Life and trials of the rebel colonel
Anti-royal campaigner, agit-prop performance artist, or simply a “nutcase and traitor”? Retired army officer Amadeo Martínez Inglés is many things to many people.
By Alan Murphy
Seventy-four-year-old Colonel Amadeo Martínez Inglés certainly looks every bit the retired military officer as he marches in his uniform towards the little crowd outside the court. But he doesn’t sound like a typical army colonel. “The Third Republic will soon be born in Spain!” he declaims to the applause of his gathered supporters before entering the Audiencia Nacional, the high court that deals with terrorists, international gangsters and drugs traffickers, to face a 15-month prison sentence for his insults against the king.
It’s April 2012 and he is accused of “Calumnies and Injuries Against the Crown” under Penal Code Article 490.3, a law which has already been quashed by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Arnaldo Otegi. Otegi, a leading Basque separatist who in 2003 said that King Juan Carlos was “chief of the torturers” was sentenced to a year in prison under the same law. But in 2011 the European Court ordered the Spanish state to pay him €20,000 in compensation for having deprived him of freedom of speech.
It appeared that Article 490.3 was dead. But Attorney General Eduardo Torres-Dulce didn’t think so. In December 2011, the same month as he took office with the new Partido Popular government of Mariano Rajoy, an article written by an author and activist – none other than our veteran Colonel Martínez Inglés – appeared on the leftist-republican website Canarias-Semanal. It was entitled “Why do you shut up now?”, an allusion to the words King Juan Carlos himself aimed at Hugo Chávez (“Why don’t you shut up?”) when in 2007, the monarch stormed out of a summit meeting with the Venezuelan president.
The Martínez Inglés article is anything but subtle: the colonel accuses the king of being at the centre of a ring of corrupt officials, of defrauding public funds for his sexual adventures, and most seriously, of himself being behind the 23 February 1981 coup d’etat attempt by Antonio Tejero, the resolution of which saw the king saluted worldwide as a hero of democracy. All these accusations are delivered in a heated rhetoric dripping with contempt and disgust at the king himself and the institutions he represents. He pours scorn on the king’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who had just been charged with operating a multi-million euro embezzlement ring, and who would be excluded from the royal family’s circle that very same month in 2011.
Balanced and calm it wasn’t. But was it a criminal attack on the state? Attorney General Torres-Dulce thought it was, and decided to resurrect Article 490.3, despite it having been overturned in the European Court just a few months before. Perhaps he thought that the Martínez Inglés article was as clear a case of lèse-majesté as could be found, and the gravity of the case would somehow override the European Court’s ruling on freedom of speech in the Otegi case. Maybe he thought that the colonel would just stop being rude to the king if he was prosecuted with the full force of the law. He evidently didn’t know the colonel very well.
However it came about, in March 2012 the Audiencia Nacional charged Martínez Inglés with the crime of insulting the king and the prosecutor called for a 15-month prison sentence. Martínez Inglés decided to fight the charge by demonstrating that the outrageous charges he laid against King Juan Carlos in the article were all true. He stood up in court and demanded that certain witnesses be produced and examined: Urdangarin, his wife Princess Cristina and business partner Diego Torres, to give evidence on the alleged Instituto Nóos fraud network; Corinna Su-Zayn Wittgenstein and Bárbara Rey to talk about what they knew of the king’s private life; convicted fraudster Mario Conde to talk about corruption networks; and Tejero, leader of the 1981 coup attempt, to testify on the background to that event.
Spain’s “material and moral ruin”
So what has the colonel got against the king?
“I have nothing personal against him,” he insists, in an exclusive interview with Iberosphere. “My problem is with an institution which was not chosen by the Spanish people and which was imposed by Franco. The official theory that the King is a hero of the democratic Transition is something that serves the heirs of that tradition of dictatorship. This is the political partitocracy, the establishment, who presided over 30 years of corruption which has brought us to material and moral ruin.”
Martínez Inglés entered the army at the same time as the king, his almost exact contemporary, and studied as a cadet at the same military academy in Zaragoza. Then as a lieutenant he commanded a combat unit in the Ifni conflict (1957-58), the last “hot war” of the Spanish colonial period in the Sahara, and was with Parachute and the Sahara Nomad Troops throughout the last stage of Spanish rule there.
In the Transition years he was in the army general staff, but was just as surprised as everybody else by the 1981 putsch. This coup has since become the centrepiece of Martinez Inglés’s version of modern Spanish history. By the author’s own account, his allegedly criminal article on the website is devoted to exposing the king’s role in this plot, as is his mammoth book The King Who Didn’t Love Elephants. “It documents this most peculiar king, the peculiar manner he has been permitted to reign, and his alleged misdemeanours.”
For Martínez Inglés, his growing doubts about the commitment of his high command colleagues to democratic transition were confirmed when in 1989 he was thrown in the military brig at Alcalá de Henares for five months after publishing an essay calling for an end to conscription and full professionalization of the military. After prison he was quietly retired.
In the nineties he went into left-wing politics, and in 1993 denounced Isabelo Herreros the leader of his own party, Izquierda Repúblicana, for defrauding official party funds. (Herreros was later acquitted of these charges). Since then Martínez Inglés has gone it alone, though he helps various republican and left-wing collectives mainly by contributing his voluminous output of articles.
But occasionally he steps into the limelight as a rebel soloist, a kind of agit-prop performance artist. In 2003, when José María Aznar brought Spain into the Iraq War, Martínez Inglés was briefly the media magnet of anti-war protest coverage, as he paraded in his impeccable uniform and protested Spain’s involvement in an illegal war.
A revolutionary wedding guest
Then, during the 2004 Royal Wedding between Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia in Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, Martínez Inglés sneaked into – or “infiltrated”, as he calls it – the event without any invitation, just using his military uniform. TV tapes of the event show the guests milling around while the infiltrated colonel, armed with his regulation automatic pistol, moves calmly between his designated “control points”. When finally challenged by officials, he left the cathedral, but he had spent 20 minutes inside the high security zone. In his book he describes this action as a minutely pre-planned operation, and indicates that the aim was to issue a statement of republican protest during the wedding ceremony itself. But his cover being blown, he left as he was politely asked to do by the court ushers and security men.
Now he’s in the limelight again. For every right-wing Spanish colonel like Tejero, Martínez Inglés is determined to act as the left-wing antiparticle. Recently he has come out in favour of a Catalan referendum on self-determination, and earned the praise of many Catalan nationalists as “the good colonel” in contraposition to the “bad colonels” who suggest armed suppression of their secessionist aims. For this he is also reviled in the right-wing press as a “nutcase and traitor”.
He is trending as the cause célèbre of the republican left, the Catalan independence movement, and the general anti-system alternative blogosphere. He’s at the centre of a storm he has brought on himself, and he relishes the combat. How does he intend to defend himself in this case?
“I’ve refused any kind of legal representation,” he says. “I will defend myself based on the juridical concept of exceptio veritatis. That is, I will prove that the accusations I make are substantiated by fact, and being true, are in no way calumnies.”
As we might expect from a social revolutionary, he sees his own case as piece of a nascent social revolution “This degradation of Spanish democracy is changing at a rapid rate in this impoverished and demoralised country, which is crying out for change. At the same time, the figure of the king is at a historic low in public perception as the Spanish public discovers, despite the self-censorship of the media, the decadent ethical standards of the monarch. This is in some part due to the work of people like me, researchers who have overcome considerable difficulties in order to publish their work”.
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