Sunday, January 28, 2018

Madrid is in a Frenzy

Madrid is in a frenzy.  Last October, after sending in 10,000 military police to ensure that the Catalans would not vote on a referendum, which more than 2 million of them did anyway, Spanish President Mariano Rajoy called for special elections.  This was an illegal move – illegal under Spanish law which specifies that only the President of Catalonia can call for special elections, but never mind.  No one stopped him.  He did it thinking that the independence parties, knowing the elections were illegally called, would not participate, and that Catalans were tired of hearing about independence and frightened by the police violence and subsequent repression and so the pro-unity parties would win a majority.  Rajoy, who has never, not once in the last seven years since he was elected, agreed to talk to any Catalan leader, knows nothing about Catalonia and misread what the public wants.  He thought they would be frightened and tired and would shrug their shoulders in the way common to Spaniards.

But Catalans are different. As the banners at the soccer games say, “Catalonia is Not Spain.”  They did not shrug their shoulders.  The parties ran their candidates, and the citizens voted for the three independence parties, who once again have the majority in the Catalan parliament.  So what was Rajoy to do?  Sit down to talk?  No.  He wouldn’t even engage in the pro forma talk with the newly elected Speaker of the Catalan parliament for him to present the candidate agreed upon by the Catalan parliament to be the next President of the Generalitat (Catalan government).  That candidate is Carles Puigdemont.   He is also the person who got deposed three months ago by Rajoy.  But the Catalans voted for him again.  And he’s back!

What was Rajoy going to do?  Not let the Catalans have the president they elected in elections that he himself called.  So, since earlier in the week, his interior minister has set up extra controls at all the borders, making sure that Puigdemont does not attend the investiture session of parliament scheduled for next Tuesday at 3 pm. 

Spanish Interior Minister Zoido has said on television that Puigdemont will not be allowed to cross the border into Spain.  They have it guarded at all points.  He will not be able to enter by air, land, or sea.  All roads (except forest tracks) have guards inspecting vehicles, even the trunks of passenger cars.  Airports large and small, harbors and ports, all have extra security.  What Zoido failed to remember is that Puigdemont is a Spanish citizen and you cannot prohibit a Spanish citizen from entering Spain.

What Zoido really meant and eventually said is that, as there is an arrest warrant out for him, if Puigdemont were to enter Spain, he would immediately be arrested.  So if he tries to pass through in a car (or the trunk of a car, they really are inspecting car trunks!), in a helicopter, light plane, or boat, they will catch him. If he somehow manages to elude those controls (maybe the police were taking a break when he whizzed by, stuffed into a trunk), National Police are guarding the parliament building.  They have been inspecting the sewers in around the parliament building to make sure he cannot enter by subterranean passage, and they have also been staked out at the Barcelona Zoo, which is a close neighbor to the parliament building in the Parc de la Ciutadella.  It isn’t clear to me what they are doing at the zoo, although some have conjectured that they thought he might take shelter there and then try to enter the parliament dressed as a gorilla or elephant.

What’s with all the whoopla?  It isn’t illegal for Puigdemont to enter Spain.  If they want to arrest him, surely, it would have been easier and far less expensive for the Spanish government to simply place a couple of guards at the parliament building which is his obvious destination and arrest him there on Tuesday.  He’s not a terrorist.  He wouldn’t be armed.  Is it possible they hadn’t thought of that?  That they aren’t interested in saving money?  Or saving face?

President Puigdemont is not likely to enter Spain stuffed into the trunk of a car.  But waiting for him at the parliament building wouldn’t have planted the nasty seed that they’ve tried to plant in the minds of people.  They’ve insulted the Catalan president by conjuring up undignified images of him crumpled up in the trunk of a car, or wading through sewage to get to his investiture.   And yet to many, it’s the Spanish who look ridiculous stopping people at the border and looking into the trunks of their cars.  Unless there is a terrorist alert, the Spanish/French border is usually clear and open (the French police did not agree to participate in the operation).  And mucking around in the sewers did not make the police look particularly dignified.

Not being sure they would find Puigdemont, on Thursday, the Spanish Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, got on television to announce that the government was going to file a petition to prevent the investiture session from taking place.  Actually she said they would file it if the Congressional Counsel approved it.  The Congressional Counsel did not approve it, saying it was illegal, but they filed it anyway.  There was a post on Facebook showing Saenz de Santamaria talking to the press with a quote below.  It may or may not be exactly what she said, I didn’t listen to the whole presentation, but it certainly embodies what she and the government is doing.   It reads: "We totally respect the Catalans, but what is unacceptable is that they take advantage of elections to vote for whomever they want."

The Spanish government filed the petition with the Spanish Constitutional Court to prevent the investiture session from being held on Tuesday.  This is illegal.  The Court can only pronounce on an act, and if the investiture is not proper, it also hasn’t taken place yet.  But they’ve pronounced anyway.  Since they can’t prevent the session, they said that Puigdemont can only attend if the judge trying the case of rebellion gives permission.  This pronouncement is even more improper than stopping the session would have been.  For one thing, it is also preventative, and for another, no one asked them to do that and the court only functions in response to petitions that are presented to it. 

But Puigdemont is no fool and has turned around and filed a request with the said judge to be allowed to attend the session on Tuesday.  We’re all waiting to see what the judge will say and what will happen next.

There is a move on now for people to congregate in front of the parliament building on Tuesday, everyone wearing a mask.  We’re all Puigdemont!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Words Matter

Words matter and the Spanish nationalists have been brazen with theirs while the Catalans have been prudent.  When Madrid announced that the independence referendum was illegal, the Catalans did not jump up and say, loud and clear, “That’s a lie.  Nowhere in the Spanish constitution does it say that any referendum is illegal.”  They said it, but they said it softly and infrequently.  And yet, this is true.  So the word “illegal” took off, and all the international press use it.  (You would think that maybe one enterprising journalist from the London or New York Times or the Washington Post would have looked into the legality or not of referendums in Spain by now.)   

In any case, the UN Charter states that all nations have the right to self-determination, which gives the Catalans the right under international law to vote on a referendum even if it WERE written in the Spanish constitution that it was prohibited.  Inexplicably, “United Nations Charter,” “right to self-determination,” and “international law” have also eluded the mainstream international press.  If all journalists do is report what an authority says and nothing more, we don’t really need journalists at all.  We can just read press releases and watch press conferences unattended by the press – like what goes on at the White House these days. 

When the entire Catalan government was charged with sedition, rebellion, and embezzlement of public funds, the international press took up these heavy-duty words without question.  Sedition means inciting to rebel.  So if you charge rebellion, there is no reason to charge sedition too.  Then when you look at rebellion, you find that it means armed resistance.  The Catalans have no access to arms and have not practiced any violence.  (Most countries dropped the crime of rebellion when they abandoned the absolute rule of monarchs.)  And finally, embezzlement of public funds means you have taken funds for your own private use.  The funds in question were used to hold the referendum vote so it was public money used for a public purpose.

For these reasons, the Belgian judge was not fooled by Spain’s vocabulary and was not going to honor the arrest warrant issued by Spain for the return of Catalan President Puigdemont and the four counselors who are in exile in Brussels with him.  The Spanish judge, having received advanced word, cancelled the arrest warrant to save Spain the embarrassment of having it be denied or reduced to the only charge possible, which was embezzlement.   

On 5 January 2018, the appeal of Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras to be allowed bail was denied by the tribunal reviewing it.  In the 27-page interlocutory, the word “violence” appeared 27 times.  Except for the attack of two police cars at one demonstration on 20 September, there has never been any violence in any demonstration or other activity of the independence movement since its inception over six years ago.

The judges even state that Junqueras has never participated in or ordered any violence be committed.  But, the judges wrote, one cannot ignore that in mobilizing people they might become violent.  Further, when put in situations in confrontation with police who are there to maintain Spanish law, violence can be committed.  Here they were referring to the police violence on 1 October that was committed when riot police confronted and attacked citizens trying to vote.  In other words, they are blaming Junqueras for the police violence ordered by Spanish authorities in order to keep people from voting.

The judges also say that the aspiration for independence is legitimate and they don’t negate that Junqueras can want that.  But then that means that negotiation with Spain would not be possible since independence is not a legal possibility and that would mean that Junqueras would once again have to take unilateral actions as when the Catalan parliament declared independence on 27 October. 

Rajoy called for new elections for the Catalan parliament and in those elections Junqueras won a seat.  One of the reasons for this appeal was so that he could be released on bail and serve the public who voted for him.  Junqueras’s attorney has pointed out that what was a petition to be allowed bail and released from prison while awaiting trial has been treated as a trial verdict, even before the investigation has been completed.  Junqueras has evidently already been tried and convicted although there has been no trial.  The judges say that he might commit the same criminal acts, although he has yet to be convicted of any criminal acts.

The words in the 27-page interlocutory remind me of the peculiar logic of some of the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It’s a similar kind of mixed up world.  Only this is not a fantasy story – it is Spain in the 21st century.

Until now, Catalans have referred to Junqueras and the others in prison as political prisoners – a term the Spanish dislike and deny.  Now they are beefing up their vocabulary and calling them political hostages.   

According to the Council of Europe, Spain has a way to go to comply with its recommendations regarding corruption in parliament, the judiciary, and prosecution.   It was announced a few days ago that “The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body GRECO today published a report assessing Spain’s compliance with its recommendations to prevent and combat corruption in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors.
 “Four years after the adoption of the Fourth round evaluation report in December 2013, GRECO concludes that there has been limited progress in Spain in complying with its recommendations and that the country’s level of compliance remains "globally unsatisfactory". Spain has not yet fully implemented any of the eleven recommendations GRECO issued in 2013. Seven recommendations have been partly implemented and four have not been implemented at all.”

Junqueras may well be a political prisoner, a hostage, and a victim of Spanish judiciary corruption.  He will soon be taking his case to the International Tribunal for Human Rights.  Maybe a visit before that body will help Spain overhaul its corrupt system and better define what is and is not legal and what it means to rebel.  And maybe in the future they will be more prudent in choosing their words.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Catalan Christmas Concert at the Palau de la Música

Every year in Barcelona, the city's great choral society -- the Orfeo Català -- puts on a Christmas concert on the 26th of December, Sant Esteve, which is also a holiday.  If you spent Christmas with your family, then you will probably spend Sant Esteve with your in-laws. 

The concert takes place in the great modernist (Catalan art nouveau) concert hall, the Palau de la Música, and all the different choruses of the Orfeo Català, children, chamber, adults, etc. participate.  This year's concert was one hour forty minutes in duration.  It was shown live on Catalan public television and here is a link to the video (which will begin with one or two advertisements, but have patience).  One song will run through the concert, the Catalan classic Fum, Fum, Fum.  And if you pay attention, you will see various members of the choruses wearing (of their own accord) yellow ribbons to remember the Catalan political prisoners imprisoned in Madrid.

If you don't want to watch or listen to the whole thing, you can watch this two-minute video of the finale, El Cant de la Senyera.  It's not the national anthem, but it is an anthem dedicated to the Catalan national flag.  And it is very beautiful


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Catalan Elections and the Invisible Rabbit

Once again the Catalans landed a peaceful, democratic blow to Spain.   On 1 October over 2 million Catalans voted on the banned referendum that the Spanish government said would never happen and tried to block with 12,000 bat-wielding, riot-geared police.  The result was 2,262,425 votes counted (many ballots were stolen by the Spanish police), with 89% (2,020,144) voting Yes, and 7.8% (176,566) voting No.

This pissed off Madrid so it decided it would get rid of the Catalan government.  Never mind that it was a legitimate, democratically elected government.  The Spanish government made illegal use of Article 155 of the Spanish constitution – an article that says that the government is empowered to give directions to an autonomous community if it sees that things are out of control.  Rather than give directions to the Catalan government, it disbanded it and took over everything: the government, parliament, the economy, the police, agriculture, culture, even sending art works housed in a Catalan museum whose ownership was being disputed in the courts back to the complaining town they had come from years ago, before the final sentence of the judge.  They took over everything.

With half of the Catalan government in prison awaiting trial and others in exile escaping the Spanish government-run judicial system, Madrid also called for Catalan parliamentary elections, thinking this was a good moment for the pro-unity parties to win.  After all, the independence parties were incapacitated.  These would be “real” elections (unlike the banned referendum) run by a company owned in part by the Spanish government.  When Madrid said it would not allow foreign observers, people worried about the honesty of these elections.  And Catalan President Puigdemont asked if Spain would honor the results if the independence parties won.

Madrid said that now the silent majority of Catalans would have a voice.  Of course they had a voice in the September 2015 parliament elections and did not achieve a majority then, and anyone who wanted to could have voted – was encouraged to vote – in the 1 October referendum.  Silent majorities tend to resemble invisible rabbits and it would be interesting to see if Madrid could pull this rabbit out of its hat.

What it did pull out of that hat was a lot of repression.  Freedom of speech almost disappeared.  The Catalan public media was not allowed to call President Puigdemont “President Puigdemont” even though all former presidents maintain their title.  First yellow ribbons (in support of the Catalan political prisoners held in Madrid) were banned from all government buildings, then the color yellow was banned from everything – including night lighting for fountains.   Yellow scarves were banned.  Then, yellow ribbons began to appear everywhere: tied to trees, utility poles, bridges, balconies.

Passeig Maritim, Tarragona

Girona city hall

Citizens who demonstrated in protest of the Catalan political prisoners were not allowed to carry signs that said “Freedom for Political Prisoners.”  The signs were changed to read simply “Democracy” and those were banned too.  A few days before Thursday’s election, Spain’s vice president, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, bragged at a meeting of the Popular Party faithful in Girona: “Who has ordered the liquidation of Catalan secessionism? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party. Who has seen to it that the secessionists don’t have leaders because they’ve been beheaded? Mariano Rajoy and the Popular Party.”  We all knew there was no separation of powers in Spain, and here was the Spanish vice president confirming it on television.  Rajoy had orchestrated the whole judicial procedure and there is no separation of powers between government and judiciary in Spain.

The independentists were not declared illegal, but, as Sáenz de Santamaría pointed out, most of the leaders were either in prison awaiting trial, in exile, or out on bail with charges of rebellion pending.  Any whisper of the word independence would put those people back in jail.  And so the campaign – hat tipped to favor the silent majority -- was under way.

On 21 December the Catalans (both silent and vocal) voted. 

The results were as follows: (the Catalan parliament has 135 seats and 68 are needed for a majority)
Pro-Independence parties (70 seats total)
JxCat:  34 seats, 21.65% of vote
ERC:  32 seats, 21.39% of vote
CUP:  4 seats, 4.45% of vote

Pro-Unity parties (57 seats total)
C’s:  36 seats, 25.37% of vote
PSC:  17 seats, 13.88% of vote
PP:  4 seats, 4.24% of vote

No stand on independence/unity
ComuPodem: 8 seats, 7.45% of vote

The party that won the most seats was Ciutadans – a pro-unity party.  The party that won the fewest seats was PP – the ruling party of Spain and the one that brought police violence and so-called Article 155 to the Catalans.  It fell from 11 seats to 4.  This is a notable result in that the PP is the ruling party in Spain while it is the least voted in Catalonia.  

The block that won the most seats and the majority of parliament was the independence block of three parties Junts per Catalunya (JxCat), L’Esquerra Republicana (ERC), and the CUP.  So much for the silent majority.

And what about that invisible rabbit?  Donald Trump sees millions of happy faces at an inauguration that was poorly attended because he is a man plagued by narcissism.   On the other side of the pond there are those who also don’t see reality, but in their case their vision is warped by political expediency.  This is why the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt sees invisible rabbits.  He could completely ignore the fact that the three separatist parties had won a total of 70 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament – ensuring a separatist majority – and instead congratulate the pro-Spanish Ciutadans (C’s) party which gained 37 seats, the largest single party but one without enough allies to form a government.  The Spanish president has the same vision impairment and did the same.  Not only that, but he announced that he would be happy to talk with the C’s leader while he stated he was not interested in speaking to Carles Puigdemont, the head of the independence block.  We are not talking here about good-natured Elwood P. Dowd who turns out to be wiser than many think.  These are political leaders who will not deal with reality, who are not democrats, and who are demonstrating that the EU has become an old-boys’ club led by people who see invisible rabbits.

What will happen now?  There are many questions pending.  The four Catalan political prisoners have court dates in early January to see if they will be released on bail.  If not, it would make it difficult for those elected to parliament to do their jobs.  If Carles Puigdemont returns to Spain will he be immediately arrested and also imprisoned without bail?  He is likely to be elected President of the parliament, but being imprisoned would make it impossible for him to serve.  Will the Catalans have the elected officials they voted for?  Or will they once again be decapitated by Rajoy?

After all the repression, the Catalans came out and voted once again for independence.  47.8% of the votes were for independence, 43.49% were for unity, and 7.45% were for neither.  Independence votes have been steadily growing.  In the September 2015 elections, the independence block won 1,966,508 votes, in the banned October referendum Yes won 2,020,144 votes, and on 21 December the independence parties won 2,063,361 votes.

There are those who say that independence does not have a majority of the population and that therefore independence cannot be an option.  But you could also say that unity does not have a majority and therefore unity cannot be an option.  If there are those who would be unhappy with the change, there are even more who are unhappy with the status quo.   In a democracy, the citizens would be able to vote on a referendum and decide the issue. 

In the meantime, the Spanish interior minister has decided that the 12,000 para-military police that he sent on 20 September to stop the referendum (which they did not succeed in doing given that all the ballot boxes appeared out of nowhere on the morning of 1 October, over 2 million people voted, and their votes were counted) can go home now.  They’ve been posted in Catalonia for three months.  After beating up unarmed citizens on 1 October, they haven’t had much to do except go out in their vans and helicopters from time to time just to make their presence felt and to intimidate people.  Every now and then a few would go into a bar and start a fight if they were spoken to in Catalan.  Once they started a fight when the two waiters spoke to each other in Catalan, but it turned out that they were speaking to each other in Italian.  How were the Spanish police to know it wasn’t Catalan?  They have nothing against Italian.  Mostly they sat on those ridiculous, expensive boats and complained about the food.

The cost of this police operation is a government secret.  Rajoy has made it so in order not to have to answer questions about it in the Spanish congress.  Estimates make it at about 80 million euros for the three months – just the ships they were housed on cost 300,000 euros a day.  Whatever the amount, it’s a lot of money for a sustained, failed enterprise.

Tweety in the Port of Barcelona
These police are called “Piolins” (Tweeties) by the Catalans.  This is because one of the boats they were housed in had Tweety and other Looney Tunes cartoon characters painted bigger than life on its sides.  Tweety is leaving.  How much longer will the invisible rabbit be with us?  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Catalans tell the E.U. to Wake Up

Today 45,000 Catalans went to demonstrate in Brussels.  Brussels is the capital of Europe, it’s where the European Union has its headquarters. 

Forty-five thousand is a lot of people.  That was the count of the Brussels municipal police.  The Belgian federal police estimated the count at 60,000.  They travelled 1,346 kilometers (836 miles).  It takes 13 hours by car or bus from Barcelona.  Going by plane is faster but it costs more.  A round trip bus ride costs about 100 euros.  There were 250 chartered buses and many regular and chartered planes full of Catalans.  And many people went by car and a few even in motor homes.  

Although a few went a day or two early or stayed a day or two afterwards, most went only to spend the one day.  Those who went by charter bus left Wednesday afternoon to sleep on the bus and arrive in Brussels on Thursday morning.  The demonstration started at 11 am.  They got back on the same bus that afternoon to travel by night and return home the next morning.  To spend the few hundred euros to go by plane or to put up with the discomfort of traveling two nights in a row on a bus takes determination.  The Catalans who went to Brussels were determined. 

Spain managed to convince the world that the referendum held on 1 October was illegal.  But there is nothing in Spanish law or the constitution that says so.  And if there were, there is the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, to which Spain is a signee, that says that all people have a right to self-determination.  So under international law, the referendum was perfectly legal.  Even so, the European Union has gone along with Spain to say that the referendum was illegal.  They also squirmed their way out of condemning the police violence on 1 October, which in any democratic context, is unacceptable, whether or not those going to vote were going to vote on a legal or illegal referendum.  Going to vote is not illegal and does not under any circumstances merit police batons hitting you on the head.

The 45,000 Catalans who descended on Brussels today did so for several reasons.  First of all they were there to show support for their democratically elected president who has not only been illegally removed from office by the Spanish government, but has also gone into exile to avoid charges of rebellion and sedition, among others, charges that stem from his having a different political viewpoint than the Spanish government has. 

Different viewpoints are not allowed in Spain – in fact, the Spanish government says they are unconstitutional -- and there was evidence that fair treatment and a fair trial would not be forthcoming.  Those government officials who remained in Spain were all hauled off to jail immediately from their preliminary hearing, before any trial, and even before any investigation into the charges.  And they have been sitting in jail, without benefit of bail, for over a month, until a few days ago, six of them were released on bail, while four others remain in prison, the judge saying that their release could explode into violence. 

Why suddenly worry about violence when there has never been any violence on the part of the Catalan independence movement?  Maybe the judge is worried about the Spanish fascists exploding into violence if the Catalans are released?  This could be a possibility since there has been violence at each and every one of the ultra-right fascist demonstrations.  But in that case, wouldn’t it be more just to imprison the fascists? 

It turns out that Puigdemont’s going into exile to Belgium was a good move because when the Spanish issued an extradition order, expecting the Belgian judge to pack Puigdemont up and send him back, the judge didn’t do that.  He gave the accused (Puigdemont and four of his cabinet who are with him in Brussels) over a week to prepare a defense to the extradition charges.  The accused in Spain were given 24 hours to do the same before they were sent off to prison without bail from their preliminary hearing.  After the hearing he reserved two weeks for his own decision.  And before the date set for his decision, the Spanish suddenly withdrew their extradition order.  Why?  Because it seemed that the Belgian judge was not going to honor it and that would make the Spanish look bad.  What are charges of sedition and rebellion that carry 30 years prison terms in Spain, are not crimes at all in Belgium.  Spain’s fame as the home of the Inquisition lives on.

Besides showing support for President Puigdemont and his four ministers, the Catalans wanted to bring the issue of the lack of human and civil rights that they are suffering to the door of the European Union, the international organization that was founded on the priniciples of ensuring those rights and who are seen as failing their EU citizens who live in Catalonia.  They have had their legally elected government deposed and replaced by political leaders in Madrid for whom they did not vote.  They consider it a coup d’etat.  They have leaders in jail without bail before any trial.  They are in jail for their political beliefs and that is not something the EU should tolerate.

Seven hundred Catalan mayors have been charged with disobedience for having made polling spaces available for the referendum vote.  Some have already been called to testify before the judge, others are pending.  Several people have been arrested by police for having said things critical of the Spanish government or the Spanish police on social media.  Broadcasters on radio are also being charged for saying things critical of the Spanish government or police.  The Catalan public broadcasting company is under constant scrutiny and daily threat of being taken over by the Spanish government if they utter a word that the government doesn't like -- such as calling President Puigdement "President Puigdemont."

Each day Catalans' civil liberties are being curtailed.  One day they can’t hang yellow ribbons from government buildings, the next day city governments are instructed to remove any yellow ribbons that citizens tied anywhere they might appear throughout the city – park benches, bridges, lamp poles, balconies, or be charged with disobedience. 

They can’t light their public fountains with yellow lights.  A group of seniors is prohibited from wearing yellow ribbons and scarves and demonstrating in front of their city hall in the town of Reus, demanding the release of the political prisoners in Madrid.  The right to demonstrate and protest is fundamental in a democracy, but Catalans are being prohibited from exercising those rights.  Catalans believe that if they want to wear yellow, they should be free to wear yellow.  Catalan media is prohibited from referring to President Puigdemont as “President Puigdemont” even though every ex-president is referred to in that way.  The media cannot say he and his ministers are in exile. 

Initial reports I’ve read in the foreign (English-speaking) press say that the Catalans went to Brussels to ask the EU to support their move for independence.  But that isn’t so, not that they wouldn’t like that.  They went to Brussels to show support for their president who was illegally deposed, with the consent of the EU.  They went to Brussels because two leaders of their legitimate government, the government they elected, are in prison as are two grassroots leaders -- all of them imprisoned without trial for their political beliefs.  These are political prisoners and Europe should be concerned.  They went to Brussels to tell the EU that it should be ashamed for having abandoned its founding principles of human rights.  They have abandoned their citizens -- all Catalans are EU citizens -- to repression by the Spanish government.  Frans Timmermans, the European Commission Vice President, gave a short, cynical statement after the demonstration today that if the Catalans don’t like the Spanish constitution, they should set out to change it.  But Timmermans knows that Catalans are a minority in Spain, and a minority cannot change the constitution when the majority does not want to.  The Catalans went to Brussels to tell the E.U. to wake up.  That democracy is threatened in Spain by flagrant repression, and if democracy is threatened in Spain it is threatened in Europe.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Spain Takes Note of Belgian Justice

The decision of Judge Llarena to withdraw the extradition order against members of the Catalan government in exile was meant to save face, but what it did was to highlight the anomalous functioning of Spanish justice for all to see.

It was possible that the Belgian judge would not approve the extradition order on the basis of doubt that the accused would receive decent treatment and a fair trial in Spain.  But word had it that the Belgian judge was not going to allow the charges of rebellion, sedition, or misappropriation of funds, leaving only the charge of disobedience.  Rebellion and sedition carry penalties of up to 30 years in Spain, while disobedience carries no prison sentence – only the possibility of the person being suspended from holding office. 

Llarena withdrew the extradition order of the president and his cabinet because he knew that there were only those two possibilities: (1) that the Belgian judge would not grant it - finding that in Spain there are no procedural guarantees for a fair trial, or (2) that he would accept it but limit the charges to disobedience.  This is because the charges of rebellion and sedition do not exist in Belgium, or in most other modern countries, having been condemned to obsolescence sometime after the middle ages, and a European extradition order must be for a crime that exists in both member states or appear on a list of 39 specified crimes.  In any case, even the Spanish definition of rebellion requires violence and there was no violence in this case.  And finally, in Belgian law, misappropriation of funds can only be applied when the accused has personally appropriated the funds and that was not in the accusation.  This would mean that Puigdemont and the four ministers, if extradited, could only be tried for disobedience, which carries no prison sentence. 

Either of these two outcomes – denying the extradition or reducing the charges -- would be a great embarrassment to Spain and the Spanish justice system.  When Llarena wants to hold a trial which could condemn the accused to thirty years in prison, and Belgium considers that at most they could be prevented from holding office, the difference in the possible charges and the penalty is so gross that it is inexplicable.   So to avoid the embarrassment of having to answer to the inexplicable, Llarena withdrew the extradition before the Belgian judge’s decision on the matter.

With the withdrawal of the extradition order by the Spanish, the Belgian judge has immediately withdrawn preventive measures (where unlike their counterparts in Spain who are in prison without bail, those in Belgium were free without bail but had to remain in Belgium and make themselves available to the court whenever called).  President Puigdemont and his ministers are now free persons except if they enter Spain where they would be immediately arrested to face charges of crimes that are not crimes in other European countries.

The first consequence of the withdrawal of preventive measures against the legitimate government of Catalonia will be that President Puigdemont, counselors Ponsatí, Serret, Comín, and Puig will be able to participate freely in the demonstration on Thursday in Brussels where it is expected that 20,000-30,000 Catalans will gather before the EU headquarters to demand that the EU uphold the basic human and civil rights written into its constitution and supposedly guaranteed to all EU citizens (Catalans included). 

They are coming to Brussels because the coup d'état against the self-government of Catalonia would not have been possible without the total support of the European Commission.  Claude Juncker made a bad decision for the interests of the Union and in terms of European morals and politics.

President Puigdemont made a statement from Brussels about the cancelling of the extradition order, saying that the “Spanish are not so brave when the world is looking at them.  When they can’t control the whole chain, when they don’t have judges who are friends, or prosecutors who are close to them, and they have the whole world looking at them, then they are not so brave.”

Puigdemont asked why the charges against the rest of the accused were also not withdrawn.  He said that they were victims of a political persecution for carrying out the mandate of the Catalan public that voted for them.  “That’s not a crime, that’s democracy,” he said.

He said the extradition order was withdrawn because Spain has realized that the accusations of rebellion and sedition are not acceptable in Europe and that Europe prohibits persecution for political crimes.  He also said that leaving Spain and going to Europe was a useful strategy because it brought to light the state of Spanish justice.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Belgium Looks at Spanish Justice

Carles Puigdemont and the four ministers: Toni Comin, Meritxell Serret, Clara Ponsati, and Lluis Puig (pictured at right) testified today before a Belgian judge who will decide whether or not to agree to the extradition of the five to the Spanish justice system.

The defense will argue that Spanish justice wants to try the five for their political ideas and decisions.  They say that Spain is not charging them for individual crimes, but for political decisions that were well known to everyone and for which they were democratically elected.

According to the lawyers, the Spanish National Court has delivered five arrest warrants with identical offenses for the five - disobedience, rebellion, sedition and embezzlement of public funds - although it does not provide details of how they were committed or make any distinction between the five accused, although they held different responsibilities as members of the government.  One lawyer says that Spain does not specify what actions their clients carried out specifically for committing these crimes.

The lawyers, moreover, specifically reject that Puigdemont and the four ministers, sacked by an illegal application of article 155 of the Constitution that the Spanish government activated, could be charged with any criminal offense derived from the exercise of their public function related to the voting on 1 October. According to the Belgian press, lawyers will defend before the judge that political action, if it is an offense, is not a criminal offense, which is why extradition should be denied.  The attorneys say that criminal law has nothing to do with it. It has to do with acts related to constitutional or administrative law. The European arrest warrant is political and manifestly abusive, they say.

According to Belgian law, the Belgian judge may reject a European arrest warrant if it is shown that the interested parties will be tried for their political convictions in the country that claims them. But the defense strategy goes even further: lawyers will argue that the crimes of sedition and rebellion do not exist as such in the Criminal Code of Belgium. If the offenses for which they are charged are not classified as criminal offenses in both countries-, the European arrest warrant can be rejected for that reason.

Lawyer and Belgian law expert Denis Bosquet assures that, unlike Spain, the Belgian justice system "is absolutely independent" of the political branch. "The first difference between Spain and Belgium is that Spanish justice has put the ministers who remained there to appear in the Spanish court in jail. And they are not bandits. They are people who, by virtue of a political mandate, have organized a referendum ". The Belgian lawyer claims to be "surprised" because the Spanish government and the king "have expressed themselves so freely and critically" about everything that has to do with the 1 October referendum vote and its judicialization. "I was very shocked to see Philip VI's speech because he talked about irresponsible behavior of politicians. If the Belgian king made such a comment, he would have a very serious problem. In addition, in Belgium such intervention of the justice system would be inconceivable in the face of a political problem."

The ministers who appeared before the Spanish judge were
all sent to prison without bail to await trial
Belgian law could also refuse extradition if it is shown that those affected will be tried for their political beliefs or if it is proven that their fundamental rights can be violated in Spain. The Belgian prosecutor's office may have doubts in this regard.  In the middle of the week he asked the National Court for additional information regarding the extradition demand that affects Puigdemont and four advisers. The Belgian prosecutor was concerned about the conditions of the prison where the five Catalan politicians would be housed if Belgium approved the extradition and he asked Judge Carmen Lamela for information about the Spanish penitentiary system. In particular, he asked what prison the members of the Government would enter, what kind of cell they would be held in - he was even interested in the square meters - and how would their day to day would be in jail.

The Belgian prosecutor's office was also interested in procedural issues, such as what will happen when the president and the ministers arrived in Madrid, if Belgium accepts to approved the extradition, and which court will judge them. Finally, Belgian law asked for clarification about the information provided by Lamela (the Spanish judge in this case) in her account of alleged crimes committed by members of the Government, such as dates and details of the 1 October referendum vote.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said yesterday evening that the Spanish National Court had already sent all the additional information to Brussels. "Nobody in Europe will give us lessons on the exemplary rule of law," said an offended and arrogant Zoido.

Although it is not in their defense briefs, perhaps Zoido’s words will also be taken into consideration by the Belgian judge, who might think that asking for information in order to fairly view a pending case is simply part of his job and be put off by the exhibition of Spanish arrogance on the part of the Interior Minister, the person responsible for Spanish justice.

The judge heard the allegations of the Spanish prosecutor today.  The proceedings for the defense have been adjourned until 4 December after which the magistrate will have one or two weeks to study all the documentation provided by the defense of the members of the Government and issue a resolution. If he rejects the extradition warrant, the Belgian prosecutor's office – but in no case the Spanish - could appeal the decision if he deems it necessary. In the event that the judge gives a green light to extradition, the five members of the Government will be able to appeal twice.

According to data collected by the European Commission, Belgium arrested 74 people for arrest warrants issued by other member states, 17 of which - one in five - were not extradited by decision of Belgian law.

The fact that the two civil leaders and the eight ministers who presented themselves before the Spanish judge are all in jail awaiting trial while the Catalan President and other four ministers who presented themselves to the Belgian judge are free while awaiting their extradition hearing says a lot about the difference between Spanish justice and Belgian justice.  If Puigdemont and his ministers had not gone to Belgium and involved the Belgian justice system in this case, they would all be in jail in Spain, and the rest of the world would not know much about it.  Now, everyone is watching.