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!

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