

—Have you been sued?
—Three times.

—By who?
—By the Guardia Civil’s top brass, by former [defence] minister María Dolores de Cospedal and also by the Guardia Civil Officers’ Society. All three cases were dismissed in court. Everything I’ve written is true. The Spanish Army’s Black Book includes nearly two thousand references. It’s not something you’d write over a weekend.

—In your book you describe how the Spanish armed forces are still Franco’s army. How is that possible when you are a NATO member?
—Spain’s is not the only case. NATO could not care less if the armed forces are totally fascist. What they care about is that they pay and agree to go where they are required to. You have the example of Turkey, a country whose president is a genuine Nazi sympathiser. It all boils down to interests. Trump has made it abundantly clear. He expects his NATO partners to foot their bill, not just 2 per cent of GDP, but 4 per cent. I can give you another example. Saudi Arabia is not a NATO member state, but its armed forces are on a par with NATO’s. The fact that the Saudi authorities behead political opponents, homosexuals, atheists and adulterers does not stop NATO from working with them and selling them arms, does it? NATO doesn’t care whether Saudi officers are democratic or not. They only care about their working relationship.

—Are Spain’s defence ministers in control of the armed forces?
—The armed forces are controlled by a clique of power-sharing families. The incumbent minister is merely a figurehead. Margarita Robles is a clear example of that. She tried to thwart an arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but the bombs are in the hands of the Saudis now and she lost all her authority in the process. Having said that, this was a purely cosmetic move, as the bombs in question —carrying a €9m price tag— don’t even account for 1 per cent of Spain’s total arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In the wake of the Khashoggi case, Robles was merely pretending that Spain is an ethical, principled country, but the move backfired on her. Now, when [former defence ministers such as] Morenés, Bono and Cospedal engage in private business dealings, nobody bats an eyelid. It’s all peachy.

—What if someone tried to get to the bottom of it and reform them?
—Well, that someone would clash with a very important lobby who would spare no efforts to thwart their attempt.

—What lobby is that?
—Obviously King Felipe is their visible face. King Felipe will be a hurdle for anyone looking to reform Spain’s military. He has shown sympathy for Franco and his followers many times. He has allowed them to keep their dukedoms and has awarded contracts to Franco’s descendants within the Royal Guard itself. He is a Franco sympathiser, make no mistake.

—The announced plan to move Franco’s remains surely didn’t go down well.
—Not at all. In fact, that’s what prompted hundreds of former officers to kick up such an angry fuss. Just to give you an idea of the extent of the deceit on the general public, Lt. General Aparicio, one of the highest-ranking officers who signed the public statement [in support of Franco], was the last officer to have me arrested back in 2015. That there shows you that we are not dealing with dinosaurs, here. They are officers who used to hold top positions until very recently. In an interview Aparicio himself claimed that the armed forces have moved along since the political transition [following Franco’s death]. But now he has signed a public statement slamming the removal of the dictator’s body! It’s mad.

—Do you think the officers who signed the statement will face any consequences?
—Absolutely not. But the key issue here is what the ministry has failed to do. They should have launched a probe to see how deeply the far right has infiltrated the armed forces. A couple of years ago in Germany they realised that they had Nazis in the military. After an extensive investigation and a shake-up of the barracks, they expelled three hundred servicemen. In Spain not only did they not probe the matter, but they repeatedly cover up for one another and protect any proven Nazi sympathisers.

—Why do you think the armed forces were not democratised during the political transition?
—The army is a representation of society. If ours was a fully democratic society, our army would not be the way it is, because it’d be at odds with society. Obviously, the armed forces followed a process that is very similar to our society’s, which has modernised without becoming fully democratic. The army has adopted NATO’s standards and is able to take on missions abroad, but it remains Francoist at heart. Same thing with the State.

—What is needed in order to democratise it?
—To adapt it to the 21st century. Creating trade unions for service personnel, allowing free speech, scrapping the military justice system. Courts martial make no sense at all in peace times. If a colonel sexually assaults a female private, the case should be tried by an ordinary court of law. You can’t have another officer try him and let the crime go unpunished. Once these changes have been implemented to adapt to Europe, Francoism will begin to fade.

—In your book you keep mentioning the PP and the PSOE as accessories to the continuity of Francoism. What’s your opinion of the Podemos secretary in Madrid, a former Chairman of Joint Chiefs? Did he do anything to change the army while he was in office?
—He didn’t, as far as I know. While it’s true that a number of people in the military have reported several atrocities and aberrations in the army, I don’t believe Julio Rodríguez is one of them.

—Is graft a systemic problem in the army?
—Contracts are awarded without a tender, money is laundered, faulty or useless weapons systems are purchased … It’s a well-known systemic problem, but if you expose it, you become a pariah.

—What about “revolving doors”?
—It’s a fact. Truth be told, this is one of the army’s most serious issues. In the Defex case, one of the latest corruption cases, two high-ranking officers were involved in setting up a graft ring. For instance, last January three air force officers got a job with arms manufacturers. And they are not the only ones. In the past, Carlos Villa (the chief of the army’s general staff) and Sebastián Zaragoza (his navy counterpart) got a job with Santa Bárbara Sistemas and Navantia, respectively. It’s outrageous. The arms industry is so powerful that it can even get people like Pedro Morenés appointed defence minister.

—What is King Felipe’s role as head of the armed forces in this complex?
—King Felipe is the figure that holds the regime together, the heir of Franco. We have not seen him protest or complain about anything. We’ve only seen him on tv endorsing the baton charges and police brutality in Catalonia. In contrast, he has never apologised for the army’s scandals and has never asked to shed light on any events. Obviously, his silence speaks volumes. He has remained despicably tight-lipped on the arms sales deal with Saudi Arabia, while he is friendly with the Saudi royal family. In the Yemen those weapons have caused one of the worst humanitarian tragedies on record. They’re not my words, but the UN’s, mind you.

—Any time someone talks about sexual harassment in the armed forces, the name Zaida Cantera comes up. Was hers an isolated case or is the problem widespread?
—It is a widespread problem but, above all, these crimes go unpunished. Only 12.5 per cent of all crimes reported end in a guilty verdict. And whenever an officer or an NCO is convicted, they may still pursue their military career as if nothing had happened. There is a captain who has been convicted of twenty-eight sexual assaults, a colonel of three, a lieutenant (now a captain) was found guilty of attempted rape … It is absolutely horrific. It is unthinkable for a secondary school teacher to be allowed to continue teaching after he has abused twenty-eight pupils. It is humiliating. And not just that: there are commanding officers who have got to keep their jobs and have been decorated.

—But why don’t they get expelled?
—Because of their privileges. Initially because they are tried by other servicemen and, ultimately, because if they are sentenced to three years or less, they are allowed to stay in the armed forces.

—Excuse me?
—You heard me.

— ….
—Our armed forces are made up of criminals. There are over one hundred servicemen who are true criminals. There are conmen, thieves, stalkers, sex offenders … It is a criminal’s paradise.

—What’s the problem with military justice? Is it more military than just?
—Precisely. Unfortunately, the priority for Spain’s military justice is to defend the institution above all else. If the actions of the Supreme Court and the General Council of the Judiciary on the Catalan issue are an embarrassment to the general public, well … That’s nothing compared to the sort of trickery that Spain’s military justice is capable of. For instance, one of the last military panels that I was tried by was composed of two military jurists plus a third member who was merely an infantry man appointed by the minister … I was tried by this guy who knew f*** all about the law. With that sort of precedent, any scandal is possible, as you can Imagine.

—Is the Yak-42 case paradigmatic of this sort of inefficiency and bias?
—It’s the one case that got the media’s attention, but it’s not the only one. Over one hundred service people have died due to negligence, which should have never happened, and nobody has been held to account. Nine of the last ten explosives experts who have died were killed by their own mines, not the enemy’s. Working with faulty weapons systems is just not acceptable. Lince and DMR helicopters have claimed the lives of over forty service personnel. And nobody is looking into it.

—Are those the standards of a NATO army?
—NATO couldn’t care less about all that. All they want is for soldiers to do their job when they are sent on a mission. That’s it. And Spain strives to ensure that men do what is expected of them when they are sent abroad. Ultimately, NATO doesn’t care if sixty soldiers die when a dodgy Yavkolev plane crashes in Turkey. The problem would arise if the Spanish government ever decided that it can’t afford to pay NATO’s dues and reclaimed NATO’s bases on Spanish soil. NATO would see red, then.

—Speaking of money, one Spain’s greatest state secrets is the country’s total defence expenditure.
—Ach … It’s a huge secret and very difficult to find out. They hide budget items in several ministries and some expenses are excluded. I reckon we spend over €20bn on defence. That is truly worrisome. Don’t forget that there are plans to increase the official expenditure —I insist, the official figure—, which amounts to barely €6bn. Spending €20bn on defence is mad and Spain simply can’t afford it.

—Why spend so much? To protect Perejil (1)?
— [laughter] The aim is to keep the arms industry going, especially in the US.

—Let’s focus on Catalonia. As a military man, what did you think of the actions by the Spanish police and Guardia Civil on the day of the referendum on independence last year?
—Absolutely shocking. It was police brutality. My convictions are very clear and the Catalan case is a political issue to do with democracy and it can only be resolved by holding a referendum. If there is one thing Spain should do, instead of sending thousands of men in uniform, is to be self-critical. We need to ask ourselves how come over two million people do not wish to be Spanish. As a matter of fact, many Spaniards would like to flee their country as it is nowadays.

—Has the Catalan independence bid been seen as a real threat within the armed forces?
—Not merely as a threat, but also as an opportunity, mind you. Catalonia’s push for independence is perceived as a threat, an act of aggression, even. But also as an opportunity to intervene under the provision of article 8 of the Spanish constitution, which is the military’s favourite. That way they would return to Spain what the seditious, rebellious Catalan traitors want to snatch from her. This is something which the left and the Catalan parties have overlooked to some extent. Spain’s armed forces, which are not able to defend us because they lack the numbers, could certainly repress us harshly. And, unfortunately, the high command rather likes the idea.

—In fact, last year former colonel Amadeo Martínez stated that the Spanish army is not in a position to seize Catalonia and control it.
—Indeed, that could not happen. Still, it’s not that they aren’t keen to try, even if they are not able to. The top brass are so nutty that they could cause another disaster, like they did in Annual. It’s not for lack of wanting. In a situation of true instability, Spain would not have enough troops to control Catalonia. Obviously, if Catalans remain totally peaceful in the event of a military intervention, the situation would be manageable. But it would become impossible as soon as the rioting and demonstrations kicked off.

Translator’s note:

(1) Perejil is a tiny, uninhabited islet off the coast of northern Africa, which belongs to Spain.


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