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.