Tag Archives: Catalonia

colour revolution or not: with protests in Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Haiti and Hong Kong, what are the tests of authenticity?

When the Ukrainians gathered in the square in 2014, the stage had been set for a bloody coup. Today ‘the Maidan’ or ‘Euromaidan’ is seldom if ever mentioned and a false impression is often given that the subsequent Ukrainian civil war was sparked by a Russian invasion of Donbass and its annexation of Crimea. However, at the time of the Maidan, western media featured the Ukraine’s fascist-led colour revolution on a nightly basis: the use of catapaults to launch rocks at the police then applauded by BBC and C4 correspondents alike, as more judiciously were the Molotov cocktails laced with polystyrene for extra adhesion.

Even as it became abundantly clear that leading perpetrators of the violent disorder were neo-Nazi brown-shirts Svoboda and their paramilitary comrades Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector), who were engaged in arson attacks on union buildings and ultimately shooting live ammunition into the square, our media maintained the official charade that this was all part of a ‘pro-democracy demonstration’.

In Venezuela we have been presented with a different fictional account by the same media outlets as once again the US ramped up its repeated efforts to overthrow the elected President, Nicolás Maduro; on this occasion, manoeuvring to replace him with the hand-picked puppet Juan Guaidó. Thus, during another ‘popular uprising’ horrifically violent acts by anti-government thugs that included the burning of opponents alive, went unreported as the corporate media once again parroted the official line that consistently portrayed the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ fighting against ‘a regime’ and ‘a dictator’.

Today we have the so-called ‘pro-democracy demonstrators’ in Hong Kong who are again lauded for their commitment, courage and ingenuity; even when it comes to smashing up buildings, and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police lines. And when considering the authenticity of any uprising, our media’s characterisation of rioting as ‘protesting’ must always be considered a red flag. But besides the one-sided media coverage that quickly prioritises and magnifies the events on the ground (numbers, or rather the perception of numbers matters greatly) and makes this its nightly headline, there are further clues we can look for that help with spotting colour revolutions and distinguishing them from authentic uprisings.

By definition, colour revolutions are driven and directed by outside interests that steer the movement both by means of financial support and by way of official legitimisation (hence the unduly favourable media coverage). And whenever the US State Department issues statements that acknowledge its backing of any protest movement – but especially protests that destabilise states labelled hostile or ‘rogue’ – it is more than likely meddling directly in events on the ground.

In former decades it was left to the CIA to foment uprisings to topple unwanted governments or otherwise unfavourable ‘regimes’, but that role has today been passed over to its soft power agencies USAID and the GONGOs – government-organised non-governmental organisations. Amongst today’s prime movers we find the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which describes itself as “a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and that, in turn, funds think tanks and private NGOs. In their 2012 report, NED indicated that it spent more than $3 million on programmes in the Ukraine alone. It had previously spent millions more in US attempts to destabilise Chevez in Venezuela. As author and historian William Blum writes:

How many Americans could identify the National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate – the Church committee of the Senate, the Pike committee of the House, and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing the powers-that-be much embarrassment.

Something had to be done. What was done was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization, with a nice sounding name – The National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.

It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of public relations, and of cynicism.1

Click here to read the full piece which provides details of NED’s meddling in elections across the world on William Blum’s official website.

Alongside the dirty hands of in-house agencies USAID and NED there is also the closely aligned and US government-funded NGO Freedom House which claims to be “an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world” and “a catalyst for greater political rights and civil liberties”. Habitually too, we will find the involvement of similarly deceptive ‘independent’ ‘pro-democracy’ organisations more than likely funded by or closely associated with billionaire George Soros.

As the Guardian’s Ian Traynor wrote at the time of America’s first soft coup in Ukraine, the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, in an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev”:

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

But experience gained in Serbia, Georgia and Belarus has been invaluable in plotting to beat the regime of Leonid Kuchma in Kiev.

The operation – engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience – is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people’s elections.

He continues:

In Ukraine, the equivalent is a ticking clock, also signalling that the Kuchma regime’s days are numbered.

Stickers, spray paint and websites are the young activists’ weapons. Irony and street comedy mocking the regime have been hugely successful in puncturing public fear and enraging the powerful.

Last year, before becoming president in Georgia, the US-educated Mr Saakashvili travelled from Tbilisi to Belgrade to be coached in the techniques of mass defiance. In Belarus, the US embassy organised the dispatch of young opposition leaders to the Baltic, where they met up with Serbs travelling from Belgrade. In Serbia’s case, given the hostile environment in Belgrade, the Americans organised the overthrow from neighbouring Hungary – Budapest and Szeged.

In recent weeks, several Serbs travelled to the Ukraine. Indeed, one of the leaders from Belgrade, Aleksandar Maric, was turned away at the border.

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute. 2

Click here to read Ian Traynor’s full article.

Applying these criteria, it is possible to test the ongoing protests around the world to ascertain the likelihood and scale of outside interference. In the following sections I provide a brief overview region by region. In summary, those pursuing anti-austerity objectives are almost certainly the least susceptible to external manipulation; these include the mass uprisings in Chile, Ecuador, France and Haiti. The unrest in Catalonia is a consequence of a different form of state repression with historical roots and the mainly peaceful protests are the spontaneous response of a mostly genuine pro-democracy grassroots movement. The situation in Hong Kong is more complicated and compelling evidence of western interference is presented below.

Update:

Press TV compares western media coverage of the protests in Hong Kong, the Gilets Jaunes in France, and the Great March of Return in Gaza:

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Hong Kong

As the initially peaceful protests and mass demonstrations rapidly turned into riots and highly coordinated pockets of violent resistance, it also became increasingly clear that contrary to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, and US government denials, the unrest had indeed been actively fomented by agencies acting on behalf of American foreign policy agenda. The following extended extract is taken from an assiduously referenced investigative piece written by geopolitical researcher and writer Tony Cartalucci:

US policymakers have all but admitted that the US is funnelling millions of dollars into Hong Kong specifically to support “programs” there. The Hudson Institute in an article titled, “China Tries to Blame US for Hong Kong Protests,” would admit:

A Chinese state-run newspaper’s claim that the United States is helping pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong is only partially inaccurate, a top foreign policy expert said Monday. 

Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland the U.S. holds some influence over political matters in the region.

The article would then quote Pillsbury as saying:

We have a large consulate there that’s in charge of taking care of the Hong Kong Policy Act passed by Congress to insure democracy in Hong Kong, and we have also funded millions of dollars of programs through the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] … so in that sense the Chinese accusation is not totally false.

A visit to the NED’s website reveals an entire section of declared funding for Hong Kong specifically. The wording for program titles and their descriptions is intentionally ambiguous to give those like US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plausible deniability.

However, deeper research reveals NED recipients are literally leading the protests.

The South China Morning Post in its article, “Hong Kong protests: heavy jail sentences for rioting will not solve city’s political crisis, former Civil Human Rights Front convenor says,” would report:

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, from the Civil Human Rights Front, was among 49 people arrested during Sunday’s protest – deemed illegal as it had not received police approval – in Central and Western district on Hong Kong Island.

The article would omit mention of Johnson Yeung Ching-yin’s status as an NED fellow. His profile is – at the time of this writing – still accessible on the NED’s official website, and the supposed NGO he works for in turn works hand-in-hand with US and UK-based fronts involved in supporting Hong Kong’s current unrest and a much wider anti-Beijing political agenda.

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin also co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post with Joshua Wong titled, “As you read this, Hong Kong has locked one of us away.”

Wong has travelled to Washington DC multiple times, including to receive “honors” from NED-subsidiary Freedom House for his role in leading unrest in 2014 and to meet with serial regime-change advocate Senator Marco Rubio.

It should also be noted that the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum also sits on the NED board of directors.

This evidence, along with extensively documented ties between the United States government and other prominent leaders of the Hong Kong unrest reveals US denial of involvement in Hong Kong as yet another wilful lie told upon the international stage – a lie told even as the remnants of other victims of US interference and intervention smolder in the background.

The direct ties and extreme conflicts of interest found under virtually every rock overturned when critically examining the leadership of Hong Kong’s ongoing unrest all lead to Washington. They also once again reveal the Western media as involved in a coordinated campaign of disinformation – where proper investigative journalism is purposefully side-stepped and narratives shamelessly spun instead to frame Hong Kong’s ongoing conflict in whatever light best suits US interests.

What’s worse is big-tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google purging thousands of accounts attempting to reveal the truth behind Hong Kong’s unrest and the true nature of those leading it. If this is the level of lying, censorship, and authoritarianism Washington is willing to resort to in order for Hong Kong’s opposition to succeed, it begs one to wonder what this so-called opposition is even fighting for. Certainly not “democracy” or “freedom.” 3

Click here to read Tony Cartalucci’s full article.

Here to read a follow up piece in which Cartalucci explains how Twitter “not only has taken no action to expose and stop US interference in Hong Kong, but is actively aiding and abetting it” by “target[ing] accounts within China itself to disrupt any effort to expose and confront this US-backed unrest unfolding in Hong Kong.”

And here to read an earlier post which provides further background to the current uprising in Hong Kong.

Note that: on Wednesday 23rd, HK’s security chief John Lee announced that the bill that had triggered the initial demonstrations by allowing for the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China – legislation that protesters feared Beijing may use to target dissidents – was officially withdrawn. In response, several opposition lawmakers tried to heckle Lee’s speech, demanding his resignation:

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Haiti

Mass demonstrations demanding the resignation of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, began in July 2018 following disclosure of the embezzlement of $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans when “former Presidents René Préval and Michel Martelly, declared states of emergency, allowing their respective prime ministers — Jean-Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe —to approve projects using PetroCaribe funds”:

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti had accumulated more than $396 million in debt to Venezuela, which the South American nation forgave. But in the last seven years, it has wracked up [sic] almost $2 billion in new debt as Martelly’s government ministers traveled the globe promoting a new image of a post-quake Haiti while reconstruction projects languished and tens of thousands continued to live in camps. As of October, more than 37,000 Haitians still lived in 27 camps, the International Organization for Migration said. 4

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

Although it was the PetroCaribe scandal that sparked the initial unrest, there are many related concerns about government corruption that continue to fuel the protests:

But the anger isn’t just over squandered money. It’s also directed at Haitian politicians and their privileges in a country where two out of three people live on less than $2 a day and concerns are increasing over the potential for more social unrest.

During recent political mudslinging, the president of the Haitian Senate and an opposition senator accused each other of corruption. Sen. Ricard Pierre said Haiti’s cash-strapped government was paying $115,500 to rent a residence for the head of the body, Sen. Joseph Lambert. Lambert in turn accused Pierre of stealing the chamber’s generator.

Pierre denied the accusation. Lambert announced that the Senate would cancel the lease and curtail lawmakers’ privileges. The damage, however, was already done.

“They were not even ashamed,” K-Lib, 37, [whose real name is Valckensy Dessin] said, adding that it’s time for Haitians to stop accepting “corruption and impunity” as normal.

“After the last events that happened to Haiti, the Haitian population understands the necessity for them right now to take part in everything that is happening in the country,” he said. “What’s happening is a movement of massive collective consciousness.” 5

Click here to read the full report published in the Miami Herald.

On Valentine’s Day Al Jazeera reported the deaths of “at least” nine people and “dozens of others injured”. 6 The deaths received very little coverage in either the corporate or alternative media.

Here is a report uploaded by The Real News Network on October 22nd, featuring political economist Keston Perry, who says the Trump administration is propping up the Haitian regime:

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France

Many thousands of Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) anti-austerity protesters will once again peacefully take to the streets in Paris and other cities across France tomorrow for the fiftieth consecutive weekend.

Last weekend’s ‘Acte 49’ protests took place in Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux and looked like this:

And like this – met by a very heavy-handed police response which includes the deployment of water-canon, flash grenades and tremendous quantities of teargas (some dropped from helicopters), while the corporate media generally ignores these protests altogether:

One of the first political commentators to understand the significance of the Gilets Jaunes movement was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 7

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

And here to read my own assessment of the Gilets Jaunes movement from an article published on March 25th entitled “Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition”.

It is difficult to find up-to-date figures of casualties for the full year of Gilets Jaunes protests but as of July, Spiked online magazine was reporting:

The gilets jaunes have been protesting in France – week in, week out – for over six months. They have had to run the gauntlet of tear gas, police batons and rubber bullets every weekend. And yet there has been barely any coverage of the police’s actions – let alone condemnation.

As of this week, the French police stand accused of causing 861 serious injuries to yellow-vest protesters: one woman has been killed, 314 have suffered head injuries, 24 have been permanently blinded, and five have had their hands blown off. Police have attacked disabled people and the elderly. 8

Click here to read the full report published by Spiked online.

On February 23rd, French lawyer and former gendarme, Georgia Pouliquen, produced and uploaded an impassioned video testifying to the brutal treatment meted out against Yellow Vest protestors by President Macron’s French government. In May, Pouliquen travelled to England for the first time in order to help spread the truth about Macron’s assault on the French people. The following upload begins with her original video and afterwards features an extended interview she gave to Brian Gerrish of UK Column News:

Update:

Images from Gilets Jaunes Acte 50 on Saturday Oct 26th:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Priscillia Ludosky, one of the founders of the Gilets Jaunes movement, on RT’s ‘Going Underground’. They discussed the French police’s use of flash-ball riot control guns against protesters, the massive amount of injuries recorded among the Gilets Jaunes protesters, as well as the European Commission’s role in permitting state repression:

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Ecuador

In common with the Gilets Jaunes protests in France, it was the raising of fuel prices that ultimately sparked the ongoing crisis in Ecuador, in this case following President Lenín Moreno’s announcement that his government was intending remove subsidies on petrol. However, the underlying reason for the protests traces back to just a few days earlier when on October 1st, Moreno was quick to capitulate to IMF demands for the imposition of severe austerity measures and a raft of neo-liberal conditionalities following the acceptance of a $4 million loan:

Protests began on October 3 when President Lenin Moreno cut petrol subsidies that had been in place in the country for 40 years. The cuts saw the price of diesel more than double and petrol increase by 30 percent, overnight.

The government also released a series of labour and tax reforms as part of its belt-tightening measures it was forced to undertake when it agreed to a $4.2bn loan with the IMF.

Some of the more controversial reforms include a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a requirement that public sector workers donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month, and a decrease in vacation days from 30 to 15 days a year. 9

Click here to read the full report published by Al Jazeera.

At the height of the protests, Moreno decided to relocate his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil before sending armoured cars onto the streets of the capital Quito in desperate attempts to quell the disturbances:

Tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of people participated.

They were massively disruptive, and the government response was fierce. Security forces killed at least seven people, arrested about 1,000, and injured a similar number. Moreno had declared a “state of exception,” a curfew beginning at 8 pm, and yet still had to flee the capital—temporarily moving it from Quito to the port city of Guayaquil.

writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation magazine, adding:

Amnesty International had demanded “an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and…swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment.” The level of police repression shocked many in a country where security forces are not known for the use of excessive force.

The government also raided homes to arrest political allies of former president Rafael Correa, including Paola Pabón, the governor of the province where the capital, Quito, is located. This continues a disturbing crackdown, which has included trumped-up charges against Correa himself and a number of former officials and the abuse of pretrial detention to force them into exile. On Monday, the Mexican embassy in Quito offered protection to a number of pro-Correa political dissidents, including legislators. 10

Click here to read Mark Weisbrot’s full report entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” published in The Nation magazine.

In the midst of Moreno’s state of emergency crackdown on October 11th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an official statement that begins:

“The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms.” 11

On October 10th, The Real News Network spoke to representatives of two of the largest indigenous organizations CONAIE and CONFENAIE:

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Chile

Protest in Chile erupted a fortnight ago, again in response to unsustainable increases in the cost of living but also with charges of government corruption hovering in the background. In response last Friday [Oct 18th], President Sebastián Piñera announced a state of emergency, and began sending in troops to disperse the demonstrations. As in Ecuador, a curfew was soon put in place. CBS News has since confirmed “at least 18 dead and thousands arrested”:

Approximately 20,000 soldiers are patrolling the streets. Nearly 200 people have been injured, and some 5,000 have been arrested.

Human rights groups expressed concerns about how security forces have handled the protests after the government ordered a military curfew. It was the first such curfew — other than for natural disasters — imposed since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship.

“We’re worried,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press. “The images that we’ve received from credible sources, trustworthy sources, show that there has been an excess of force both by police as well as some soldiers.” 12

Click here to read yesterday’s full report published by CBS News.

Al Jazeera‘s Manuel Rapalo reported from Santiago on October 23rd:

And this is footage of protests that took place yesterday:

Update:

Scenes from Chile’s capital Santiago on Friday [Oct 25th] with police firing tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators:

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Catalonia

On October 6th, author, political activist and commentator Chris Bambery, published an extended piece that put into historical context the rise of the Catalan independence movement and the likelihood of heightened protests in the coming weeks. His piece begins:

Catalonia awaits the verdict in the trial at the Spanish Supreme Court of 12 political and civic leaders charged with ‘rebellion’ and ‘sedition’ for their part in the 1 October 2017 referendum on Catalan independence. That verdict will be delivered before 17 October, the judges say. Brace yourself for a wave of non-violent direct action in response across Catalonia.

Continuing:

In Catalonia hundreds of mayors and councillors face trial for crimes such as keeping council buildings open on Spanish holidays or not flying the Spanish flag on those days, while others face trial for ripping up pictures of the King.

However offensive or outrageous you find such things it is hard to imagine them reaching the courts in Germany, France, the UK or other Western European states. The UK is no paragon of liberty and its democracy is flawed but its handling of the Northern Ireland peace process stands out well in comparison to Spain’s dealings with ETA and the offer of peace. Why are things different in Spain? 13

Click here to read Chris Bambery’s full article.

A few days later the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and EuroMed Rights issued a joint report accusing Spain’s Supreme Court of “serious irregularities” in the trial of the Catalan independentists:

The two organizations alleged that judges didn’t do enough to ensure that lawyers could shed light on the alleged facts—for instance, when they prevented defense teams from contrasting the testimony of some witnesses with actual footage from the scenes they were describing.

Observers from the two organizations, who attended the Supreme Court hearings in person, said that prosecutors called witnesses whose testimonies offered “stereotypical” narratives and didn’t guarantee the right to defense. 14

Click here to read the full report in Catalan News.

In light of the Supreme Court verdict and the imprisonment of nine independentist leaders, protesters then took to the streets of Barcelona:

By late afternoon, thousands of protesters had answered a call from the Tsunami Democràtic movement designed to bring the airport to a standstill.

Thousands set off by car, train and metro. When police closed the station, even more made the three-and-a-half hour journey on foot. Several people were injured as police baton-charged protesters on the concourse of Terminal 1, the main international terminal. Foam bullets were reported to have been fired and video emerged of national and the regional Catalan police beating demonstrators and attacking journalists.

Thirteen people received medical attention and more than 60 flights were cancelled. 15

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

However, the real struggle for independence in Catalonia had already reached its crisis point two years ago on October 1st 2017 when, as eyewitness reporter Kevin Buckland testified:

[A]ll across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote. 16

Click here to read more from my October 4th post entitled “reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia”.

As a friend living in Barcelona reported on the eve of the Catalan elections just a few weeks later:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

Click here to read more of my original post “notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections” published on December 20th, 2017.

But the struggle over Catalonian independence cannot be understood without considering the broader historical context including concessions made following the death of Franco in 1975 and Spain’s transition to democracy. As Chris Bambery explains:

The European Union is very proud of Spain’s Transition and held it up as a model, for instance in the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe. That in part explains its silence on what Spain has done in Catalonia, even its moves to stop three Catalan prisoners and exiles being able to take their seats in the European Parliament after they were elected this year.

When Franco died in 1975 a mass movement of anti-fascist resistance had grown up, strongest in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid. The May events of 1968 had set in motion a chain of events where the left seemed to be in the ascendant.

In ruling circles in Bonn, Paris, London and Washington there was concern that Franco’s death might unleash a mass movement moving in a revolutionary direction. Many on the revolutionary left confidently predicted that the regime could not be reformed but must be toppled.

In Portugal that is precisely what had happened.

Bambery concludes as follows:

It is very clear that the limits imposed on Spanish democracy during the Transition of the late 1970s need to be addressed. But that is something which is near impossible in the current atmosphere in Spain. A conviction for the Catalan 12 will only increase the alienation of that nation from the Spanish state. 17

Moreover, one of the side-effects of the 2008 financial crisis was that it opened up old wounds.

Back in October 2012, I reposted an article by journalist and pro-independentist Esther Vivas entitled “When will we see tanks in Barcelona”. She begins:

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia.

Continuing with tremendous prescience:

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result.

And concluding:

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent.

Appended to Esther Vivas’ piece I added my own “words of caution” that begin:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Click here to read to read all parts of the post entitled “on the struggle for an independent Catalonia”

In short, what is happening today in Catalonia is the almost inevitable consequence of multiple misguided actions by the Spanish state in its attempts to repress the independentist cause which has deep historical roots and was reignited by the austerity measures imposed during the 2008 debt crisis. The decision two years ago to crush a referendum on the spurious grounds that any vote on independence immediately violates the constitution and the draconian sentences issued to pro-independence leaders meant to quell support for the movement has instead emboldened opposition to Madrid and set in motion a potentially unstoppable revolt.

It is curious that some pro-independence sections of the Catalan protests have begun reaching out to pro-western Union Jack waving protesters in Hong Kong given how the colonial ties are in effect reversed, but the fact that tactics employed in Barcelona have copied those tried in HK does not mean the two movements share anything else in common. It is a mistake to confuse these movements.

Update:

Live feed of peaceful protests taking place on Saturday 26th in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence leaders to be freed:

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Final thoughts

There are mass demonstrations in two states that I have avoided discussing for quite different reasons: Palestine (specifically Gaza) and Lebanon.

In the case of Lebanon, where demonstrations began little more than a week ago, I am as yet disinclined to discuss the movement until I have a clearer understanding of its background and goals. Regarding Palestine, on the other hand, the case is absolutely open and shut and I have already posted many articles in support of the Palestinian struggle for recognition and full right to return to their land.

The Great March of Return protest that began in Gaza in March 2018 is the single longest running of all the uprisings in the world today. It is also the most dangerous and the most underreported. Dozens are wounded every single week and a great many of the victims are innocent bystanders and children, while our western governments remain impassive and the corporate media maintains an almost unbroken silence.

The Palestinian Center For Human Rights (PCHR) has documented 214 killings by Israel since the outbreak of the protests on 30 March 2018, including 46 children, 2 women, 9 persons with disabilities, 4 paramedics and 2 journalists. Additionally, 14,251 have been wounded, including 3,501 children, 380 women, 245 paramedics and 215 journalists – it also notes that many of those injured have sustained multiple injuries on separate occasions. 18

Today marks the 81st Friday of the mass demonstrations in Gaza. If we wish to hold up a standard against which all other popular uprisings might be gauged then it must surely be the Palestinian Great March of Return. If there is any flag to be waved today and any cause to stand firmly in solidarity with, it is for the freedom of the Palestinian people, and most especially those trapped within the open air prison of Gaza.

Update:

Palestinians gathered in the east of the blockaded Gaza Strip for the 80th consecutive Friday [Oct 25th] to demand the right of return to their ancestral homes. They also called for an end to the illegal Israeli blockade on the enclave, which according to the United Nations amounts to collective punishment:

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1 From an article entitled “Trojan Horses and Color Revolutions: The Role of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” written by William Blum, published in Global Research on August 7, 2017. https://www.globalresearch.ca/trojan-horses-and-color-revolutions-the-role-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-ned/5515234

2 From an article entitled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

3 From an article entitled “US is Behind Hong Kong Protests Says US Policymaker” written by Tony Cartalucci, published in New Eastern Outlook on September 9, 2019. https://journal-neo.org/2019/09/09/us-is-behind-hong-kong-protests-says-us-policymaker/ 

4 From an article entitled “Haiti owes Venezuela $2 billion – and much of it was embezzeled, Senate report says” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on November 15, 2017. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article184740783.html

5 From an article entitled “’Where did the money go?’ Haitians denounce corruption in social media campaign” written by Jacqueline Charles, published in the Miami Herald on August 23, 2018. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article217110220.html

6 “Death toll rises in Haiti protest crackdown” published by Al Jazeera on February 14, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/death-toll-rises-haiti-protest-crackdown-190214174428945.html

7 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

8 From an article entitled “So now you care about France’s brutal treatment of protesters?” published by Spiked magazine on July 2, 2019. https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/07/02/so-now-you-care-about-frances-brutal-treatment-of-protesters/ 

9 From an article entitled “Ecuador unrest: What led to the mass protests?” written by Kimberley Brown, published in Al Jazeera on October 10, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/ecuador-unrest-led-mass-protests-191010193825529.html

10 From an article entitled “Ecuador Reaches a Deal – but Unrest May Return” written by Mark Weisbrot, published in The Nation magazine on October 16, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/ecuador-protests-imf/

11 https://www.state.gov/united-states-response-to-protests-in-ecuador/ 

12 From an article entitled “At least 18 dead and thousands arrested in Chile protests” published by CBS News on October 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/chile-news-santiago-at-least-18-dead-and-thousands-arrested-in-chile-protests-2019-10-24/ 

13 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

14 From a report entitled “Human rights groups denounce ‘serious irregularities’ in Catalan trial” published by Catalan News on October 9, 2019. https://www.catalannews.com/catalan-trial/item/human-rights-groups-denounce-serious-irregularities-in-catalan-trial

15 From an article entitled “Violent clashes over Catalan separatist leaders’ prison terms” written by Sam Jones and Stephen Burgen, published in the Guardian on October 14, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/catalan-separatist-leaders-given-lengthy-prison-sentences

16 From an article entitled “Disobeying Spain: the Catalan Referendum for Independence” written by Kevin Buckland, published in Counterpunch on October 3, 2017. https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/10/03/disobeying-spain-the-catalan-referendum-for-independence/ 

17 From an article entitled “Flawed transition: why the Spanish state is repressing the Catalan independence movement” written by Chris Bambery, published in Counterfire on October 6, 2019. https://www.counterfire.org/articles/history/20589-flawed-transition-why-the-spanish-state-is-repressing-the-catalan-independence-movement

18 https://pchrgaza.org/en/?p=13019

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notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections

On October 27th, the Catalan parliament honoured the result of the independence referendum held on October 1st by voting in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence. Within hours the Spanish Senate in turn voted to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend regional autonomy and dissolved the Catalan Parliament. Prime Minister Rajoy immediately called for regional elections to be held on December 21st.

On the eve of the Catalan elections, here is another update courtesy of my friend in Barcelona. Firstly, in response to the anti-democratic clampdown on Catalonia since the independence referendum:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

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Secondly, on the prospects for tomorrow’s vote and the likely repercussions:

I don’t know what polls you looked at, but the ones that newspapers of all tendencies have published here say that it will be a close thing between Esquerra Republicana and Citizens. I’m sending you a link to an article in the Financial Times (sorry about the rotten source) that presents the data as it has appeared in Spanish and Catalan media.

I don’t have a clue how valid the polls are. All I can say is that most newspapers in Spain are right wing, so if all these right-wing media (including FT) are saying the independentists have a good chance of winning, maybe they will win. On the other hand, they might be deliberately exaggerating the independentists’ chances in order to encourage unionist participation.  Who knows?

As for the Thursday vote, that’s another conundrum. Some say that an election on a working day is likely to have lower participation than on a Sunday [in Spain elections are usually held on weekends], since people in precarious jobs (i.e. most workers) will probably hesitate to ask their bosses permission to go to the polling station (though legally they’re entitled to four hours off to do so). In principle lower participation should damage the unionist side, since abstention in Catalan election has traditionally been quite high on that camp. But of course this is an unusual election and they should be more motivated than in the past. Maybe only the staunchest people on both sides will make the effort to vote, and if this is the case, the non-committal Podemos-type left (Catalunya en Comú) will do badly. But this could work to the latter’s advantage after all, because if there is a hung parliament (there may well be a draw between the two blocks), they might become the arbiters of the situation and force some sort of compromise solution. Otherwise, there would have to be a repeat of the election. And so on and so forth…

The one thing that’s clear to me, in answer to your question, is that if the independentists win, they won’t be able to go ahead with their separatist agenda for the simple reason that their leaders are either exiled, or in prison, or on bail under promise not to break the law again, or indicted, or about to be indicted, or in the case of CUP (the radical independentist party), quite likely to be made illegal. In fact they haven’t even been able to talk much during the election campaign, since saying certain things would mean an arrest. It’ll be quite an act of protest on the part of Catalan voters if they win, given these circumstances; and in fact this is why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to vote for Esquerra Republicana. But it will be a symbolic act and nothing else.

Something else that may well happen is a rigged election. I know this sounds weird and impossible in a European country, but a lot of weird and impossible things have happened over here since last September, so if I’m paranoid, it’s not without some justification. For example, the IT company hired by the Spanish government to count the votes is one that already raised suspicion when in the last Spanish election (the one that had to be repeated) Podemos lost about one million votes in six months. Apparently this company have close ties with Partido Popular and have been appointed arbitrarily and without following due procedure. The rumours of rigging are so widespread that there will be the largest number of voluntary observers in polling stations ever. But what happens once the data is sent to the central system is more difficult to keep track of. Would it really be so difficult for the Spanish government to alter the results?

Finally, I’m not surprised that May is backing Rajoy and that the media have stopped being interested in us. We’re after all of no economic or strategic importance to anybody. And I guess from the point of view of the rulers of Europe, having authoritarian regimes ruling peripheral countries like Spain or Greece can only be a good thing. After all we had Franco for forty years and nobody batted an eyelid, so long as the US could keep its military bases in the peninsula. I don’t think things have changed that much.

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Update:

On Friday 22nd, the day after the elections, Democracy Now! interviewed Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the new book “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.”

Faber compared Spain’s clampdown on the independentist movement to “a kind of McCarthyism”:

It’s really important to understand that despite the fact that what—despite what happened yesterday, where the pro-independence parties continued to hold onto a majority of seats, this judicial process is continuing. In fact, this very morning, so the morning after the elections, the Spanish Supreme Court announced that it was further indicting a bunch of other leaders of the pro-independence movement, of all the different pro-independence parties, as well as the civil society movement that has been supporting independence.

And you can describe this as a kind of McCarthyism, where what is, in principle, a legitimate political position, which is the idea that Catalonia is better off on its own as an independent republic, has become criminalized. And in the same way that in the 1950s communism was a reason to persecute political ideas, the same is happening now in Spain, where the judicial branch of the Spanish state is applying pressure and sort of setting boundaries to what is sayable and thinkable politically.

Regarding the future, he said:

Rajoy has said already, this morning in a press conference, that he is not going to talk with Puigdemont anywhere. Rajoy, in his typical stubborn denial fashion, has said he is not going to do that. It’s really—one could wonder how long this attitude of Rajoy, this kind of denialism of Rajoy, can withstand reality, the political reality of the fact that at least about half of people in Catalonia do not see the Spanish state as their state and want to leave. It’s really unclear whether Rajoy can keep this up, but he’s going to, for sure, try.

Currently, the Catalan self-government continues to be revoked. Rajoy said this morning he will—the self-government will be reinstituted as soon as a new government has been formed. And now the question is whether the three pro-independence parties will be able to actually form a government. They do have a majority of seats, but there’s three of them, and they don’t see eye to eye on everything. So it’s still up for question whether this government can be formed. And it’s up to question how the government will look, because of the 70 pro-independence deputies that were elected yesterday, eight are either in exile or in prison currently.

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

 

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reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia

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A day of tyranny

On Sunday, all across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote.

writes independent journalist Kevin Buckland, who provides eyewitness testimony of the Spanish government’s savage determination to thwart Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia.

He continues:

I am sitting on the floor of the polling station in central Barcelona, a long line has grown behind us. We have been here for hours already, but it doesn’t bother us. Just by being here we are useful. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and faces are emerging from beneath the umbrellas. It could be the line of people waiting to see a movie, young couples, the middle-aged with their adult daughters, families with children — these are not protestors, these are people.

There is a nervous tension, as we wait we are seeing realtime images of polling stations that look exactly the same as ours having their doors kicked in, people pulled away by their hair, elderly women thrown down stairs; twitter is a scroll of police clubs and rubber bullets. In some places the hundreds of people, with arms linked or hands in the air are enough to turn back the police, in others masked men walk out of schools holding half-filled ballot boxes.

Please take a second to imagine this: you go to your usual polling station and, as usual, you wait in a short line to vote. As you wait, masked men in dark armored suits smash their way in, pushing the elderly, clubbing your neighbor and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. They grab the ballot boxes and march out. They steal your vote; steal your voice. Twitter says there are 234 people injured.

This is the largest act of civil disobedience I have ever seen, and the bravery it required of the everyday people should not be diminished. Just by standing in that line we were all risking great harm. We wait our turn, patiently and calmly, but nervously. We pass the time by chatting to those next to us in line. The woman in front of us tells us of the first time she voted after fascism ended; of the student protests and the police brutality. In a country with such a recent history of dictatorship, voting means something different for the older generation.

The crowd cheers after an elderly woman walks past the long line after voting, she claps her hands in joy and the crowd joins her. Having spent most of her life under fascism, democracy must taste sweeter. I see the woman in front of me wipe away a tear. The crowd cheers next for a old man in a wheelchair and a young couple with their baby, the noise follows each of them from the polling station. We cheer for everyone, not for how they voted, but becausethey voted. This has become about more than independence, it is about the right to vote; the right of a population to ask itself a question and to answer it.

Click here to read Kevin Buckland’s full report of the day.

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Richard Sudan was another journalist who encountered the brutality first hand. The following extract is drawn from an article published by RT:

I witnessed for myself police trying to control the flood of people entering one polling station in Barcelona, only to fail due to the sheer numbers of those present. A number of videos showed police entering separate polling stations and seizing ballot boxes full of votes that had been cast. Were it not for the large amounts of people occupying the polling station where I spent the afternoon, I believe the same thing would have happened there too.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Spain, or any other country, cannot claim for itself the status of ‘a democracy,’ while repressing the fundamental democratic freedoms of its people, in this case, the Catalans. Personally, the situation brings to mind the plight of the Palestinians, who are routinely attacked by the Israeli state while Israel harps on about being a democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Now, we’ve all the seen the images of the Spanish police beating Catalans, shutting down polling booths, and seizing ballot boxes. What I didn’t see, however, and which is a stark paradox in my mind, were gatherings of neo-Nazi nationalists who were openly doing Nazi salutes in Catalonia Square being challenged with the same vigor, by the very same police who were attacking the polling booths. Why? How can this possibly make any sense?

How can the Spanish police justify their crackdown on voters while allowing neo-nationalists to make open Nazi salutes and parade in Barcelona unchallenged? Are the Spanish authorities really more afraid of the ballot box than neo-Nazis?

Entitled “Deafening silence: EU must condemn Spain’s Catalonia crackdown”, the same piece continues:

The only thing worse than this violence and hypocrisy is the deafening silence from other European and world leaders. The EU as a bloc has failed to take a formal stand against the brutalization of the Catalan people, who are, after all, citizens of the EU. Now, I’m not a fan of the neo-liberal economic program that underpins the EU, and I’m even less of a fan of the ‘leave’ campaign in Britain.

But it cannot be right, that the leadership of the EU is silent on this issue of Catalonia when it is so willing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere.

Click here to read Richard Sudan’s full report.

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Media silence and complicity

In the days leading up to the referendum, corporate media outlets with few notable exceptions (RT, Al Jazeera and to some extent the Guardian), uncritically repeated the pro-Madrid mantra that the independence election was unconstitutional and thus illegal. Here was the patina of legitimacy for what would quickly follow. Repeating it meant promoting the Spanish government’s pretext for violent suppression. It justified the media’s collective decision to downplay an already impending paramilitary crackdown against a peaceful movement.

Of course the full shock of Catalonia’s bloody Sunday could hardly fail to make headline news across the mainstream. That said, the media is well-honed in methods for spinning half truths and so although widely reported, the true picture was obscured nonetheless: voters became “protesters” with Madrid’s armoured enforcers portrayed as “the security cordon”. Reprinted below is part of an excellent post put together by Craig Murray which summarises the propaganda techniques used across the British media:

This was a headline on the Guardian front page at 10.29am today. The people who wrote it are highly educated media professionals. The misleading impression a natural reading gives is absolutely deliberate.

Maintaining the Establishment line in face of reality has been a particular problem for picture editors. The Daily Telegraph has produced a whole series of photos whose captions test the “big lie” technique to its limits.

Note the caption specifically puts the agency for the “clash” on the people. “People clash with Spanish Guardia Civila…”. But the picture shows something very different, a voter being manhandled away from the polling station.

Actually what they are doing is preventing voters from entering a polling station, not preventing a riot from attacking a school, which is the natural reading of the caption.

In fact the firemen are trying to shield people walking to vote from the paramilitaries. The firemen were attacked by the Guardia Civilia shortly after that.

Sky News every half hour is repeating the mantra that the Catalan government claims a mandate for Independence “after a referendum marred by violence”, again without stating what caused the violence. In general however Sky’s coverage has been a great deal better than the BBC; Al Jazeera has been excellent.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

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What next?

When Spanish President Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police forces to Catalonia to repress an illegal referendum for independence, he probably thought it would bring some closure to an open issue. Perhaps, enforcing the law violently on peaceful citizens who just wanted to cast a vote, and doing it on the global stage would finally convince those rebellious Catalonians that their cause was lost.

Far from closure, the events of 1 October 2017 will cause more consternation in Catalonia than ever before. It is fair to question if Catalonians live in a 21st Century democracy, whether their most basic human rights are going to be respected and whether there is any room for political dialogue. Many of those who were not pro-independence before yesterday but supported a referendum, are probably wondering today whether there is any point in even considering staying in Spain, after all.

writes journalist Victor Lasa in another article published by Counterpunch.

Lasa continues:

Make no mistake, this is not a symptom of political idiocy, but a well-thought, effective strategy. Surveys are already showing the PP [Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid] would win the government again, by a landslide. The PP thrives in conflict, and Catalonians served them one on a silver platter. Why resolve a conflict when you can benefit from it instead?  This is classic Real Politik applied within its own borders. By simplifying and trivializing, they polarize the electorate, perhaps leaving almost no chance for those who show moderation and relative impartiality, like center-left PSOE and Podemos. On the other hand, this conflict is the perfect attention deviation device. One they desperately need to divert attention from hundreds of cases of rampant corruption, which include the political manipulation of the same national police they sent over to Catalonia.

Madrid’s iron-fisted suppression of Catalan nationalism plays well as a populist strategy in many quarters of Spain, however as Lasa points out, this latest display of force was so excessive that it has altered the political landscape more emphatically. He adds in conclusion:

The next time they have a chance, Spaniards and Catalonians will vote with their guts rather than their brains. Nevermind that PP will be reduced to political irrelevance both in Catalonia and the Basque Country. They will have the rest of Spain, drawing a map that paradoxically will make borders ever more obvious. One more question to answer now is how far the PP will go with this strategy. How much can the conflict be managed for political benefit before it explodes into an uncontrollable succession of violent events. It looks like we could find out soon, as the Generalitat [government of Catalonia] prepares itself to unilaterally declare Independence in the following days.

Click here to read Victor Lasa’s full article entitled “Catalonia and the Unsustainable Strategy of Conservative Spain”.

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Update:

On October 2nd, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was interviewed on BBC2’s Newsnight by Mark Urban. Here is part of that interview [from 0:50 mins]:

MU: But do you think the police in every case – pushing women downstairs, firing rubber bullets into polling stations – do you think they have used proportionate and legitimate force?

AD: Yes I do.

However, when interviewed more recently (Sunday October 22nd) on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dastis’ position had completely changed. Where previously he tacitly acknowledged the extreme police brutality and defended it as legitimate, he now claimed it was “fake news” [from 6:45mins]:

AD: No I don’t think there is any brutal situation – look, I think by now many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures…

AM interjects: Really?

AD: And if there was any use of force it was a limited one and prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.

AM: You’re saying that those pictures that people saw of Spanish police intervening aggressively in polling stations are all fake pictures – they didn’t happen?

AD: I’m not saying that all are fake pictures but some of them are. And you know there has been a lot of alternative facts and fake news here. And as I said, if there was at all – and according to the pictures there was – some use of force it was not a deliberate use of force. It was a provoked use of force.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the interview because that option has been made unavailable but you can watch it by following this link: https://youtu.be/wuIAx_oQ-Ss

You can also watch the same interview on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

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Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

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The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

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Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

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Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

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Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, internet freedom, police state, Spain

wanted: dead or alive — how we abandoned justice and came to love shoot-to-kill

Shortly after the 9/11 atrocity, President Bush appeared on CNN and issued the following statement:

Osama Bin Laden is just one person. He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we understand, and we will not allow them to do so… I want justice, and there’s an old poster out West that as I recall said ‘Wanted: dead or alive’.”

Sixteen years have passed since Osama Bin Laden was hunted down, but the war without end initiated under Bush grinds on of course. In those sixteen years, the small pockets of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan expanded into Iraq, Libya, Syria and well beyond. They have since splintered multiple times and been rebranded.

Daesh is the latest and reportedly most obscene of those Salafist offshoots. This is in part because its atrocities – that is, the ones it claims for itself – are routine and strike at the heart of our own cities. Like the wars that first spread the plague of ‘Islamism’, we are told that this sickness is something we have to live with forever.

In reality, of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. So consider this:

The U.S. government has prosecuted more than 800 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never committed an act of violence.

This eye-opening fact is taken from a brilliant recent article by investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson published by The Intercept. In it Aaronson relates in scrupulous detail the tragic tale of a young man called Arlem Suarez. Suarez, who had always lived at home with his mother and very likely suffers from brain damage, has just received a life sentence for his role in an ISIS plot. Except it wasn’t an ISIS plot, but one entirely concocted as an FBI sting.

As this sorry tale unfolds we learn about how Suarez was deliberately and persistently strung along by FBI ‘informants’ who at one point helped him to make a jihadi video (hilarious if it wasn’t so sad) and also encouraged him to procure items for a bomb. It is perfectly evident from the transcripts that for Suarez his ordeal starts out as a game – he is really not very smart – and indeed, as the game becomes increasingly scary, he attempts to back out, repeated times in fact. But the FBI simply won’t let go (they have invested time and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in their entrapment operation) and as Suarez frets about the danger facing his mother if he lets ‘his brothers’ down, the FBI lead him to a pick-up point and hand him a fake bomb.

As Aaronson writes:

The jury didn’t accept Suarez’s excuses and convicted him on February 1. U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, gave Suarez the maximum punishment: life in prison.

Suarez’s sentence is indicative of the increasingly harsh punishment ISIS defendants caught up in FBI stings are now facing in federal courts. While federal judges rarely gave life sentences to sting targets allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and other groups — the Fort Dix Five being a notable exception — Suarez is one of two ISIS defendants to receive a life sentence in the last year.

In each of these ISIS cases, the other being Justin Nojan Sullivan, the FBI provided the weapons in the supposed plots. Since Suarez was arrested after taking custody of the fake bomb, there’s no way of knowing with certainty what he would have done with it. 1

Click here to read Trevor Aaronson’s full account which includes an embedded video showing Suarez hapless attempt at making his jihadi video with the FBI on hand to help.

And here to read an earlier post about the FBI ‘terror’ factory entitled “the tragic tale of Sami Osmakac – or how the FBI creates a terrorist patsy” posted in 2015.

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The latest acts of senseless violence (this time in Catalonia)

Spanish police on Monday shot dead an Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van in Barcelona last week, ending a five-day manhunt for the perpetrator of Spain’s deadliest attack in over a decade.

Police said they tracked 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub to a rural area near Barcelona and shot him after he held up what looked like an explosives belt and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). The bomb squad used a robot to approach his body.

So begins a report published by Reuters on August 21st, the day of the killing of suspected van driver of the horrific Barcelona attack, the alleged perpetrator in the latest of so many terrorist atrocities. The same article continues:

“Shortly before 5 p.m., the police shot down Younes Abouyaaqoub, the driver of the van in the attack that killed 14 people in Barcelona,” Carles Puigdemont, head of the Catalonia regional government, told a news conference. He said the bomb belt turned out to be a fake one. 2

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

Being dead, Reuters and other media outlets saw fit to omit the word “alleged” or “suspected” (as I have properly inserted above) from their account of the actions of Younes Abouyaaqoub. This Moroccan with his suspiciously exotic name is the “Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van”, even whilst support for this otherwise as then unsubstantiated accusation is founded on the wholly circumstantial evidence of remarks reportedly made by unnamed “relatives”:

“The van driver, Abouyaaqoub, began showing more religiously conservative behaviour over the past year, said relatives in his native Morocco. He refused to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in March, they said.”

I find this eerily reminiscent of a scene in Albert Camus’ famous novel L’Étranger (trans: The Outsider) in which the title character, a French Algerian called Meursault, is put on trial for the murder of an Arab man. The facts of the case are clear and Meursault is indeed guilty of shooting the Arab, but at his trial the prosecutor is far more interested in directing the jury to consider Meursault’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral, than over details of the case. Eyewitnesses said he hadn’t cried apparently. As Camus writes:

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. 3

Younes Abouyaaqoub was killed four days after the attacks in a town 30 miles away from Barcelona, and the story of his escape is a complicated one. It is since reported that CCTV images captured the moment his white Fiat van came to halt on the famous Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas. Abouyaaqoub immediately got out of the van, put on his sunglasses, and continued on foot. He then walked for about an hour and a half finally reaching the Universitaria district in the north of the city where he allegedly murdered another victim, Pau Pérez, a Spanish vineyard worker, who was parking his Ford Focus. With Pérez’s body on the back seat of the car, Abouyaaqoub then rammed his getaway vehicle through a police barricade leaving one officer injured and evaded capture a second time. This occurred two hours after the van attack.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother El Houssaine and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hychami were also among the list of other suspects shot dead by police. They were three of five involved in a second incident when a different van was driven through a crowd of pedestrians at nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others. All five men were believed to have been members of a terrorist cell comprised of twelve members in total – four have been arrested (more in a moment).

This cell is said to have been led by a shady imam by the name of Abdelbaki Es Satty. It was first thought that Es Satty, a convicted drug trafficker, vanished shortly before the twin van attacks, however, suspicion soon arose that instead he had been blown up the night before the Catalonia attacks when the cell’s bomb-making factory accidently exploded. Since confirmed dead, Es Satty, the alleged ringleader, was well-known to both the security services and the police:

Es Satty appears to be the only one of the suspects whose name had already crossed the radar of the police. He was jailed in Castellón in Valencia in 2010 for smuggling cannabis, and released in 2014. It is reported that while in prison he met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 dead and about 2,000 people wounded.

More significantly, his name also appears in a report that was compiled after five men were arrested south of Barcelona, in Vilanova i la Geltrú, on charges of recruiting young men to fight in Iraq.

The imam also spent three months in Belgium before the Brussels attacks, it has emerged. The mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte, told local TV that Es Satty was in the Belgian town between January and March 2016.

The assaults on Brussels airport and a Metro station killed 32 people in March last year. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Es Satty is thought to have travelled to Belgium frequently, but he was never an official resident. Immigration and asylum minister Theo Francken said he was unknown to the foreigners’ registration service. “He has never requested or received a Belgian residence permit,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of course, he could have been in Belgium, but the immigration office has no record of him.” 4

There are so many parts of this story that appear to be missing or unexplained. Most glaring is how did this bomb-making factory with its hundreds of gas canisters not arouse greater suspicion? Also why did the authorities not react sooner after it exploded on the night before the van attacks? Although surely the most salient question is how the disreputable imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, another “known wolf”, manages to slip the security services time and again? Then lastly, why have Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla, two of the four suspects originally detained by police, since been quietly released?

A Spanish High Court judge on Thursday ordered another one of the four suspects arrested over twin attacks in Catalonia last week, Salh El Karib, to be freed on certain conditions, according to a court source. […]

El Karib will have to hand over his passport and check into court every week. The judge decided that there was not enough evidence to keep El Karib in custody, the court source said.

… Mohamed Aalla, was also released on certain conditions earlier this week while two others were remanded on charges of membership of a terrorist group and murder. 5

Could it be that there is insufficient evidence to convict the two men? Or that the available evidence, were it ever to come to light, would raise uncomfortable questions about the role played by the security services? More properly, in any case, we should insist that Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla are presumed innocent – the presumption of innocence was once the “golden thread of justice”. Alarmingly, the presumption of innocence no longer applies in cases of this kind.

Remarkably few of the alleged perpetrators of this post-9/11 spate of terrorist attacks carried out across Europe have actually been found guilty for the simple fact that they died before capture. Many of the earlier incidents were of course suicide attacks (or allegedly so) but countless others have been shot dead by police before they were able to provide testimony. There is even a convenient euphemism that helps turn reality on its head – “suicide by police”.

With no day in court, there can only be a trial by the media. Meanwhile, we have been habituated to accept the adopted though seldom discussed shoot-to-kill policy, when besides the blatant issue of human rights violations, lessons drawn from recent history ought to be cautionary.

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Lest we forget

“British justice must be in tatters after today. It’s not as if the evidence wasn’t there. The evidence had been there all the time… they had us picked out, they told us that… We were made scapegoats to appease the public and it’s been connived with right up to the very highest of levels because what they did to us, and the amount of people that’s in it, it couldn’t have been done without the help and connivance of people in high places.” 6

These are the impassioned words of Paddy Hill spoken at a press conference shortly after his release from prison in March 1991. Hill was one of a group of men who would come to be known as the Birmingham Six — Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were the others — all wrongly arrested without hours of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974 and falsely sentenced to life imprisonment. Sixteen years later they won their case in the court of appeal in what proved to be a humbling day for British justice. As former Labour MP and campaigner for their release, Chris Mullin, wrote later in his book Error of Judgement, published 1997:

The release of the Birmingham Six was a watershed for British justice. In the months that followed there was a string of further releases. At the time of writing, twenty-seven other people have either had convictions quashed or charges against them dropped after evidence from West Midlands detectives was discredited.

A number of other terrorist convictions also collapsed. In July, 1991, Mrs. Annie Maguire, five members of her family and a friend who had been convicted of making bombs had their convictions quashed. In June, 1992, the Appeal Court quashed the conviction of Judith Ward, then in the nineteenth year of a thirty-year sentence for the M62 coach bombing. The judgement was a damning indictment of the police officers, forensic scientists and Crown layers responsible for the conviction. Judith Ward’s release brought to eighteen the number of innocent people wrongly convicted of terrorist offences committed in 1974. Of these, ten would certainly have been hanged had the death penalty still been in force. So, too, would at least one of the three people wrongly convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock during a riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. Their convictions were quashed in November, 1991, amid a great deal of official wailing and gnashing of teeth. The case made legal history. For the first time anyone could recall, a British judge apologised.

Not only the Maguire Seven, but also the better remembered Guildford Four — Paul Michael Hill, Gerard Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson — also had their verdicts quashed in the months following the acquittal of the Birmingham Six. Besides the lack of evidence, it wasn’t even true to say the members of the Guildford Four fitted the profile of an IRA terrorist. Carole Richardson was an Englishwoman who lived in a squat. Yet in spite of such bizarre incongruities, rumours persisted long after their release. Here’s Mullin again:

A whispering campaign started from the moment the first convictions were quashed. It could be heard wherever two or three lawyers or police officers were gathered. The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Mrs. Maguire and her family are all guilty, it said. They were released on a technicality. Okay, maybe the forensic scientists souped up the evidence a little. Maybe the police cut a few corners, but everyone is guilty so there is nothing to worry about, nothing for which to apologise. It is a tribute to our capacity for self-delusion that there is scarcely a policeman or a judge in the country who does not believe this falsehood.

He continues:

At Blackpool 2,000 delegates of the Police Federation, meeting for their annual conference, received the news with a standing ovation. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph caught the new mood.

“Until now the received view of the Guildford Four … is that they were all innocent victims of a scandalous miscarriage of justice who spent many years in jail for crimes they did not commit. The acquittal of the three ex-policemen, and some of the new evidence heard in the course of their Old Bailey trial, suggests that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that two of the Guildford Four, Mr. Patrick Armstrong and Mr. Gerry Conlon, might have been guilty after all. This raises the disturbing possibility that the real miscarriage of justice in their case occurred when they walked free.”

There was, of course, no new evidence. The Guildford Four were convicted on the basis of confessions in police custody and nothing of any significance has since emerged. 7

Had police on the British mainland been operating a shoot-to-kill policy (as was the case in Northern Ireland 8) the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and many others might all have been gunned down in cold blood. Had this happened we would in all probability still not know the truth today.

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Mistakes were made…

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks current Brexit Secretary and former shadow Home Secretary David Davis published an article in the Guardian in which he wrote:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi [aka “Jihadi John”] after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

I reprinted these paragraphs in an earlier article on the subject, adding further names to Davis’ long list of examples of “known wolves”:

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s [subjects of interest], people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home. Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks. And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry.

A complete list indeed goes on and on and on… and please note that all the above cases have been referenced with footnotes in my original article entitled “another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

With the accused, including so many of those listed, killed during pursuit, not only is uncertainty left hanging over their own guilt, but in cases such as those above, it leaves us with questions about the role played by the security services who had kept them under close surveillance. The truth dies with them.

Zakaria Boufassil is someone who has been convicted for his role in Islamist terrorism. Last December both he and accomplice Mohammed Ali Ahmed were sentenced and jailed for handling money supplied to Mohamed Abrini who was an alleged perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attacks and also believed to be the so-called “man in the hat” filmed at the Brussels airport prior to the March 22nd bombing. Abrini, who was charged in January for his role in the Paris attacks, was (once again) known to security services 9. He is yet to face trial. However, this is what defending barrister, Dorian Lovell-Pank QC said during the Boufassil trial:

“In Zakaria’s eyes, he feels he was effectively picked up by MI5 and was pumped and dumped.

“He found himself approached by the security service and he was reluctant at first, then more gradually, he told them what he knew about Abrini and the meeting in the park.

“He was told by MI5 he wasn’t in any trouble and was told they were interested in signing him up or having him on their books.

“He feels he ceased to be of any use to them and he was effectively thrown to the wolves.”

According to the Guardian article (where the statement is reported):

The prosecution said they could “neither confirm nor deny” Boufassil’s claim, which is a standard response from MI5. 10

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him”.

As I wrote previously in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11, we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”, we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

Click here to read my earlier extended post from March 2015.

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Dead or alive

The twenty-first century turned out to be a lot simpler than the twentieth. Its defining image, a projection of Manifest Destiny as recast by the silver screen and the latest video games, is the ‘War on Terror’. In this war, Uncle Sam polices the world, while at home the good guys inside our security services work tirelessly to stop the bad guys as they connect to Daesh via the portal of the dark web. Marked out crisply in sharp lines of black and white, news bulletins provide a daily insight into this ongoing Manichaean battle between good and evil.

Bush told us that Osama Bin Laden was “Wanted: dead or alive” and dead was precisely how the world’s most wanted man eventually turned up – gunned down in Pakistan, if we accept the only available accounts. So instead of facing extradition and trial for his terrorist murder spree, the official story tells us that a team of United States Navy SEALs cornered him inside his own ‘compound’ in Abbottabad and dispatched him, then hastily buried the corpse at sea. Few respectable journalists have dared to delve into the strangeness of this tale of derring-do or to challenge the lack of tangible evidence. Why would they?

When veteran journalism Seymour Hersh had the temerity to take issue with a few minor details of the official story surrounding which agencies knew what and when, even he was not immune to mainstream opprobrium. Perhaps he would have done better just to stick by his statement made during an interview with the Guardian that the whole story was “one big lie, not one word of it is true”. 11

This wasn’t always so. In the past not all journalists in the mainstream media were so “pathetic” (Hersh’s word). For instance, back in 1988 ITV was brave enough to produce and broadcast a hugely controversial episode of their current affairs documentary series This Week entitled “Death on the Rock” that took to task the official British government account of the shooting of three members of the IRA at a filling station in Gibraltar.

Here’s a quick review of the case. The three — Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell — were all known to the authorities and allegedly preparing to detonate a bomb outside the governor’s residence. Under Operation Flavius, plain-clothed SAS soldiers opened fire on the three as they tried to evade capture. The soldiers later testified that they had acted in the belief that the suspects were reaching for weapons or a remote detonator, although it afterwards transpired that none of the three were armed and no explosives were discovered in their car. The official account was also refuted by eyewitnesses who said the three were shot without warning and with their hands up. Sound familiar?

The fallout is revealing however: although programme-makers were instantly castigated by the Thatcher government and the usual attack dogs writing for the tabloids decried this “trial by television”, the programme went on to win a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Single Documentary Award (1989) 12 from the Broadcasting Press Guild. That said, the broadcast is also “widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority [IBA]”. 13 Another repercussion was that programme-maker Thames Television lost its franchise; almost certainly in an act of revenge. Heightened political censorship is one of the many forgotten the legacies of Thatcher’s reign in office.

In only three decades all this has been turned absolutely upside-down. In today’s world shoot-to-kill – that rightly reviled criminal policy once synonymous with British forces and the RUC in Northern Ireland – has become the norm across the continent and no-one bats an eyelid. This is especially so now that, unaccountably, fake suicide vests are the de rigueur terrorist apparel. And why would a real terrorist bother to fake a suicide vest? It isn’t proper to ask apparently. This is the other side of the reversal we have seen: today no ‘serious journalist’ ever asks the awkward questions.

As the ‘War on Terror’ has exported terror and terrorism (the two are significantly different) and more widespread human rights abuses (for example inside the many CIA ‘black sites’), it has likewise paved the way for a tightening surveillance state and the trampling of civil liberties at home. But as with much else that is done in the name of preventing ‘terror’, the policy of shoot-to-kill is being introduced more insidiously. In strict legal terms nothing has changed; it is the spirit of the law that is being flouted and undermined.

After each fresh terrorist atrocity, retribution is swiftly delivered. And though this reversion to frontier justice is a subversion of the rule of law, as with the proverbial boiling frog in the pot, if you turn the heat up fairly gradually it won’t ever notice being cooked alive. Is there really any better way of destroying our lasting freedoms – the ones so detested by the ‘Islamists’ – than this?

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1 From an article entitled “The Unlikely Jihadi” written by Trevor Aaronson, published in The Intercept on September 3, 2017. https://theintercept.com/2017/09/03/the-fbi-pressured-a-lonely-young-man-into-a-bomb-plot-he-tried-to-back-out-now-hes-serving-life-in-prison/

2 From an article entitled “Spanish police track down, shoot dead Barcelona attacker” written by Angus Berwick, published in Reuters on August 21, 2017. https://in.reuters.com/article/spain-security-idINKCN1B10JQ

3 Written by Albert Camus in January 1955. Quoted in Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice by David Carroll, published by Columbia University Press. p. 27.

4 From an article entitled “Spanish police focus on Ripoll imam who vanished before terror attacks” written by Stephen Burgen, Jonathan Watts, Ian Cobain and Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on August 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/ripoll-the-small-town-home-to-the-barcelona-and-cambrils-attackers

5 From an article entitled “Second of four men arrested over Catalonia attacks released: source” published by Reuters on August 24, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-security-suspect/second-of-four-men-arrested-over-catalonia-attacks-released-source-idUSKCN1B41GQ

6 You can listen to Paddy Hill’s full statement here: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0314/774696-birmingham-six-released/

7 From “Error Of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings” written by Chris Mullin, published on March 13, 1997. Read more on his website here:  http://www.chrismullinexmp.com/recent-articles/error-of-judgement

8

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain has a case to answer in relation to allegations of an “illegal shoot-to-kill” policy in Northern Ireland.

From an article entitled “‘Shoot-to-kill’ case gets go-ahead” published by BBC news on April 5, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/702920.stm

9

Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Mr Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He was known to security services for belonging to the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

From an article entitled “Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini charged over Paris attacks, say French lawyers” written by Chris Stevenson, published in The Independent on January 30, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/mohamed-abrini-brussels-bombing-paris-attacks-france-belgium-killings-isis-islamic-state-french-a7552741.html

10 From an article entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him” written by Jamie Grierson and Duncan Gardham, published in the Guardian on December 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/12/convicted-terrorist-says-mi5-pumped-and-dumped-him

11

Don’t even get him [Hersh] started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011 [see footnote].

From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” written by Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on September 27, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

The footnote reads:

Hersh has pointed out that he was in no way suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not killed in Pakistan, as reported, upon the president’s authority: he was saying that it was in the aftermath that the lying began. Finally, the interview took place in the month of July, 2013.

12 http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/bpg-awards/1989-3/

13

1988 Government relations turn frigid when Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, which produces evidence to show three unarmed IRA terrorists had been shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Asked if she is furious Thatcher replies “deeper than that”. This is widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had a responsibility for what was broadcast.

From a Timeline entitled “How ITV got where it is today” written by Maggie Brown, published in the Guardian on March 4, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/04/how-itv-got-where-it-is-today

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independence for Catalonia?

An introductory note:

The following is the translation of an article written by journalist and political activist Esther Vivas after the recent September 11th demonstrations for Catalan independence.

The Catalan independence issue is a complex one, and so I also sent the original article to a Catalan friend who has helpfully explained some of the more technical terms. I have since re-edited the original version and added my friend’s remarks in the form of footnotes (with links) to provide a little guidance for those of us less familiar with politics of the region.

What is perhaps especially interesting to outsiders is the birth of a new political movement. The movement, which is known as Procés Constituent – approximately translates to mean “constitutional process” – was started by a nun by the name of Sister Teresa Forcades and a fellow activist called Arcadi Oliveres.

*

Catalonia: independence from Spain, independence from capitalism

Esther Vivas

Hundreds of thousands turned out last September 11 to demand independence for Catalonia. Some decided to surround the Caixa, form a human chain around the largest bank in Catalonia and third largest in Spain, to demand not only independence from Spain, but from capitalism.

Some in that crowd will say that independence comes first, and then we’ll see. That independence itself will end unemployment, poverty, and hunger. As if independence were a divine manna. This, however, is falsehood. Just ask people in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and all of us now living in Spain. Instead, gaining real independence must mean that we escape from, well, the grip of the Troika*, since it is the European financial powers which now stand in the way of real freedom for the people. After all, there can be no real independence under the burden of debt, the blackmail of the risk premium and the “markets” .

Others in the crowd will claim “Madrid robs us ”, and so if we say “Farewell to Spain”, then our problems are solved. But nothing is further from reality… Where are we going with a country in the hands of just 400 families1 forever? Moving towards real independence, involves asking: independence for what and for whom.

The open debate in Catalonia today is an opportunity to rethink the foundations for a new model of society. It may be independent, yes, but it must be open to a ‘constitutional process’2 that allows us to decide together what kind of country we want… Always remembering that it has been the banks which are most responsible for this crisis, with La Caixa being the largest bank in Catalonia. And that to save these financial institutions we have been sunk into absolute misery. So we will never be free nor independent, if we are still subject to policies that only serve to prop up the banks.

It is also common knowledge that La Caixa does not want a referendum on independence. “Social peace” [or “let’s not rock the boat”]3 being the final guarantor of its sustained profits, and with the Spanish State always its biggest source of business…. Its true loyalties evident from the scandal involving the royal family… La Caixa ensuring a golden retirement for the Infanta Cristina in Switzerland4, as head of the International Department of the La Caixa Fundación, her salary increasing to 320,000 euros per year…

So which country will we have after independence if our largest bank still evicts families and rips us off through ‘preferred shares’5? What will our independence amount to if we are still in the hands of thieves…?

* This is an extract from an article published by Esther Vivas in Spanish in Publico.es, 12/11/2013.

Originally translated by http://revolting-europe.com.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

*

Footnotes:

* The following is a previous article published by Esther Vivas at Publico.es, June 1, 2013:

United against the Troika
Esther Vivas

Who is the Troika? A year ago few knew the answer to this question. We knew it by reference, to its stay in Greece, and it wasn’t good. The Troika was synonymous with austerity, adjustment and cuts, hardship, hunger and unemployment.

But it was not until the arrival in Spain of the much denied rescue, in June 2012, that the “men in black” and “Troika” became a household name. Today, a year later, people, sick and tired, are coming out into the streets to say loud and clear: “Troika, go home”.

History repeats itself. And just as many countries of the South in the 1990s and 2000s saw mass demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, whom the people accused of reducing them to misery, now people here speak out against the Troika: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. The bank is different. But the logic is more of the same.

Centre-periphery relations at a global level are now repeated in the European Union. And the countries of the periphery of the Continent, we have become the new colonies, markets or sources of financial capital. Where once, in the South, structural adjustment plans were applied, in order, it was said, to make debt more sustainable, as if the misery and poverty to which they could be subjected was sustainable. Now they speak to us of “aid” and “bailouts “… and they reduce us all to misery.

Debt remains the yoke imposed on the poor. A mechanism of control and subjugation of peoples. An infallible instrument to transfer resources, or to be more precise, of plunder, from South to North, either global or at a European scale. And an argument for reducing the rights of the majority and generate more profits to capital, cutting and privatizing public services covertly. The debt imposed on us, which, incidentally, is not ours, is the perfect excuse to implement what is a long plan. Thus, the scam is called the crisis, the theft is the debt.

We have quickly learned the meaning of the Troika, but also that of other concepts such as anger, rebellion and disobedience. And today we rise in more than 100 cities across Europe as the “peoples united against Troika”. Because we can.

* Article published at Publico.es, June 1st, 2013.
** Translated by http://revolting-europe.com.

1400 families”: I don’t know exactly when this phrase was coined, but it has been current in the media in recent years to refer to the Catalan ruling elite, whose members are often descended from the industrial bourgeoisie of the past. The phrase became popular in 2009 when Fèlix Millet, a well-connected businessman from this particular class, confessed to embezzling large amounts of money from the Palau de la Música foundation. He has also been accused of conniving in the illegal funding of Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, the political party in power in the autonomous government, many of whose leaders happen to belong to the “400 families”. But despite his confession and the public outrage that followed, the court case keeps being delayed and Millet has only spent a few days in prison so far.

According to La Vanguardia, in an interview he referred to himself as belonging to a group of 400 influential Catalans, some related to each other and others not, “who meet everywhere and are always the same” (sorry, I haven’t found a link in English:

http://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/noticias/20090924/53791233174/uno-de-los-nuestros-felix-millet-orfeo-catala-omnium-cultural-montserrat-estado-liceu-joan-anton-mar.html).

2constitutional process”: this refers to the writing of a socially progressive Catalan constitution in the future, which is advocated by a group called “Procés Constituent” started by Teresa Forcades (the nun who became famous on Youtube exposing the pharmaceutical industry in connection with the swine flu vaccine) and a fellow Christian activist called Arcadi Oliveres.

This group is not a political party and both founders have said from the start that they are not going to stand in elections. Their aim is allegedly to set up a movement that will eventually lead to a “constituent assembly” for the new Catalan state. The group organized the alternative human chain around la Caixa that is mentioned in the article, to signal their differences with the independentist “Via Catalana” chain.

They are pro-independence but believe that a Catalan republic will be pointless unless it’s built on radically different principles, so for example in their manifesto they advocate, among other things, nationalising banks, refusing to pay “odious debt” and extending the welfare state (which is the reason Vivas supports them; I also signed my support when they first published their manifesto, which felt pretty odd given my feelings about Catholics –Forcades and Oliveres seem well-meaning, though). So when Vivas refers to the “constituent process”, I think she’s referring to the idea that social rights should be written into the future Catalan constitution.

To read more about Sister Teresa Forcades and her movement, “Procés Constituent”, I recommend a BBC news article entitled “ Sister Teresa Forcades: Europe’s most radical nun”, written by Matt Wells, published on September 14, 2013. The article outlines her 10-point programme, drawn up with economist Arcadi Oliveres, as follows:

• A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation

• An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home

• Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption

• Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures

• A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services• An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion

• “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies

• An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws

• Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet

• International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24079227

3Social peace”: this is a direct translation of a euphemism that is often used here by politicians, bankers and businessmen alike, so when there’s a demonstration or a strike or any kind of protest by the people, those in power will say that this is undesirable because it disrupts “social peace”, by which they mean that the protests threaten to disrupt the status quo.

4ensuring a golden retirement for the Infanta…”: this refers to a financial scandal involving the Infanta, her husband, the king and various Partido Popular politicians and regional governments. It’s a long soap opera so I’ll spare you the details. The latest thing is that after being let off the hook by the corrupt justice system, the Infanta has been given a cosy and highly lucrative job in Switzerland by La Caixa, the bank mentioned in the article.

5preferred shares”: this is a complex, high-risk ‘financial product’ that a few years ago was fraudulently sold by Spanish banks to thousands of unwitting citizens, mostly elderly and uneducated, who didn’t have a clue what they were buying. When the crisis set in, the buyers lost everything (in fact I know someone whose elderly mother lost her savings this way). The victims are still fighting to get their money back. If you want to read more about this, you can have a look here: http://www.arabtimesonline.com/NewsDetails/tabid/96/smid/414/ArticleID/194380/reftab/96/Default.aspx

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce these articles.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

*

Update:

The following is a subsequent article on progress of the ‘Constituent Process’ published on October 27th 2013:

Catalonia: a Constituent Process to decide everything
Esther Vivas

Nobody said that it would be easy, but it is necessary to try. And this is precisely what is being done through the Constituent Process in Catalonia, led by the Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades and the economist Arcadi Oliveres, along with many other people. To create social consciousness, to mobilize, to promote civil disobedience and to raise a political alternative that defies those who monopolize power.

Its objective is to construct a new politico-social instrument, based on popular self-organization, loyal to those of at the bottom and able to contribute, in diversity, to the social and political left as a whole. On the horizon, if things work out, it expresses the will to compete in the next elections to the Catalan Parliament, with a broad candidacy, the result of the necessary confluence of many people, some currently inside and others outside the Process, that aspires to transform social discontent into a political majority and to establish the bases to promote a constituent process, that allows us to collectively equip ourselves with a new political framework in the service of the majority.

Some will say that this is utopian, but it is more utopian, from my point of view, to think that those who have led to us to the present situation of crisis, from which, by the way, they obtain substantial benefits, will get us out of it. Breaking with scepticism, apathy and fear is the challenge that we have ahead. Knowledge that “we can” is the first step to obtaining concrete victories.

Ever since the Constituent Process went public last April, the support received has been wide The Process has connected with broad sectors of society who perceive, in the present context of crisis, the urgent necessity of changing things. Many people without too much political or organizational experience have identified with a discourse that appeals to something as essential as can be: justice.

Other social activists have seen in the Process an instrument to go beyond social mobilization per se and to consider a political-organizational perspective of change. Two years after the emergency of 15M, many perceive that no matter how much we occupy banks, empty houses, supermarkets, hospitals… those in power continue applying a series of measures that sink us into absolute misery. Resting on the essential struggle on the street, without which there is no possible change, the Constituent Process raises, at the same time, a challenge to the political-economic regime, as well as in the institutions. And to change the system by “occupying” these instances and giving them back to the social majority via a constituent process.

For sure there are no magical formulas but experiences like the constituent processes in Latin America (Ecuador, Bolivia, or Venezuela) or, closer to home, Iceland, in spite of their debatable evolutions, are experiences to consider deeply, not to imitate but to learn from their successes and errors. In Catalonia, the debate on the national question and independence opens an opportunity, as we could never have imagined, to be able to decide… and to decide on everything.

High participation

The high participation in public presentations of the Constituent Process, some led by Teresa Forcades and others by Arcadi Oliveres, with an average of between 400 to 700 people in municipalities like Vic, Sabadell, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Lleida, Girona, Vilanova i la Geltrú, Balaguer, Figueres, Blanes, Granollers, Terrassa, or even small municipalities like Santa Fe del Penedès or Fals, shows the capacity of attraction of this initiative, which has, in a few months, made more than one hundred presentations across the Catalan territory.

And more importantly, the interest of those who approach the Process does not reside only in listening to its two main promoters but in participating actively in the construction of this politico-social instrument. In this way, more than 80 local assemblies have already been set up across Catalonia. Also specific assemblies around such issues as education, health, feminism and immigration have started up. All of them are coordinated in a general assembly known as the Promotional Group, which meets monthly.

The forms of action of the Constituent Process also reflect this “other politics”. At most public events makeshift money boxes are passed around to collect what it costs to rent the PA apparatus, photocopies and so on. The presentations serve also to attract those present to attending local meetings and assemblies. The groups in the territory are organized according to their own priorities and are coordinated nationally. The Constituent Process still has some way to go, but it shows the potential of a political initiative able to connect with major social unrest. Although obviously there is still much to be done, perhaps the most difficult part: to consolidate the process and improve the coordination of the assemblies. This is a work in progress.

From bottom to top

The confidence generated by its principal promoters, Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres, is key to its success. But we know that this is an initiative that will only succeed if it is built from the bottom up. I was told the day both presented the proposal: “We two alone cannot do much”. Correct. Today, the Constituent Process has more than 44,000 people attached and multiple local and sector meetings. Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres, as has been said many times, do not want to be leaders of anything, but agree to put their credibility at the service of a just cause.

Criticisms of the Christian profile of both have been made, despite the secular nature of the Process. Which in part is not surprising. The social mobilization of the left, both in Catalonia and in the Spanish state, would not be understood, in part, without the contribution of ordinary Christians. Without going any further, one of the founders of the Field Workers Union was none other than the priest of the poor, Diamantino Garcia. Denying this reality means ignoring this part of our collective history. And both Teresa Forcades and Arcadi Oliveres have spoken repeatedly and at length before the Constituent Process, against the ecclesiastical hierarchy, for the separation of church and state and in defence of the right of women to decide on their bodies. Which, incidentally, has earned them widespread criticism by reactionary sectors of the church and its hierarchy.

Last October 13, the main event of the Constituent Process was being held in Barcelona, just six months after its introduction. I still remember how before the proposal someone commented: “Why go ahead with such a project. This is going to fail”. A colleague said: “Failure would be not to try.” How right she was.

*Translated by International View Point.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

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on the struggle for an independent Catalonia

The following is an important recent article by Esther Vivas. The issues are complex ones and so I have also added my own comments as an extended section to the bottom of this post.

When will we see tanks in Barcelona?
Esther Vivas

“Independent Catalonia? Over my dead body and those of many other soldiers”. It was with these words that on August 31, retired infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro referred to the possibility of an independent Catalonia. And he added: “We will not make it easy. Although the lion seems to be sleeping, they have no interest in provoking it too much, because it has already given enough proof of its ferocity over the centuries. These plebs are not up to much, if we know how to confront them”.

In the current verbiage that some politicians have adopted, these statements are not the only ones that we might call “undemocratic”, “putschist” and “anti-system”. After the demonstration on September 11, [1] the UPyD spokesperson [2], Rosa Díez, called on the government to suspend the autonomy of Catalonia if the region used money from central government aid “to finance its secession”. Not to be outdone, the MEP (representing the Popular Party, in power in Madrid) and vice-president of the European Parliament , Alejo Vidal Quadras, requested that a brigadier-general, preferably from the Civil Guard, take charge of the “Mossos de Esquadra” [3] to curb the independence process.

The El Mundo newspaper, in its editorial of September 27, demanded from the government “a penal response to the challenge launched by Artur Mas” who has called for a referendum on self-determination in Catalonia. El Mundo urged the government to amend the Criminal Code to “punish by imprisonment any call for an illegal referendum”. And for good measure, the extremist “Reconversion”, platform, whose leaders are Alejo Vidal Quadras and José Antonio Ortega Lara, demanded that if such a referendum were to be held the government place Catalonia under tutelage, on the basis of articles 161.2 and 155.1 and 2 of the Constitution.

And that’s not all. The Spanish Military Association (AME), composed of former members of the army, has threatened Catalan president Artur Mas with a Council of War and has warned those who promote “the breaking-up of Spain” that they will have to answer before a military court on charges of “high treason”. Nothing more than that! It speaks volumes about the present situation when a conservative politician such as Artur Mas, enmeshed to the marrow of his bones with the powers of finance, especially with the La Caixa and Aberti banks, who is leader of a party as un-subversive as the CiU [4] elicits such reactions. What will happen then when it comes to someone on the left, who is opposed to the interests of the employers and is a sincere defender of the right to self-determination?

In the light of the above, I ask myself a question. If all of this was happening, for example, in a Latin American country, how would it be characterized? The BBC has published a long report that makes the link between the threats to Catalonia and the “pact of silence” introduced during the Transition [5]. And this is quite right. The Amnesty Law of 1977 guarantees immunity to those who committed crimes against humanity under the Franco regime and during the Civil War. These individuals are still there, and today they are raising their heads again, without any restraint.

At a time where the Hispanic Titanic is taking in water on all sides, with a crisis which worsens each day and scaffolding that is creaking everywhere, it is the true nature of the regime that is revealing itself. And so are the limits of a transition that has been so beatified that it has prevented people from seeing the reality for decades. All of a sudden, the mask of “democrat” has fallen from their faces. Crises have at least the advantage of clarifying things.

According to them, democracy is a good thing as long as it does not go beyond a certain framework. As a result, all those who disturb things, whether it is these “hooligan” Catalan independentists or these “dangerous” 25S activists, must be quickly silenced. Broadcast television images of police charges? What a scandal! People will become indignant and will demonstrate even more. Solution: limit the right to demonstrate and the right to be informed and the business is settled. The president of the Popular Party group in the European Parliament, Jaime Mayor Oreja, and the Delegate of the Madrid government Cristina Cifuentes have understood this well.

The current crisis is not only an economic and social crisis, but really an unprecedented regime crisis that calls into question the state model that came out of the Transition, its “pacts of silence” and the very shaky democratic system that we have today.

In the middle of this mess, we must support all democratic demands that come up against the monarchical corset of the Transition, starting with the right of the Catalan people to decide its own future. Who is afraid of such a referendum in Catalonia? Those who are not willing to accept its result. We should not, however, let the Spanish chauvinist fury against Mas make us take such a politician – whose only achievement in government is to have reduced social rights and taxes for the rich – for a herald of democracy and freedom. On the contrary, we, Catalans, will have a better life when we get rid of Mas, his squire Felip Puig and their team.

Infantry lieutenant-colonel Francisco Alaman Castro said that “the current situation resembles that of 1936”. That is quite a declaration of intent. Today, as then, our democracy, our rights and our future are threatened. What is at stake is important. When will we see tanks in the streets of Barcelona? It would not be the first time. But there is one thing I am sure of: the people will not remain silent. The most important thing will be not to make any mistake about who the enemy is, and while we fight against the badly recycled Francoists, we should remember that the interests of the majority of the Catalan people have very little to do with those of the Messiah Artur Mas.

*Esther Vivas is a member of the Centre for Studies on Social Movements (CEMS) at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. She recently published, with Josep Maria Antentas, “Planeta indignado. Ocupando el futuro” (Ed. Sequitur). She is also a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur. Article published in Publico.es, October 4, 2012.

+info: http://esthervivas.com/english

NOTES

[1] on September 11, 2012, at the call of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), constituted on March 10, 2012 in Barcelona by 269 Catalan municipalities, nearly two million people marched for the right to self-determination and independence.

[2] Unión Progreso y Democracia (Union, progress and democracy) is a political party of the radical populist Right, founded in 2007, which defends an uncompromising Spanish nationalism.

[3] Catalan police, responsible to the Generalitat (regional government).

[4] Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) is a federation of centre-right Catalan political parties.

[5] Transitional period between the death of General Franco in 1975 and the adoption of the new Constitution establishing a “parliamentary monarchy’ in 1978.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

*

Some words of caution:

The situation Esther Vivas describes is obviously a very troubling one and I fully appreciate that recent history makes the political situation in Spain more complex than in other luckier regions of our continent – Franco having died in 1975, and thus fascism in Spain lasting well within living memory. However, and in view of what is currently happening across Europe and the rest of the world, I feel it is important to also consider the issue of Catalan independence within a more global context.

The break-up of states into micro-states is a process that has long served as a means for maintaining imperialist control over colonised regions. This strategy is often called Balkanisation, although in general only by its opponents.

Balkanization”, as defined by Merriam-Webster meaning “to break up (as a region or group) into smaller and often hostile units” that was, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “coined at the end of World War I to describe the ethnic and political fragmentation that followed the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the Balkans”.

Balkanisation has also been a favoured strategy for maintaining and expanding US global hegemony that is perhaps most strongly advocated by Zbigniew Brzezinski. His most detailed and notorious public statement of such geostrategic methods can be found in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard:

Geopolitics has moved from the regional to the global dimension, with preponderance over the entire Eurasian continent serving as the central basis for global primacy.” [p. 39]

… To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” [p. 40]

In other words, here is the oldest strategy of them all: divide and conquer. Breaking nation states into smaller micro-states which is a US policy that we now see being used in attempts to weaken larger powers such as Pakistan turning them into more easily controlled “vassals” – to use Brzezinski’s inflammatory language.

In Europe the situation appears different in that, on the face of it, smaller states have gradually been welded together to build a more powerful super-state, namely the European Union. But what is this confederation of nations? Certainly it is very different in make-up from a large nation state like the United States of America. In the case of the EU, the federal administration being almost entirely in the hands of unelected and increasingly unaccountable bureaucrats. In other words, real democracy in Europe extends only as far as the national borders of its constituent states, and beyond these we have technocracy. It follows then, that if the nation states of Europe are made smaller and less influential, then the non-democratic, centralised power of the EU will automatically be increased.

Here is an interesting analysis I found in an article on the World Socialist Web Site posted November 2011 but very pertinent with regards to issues facing us now:

The advocates of a united Europe under the auspices of the EU have often drawn a comparison with the US. But the United States of America is the product of two revolutions—the War of Independence in the 18th century and the Civil War in the 19th century. Both were driven by progressive ideals that inspired millions of people—popular sovereignty and the abolition of slavery.

The EU project, in contrast, never had a higher aim than the free circulation of commodities and capital. It started as a Coal and Steel Community and arrived at its apogee with the single market and the common currency. Its lack of popular support became obvious in 2005, when the French and Dutch electorates rejected the draft European constitution because of its right-wing, neo-liberal orientation.

The international financial crisis has exposed the incompatibility of the EU and the basic interests of its inhabitants for everyone to see. The European Union does not allow for democratic and progressive alternatives. The choice between the euro and a national currency, between the EU and national sovereignty, is a choice between reactionary alternatives—the direct dictatorship of finance capital or its indirect dictatorship by means of the balkanization of the continent.

The real alternative is between a capitalist and a socialist Europe. The present crisis poses the stark alternatives of social revolution or a descent into war, depression and dictatorship.

Without breaking the iron grip of the financial markets, expropriating the banks, corporate conglomerates and private fortunes and placing them at the service of society as a whole, there is no solution. The dividing line in Europe is not between Greeks and Germans, Portuguese and French or Irish and British, it is between the working class that is forced to pay for the crisis and the financial aristocracy that continues to enrich itself, along with its henchmen in the EU, the national governments and all of the establishment parties.1

Whilst very much sympathetic to the wishes of historically oppressed populations in regions like Catalonia that seek greater political independence, I feel that secessionism at this time might nevertheless make a grave situation, still worse again. Weakening instead of strengthening the influence of the ordinary people, and thus leaping out of the national frying pan only to land up in the globalist (i.e., neo-imperialist) fire.

1 From an article entitled “The unravelling of the European Union”, written by Peter Schwarz, posted on the World Socialist Web Site on November 14, 2011. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/nov2011/pers-n14.shtml

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