Spain’s armed forces chief has dismissed as “not representative” leaked chats by retired military officers allegedly talking about shooting political adversaries and praising late dictator Francisco Franco.
In a statement on Friday, Air Force General Miguel Villarroya Vilalta also said the remarks by the retired military members “damage the image of the Spanish armed forces and only confuse public opinion”.
The messages from a private WhatsApp group were published recently by Spain’s Infolibre news website.
They were reportedly posted by members of the General Air Force Academy class that started training in 1963, when Franco still ruled the country.
Some of them were among dozens of retired officers who wrote King Felipe VI last month to criticise Spain’s left-wing coalition government.
The letters to the monarch included some of the language used by far-right politicians and expressed discontent with the “social-communist” government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and its deals with separatist parties in parliament.
The royal palace has not commented on the letter.
It is not clear how many people were involved in the chats.
Spain’s defence minister on Thursday asked prosecutors to investigate, saying the letters and the chats were “reprehensible”.
The country’s leading conservative opposition Popular Party has refrained from condemning the comments while its ally, the far-right VOX party, has said it identifies with the ex-military members.
Villarroya said the Spanish armed forces did not look to the past and were “always in [the] service of the Spanish people and the constitution”.
According to Infolibre, one of the WhatsApp chat participants, while discussing activists advocating for the northeastern Catalonia region’s independence from Spain, wrote: “There is no other choice but to start shooting 26 million [expletive].”
According to local media outlet Catalan News, Infolibre reported one of the retired officers making threats against pro-independence group Catalan National Assembly (ANC) that “someone will have to start doing something [legal or illegal] against these sons of b****s [ANC]”.
Another group chat member referred to Franco, who helped lead a military rebellion that led to Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and then became the country’s dictator, as “the Irreplaceable”.
The armed forces were a backbone of Franco’s regime until the dictator died in 1975.
Spain’s peaceful transition to democracy did not lead to a widespread purge in the military ranks as it happened in other countries emerging from authoritarian regimes.
In 1981, a coup d’etat bid by a few members of a paramilitary police force ended when then-King Juan Carlos I, Felipe’s father, condemned the plot on national television.