Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Evolution (not yet re-volution) of the recent events in Catalonia
Facts (and some factoids).
The approval of the laws for the Referendum of Independence (Llei 19/2017, del 6 de setembre, del referèndum d'autodeterminació) and foundation of the Catalan republic (Llei 20/2017, de 8 de setembre, de transitorietat jurídica i fundacional de la república catalana) led to the celebration of the Referendum on October 1st.
In the meantime the central government and its police forces were unable to locate and seize the physical elements for the polls in spite of several attempts, conducting house searches of private firms, printing houses and private homes. More than 20.000 ballot boxes, millions of ballot slips and dozens of computers to register the votes, were distributed to the more than 6.000 electoral centers located mainly in local schools or town halls. Many ballot centers were occupied from the night before the 1st of October by volunteers, organised through cell phone social networks, to protect the celebration of the referendum. Police forces, more than 10.000 strong, of the “Policia Nacional” and “Guardia civil” from different parts of Spain had been deployed in Catalonia, coordinated by a Guardia civil colonel (soon to be promoted to brigadier-one star-general), initiated actions to interfere with the celebration of the referendum, directly attacking the electoral sites and the volunteers defending them. Thousands of pictures and video films showing the viciousness of the attacks broadcasted all over the world (https://spanishpolice.github.io), speak for themselves. Peculiarly enough, the repression stopped sometime around noon GMT, as images of the attacks started to fill the news broadcasts of BBC and CNN television channels. Although some 500 ballot centers saw their voting slips and equipment seized, the voting continued afterward in all the centers. The police actions were an utter failure, achieving nothing but hurting people’s bodies and feelings. That will not be forgiven; not forgotten.
Of a total de 2.286.217 voters, some 45% of the census, 90% voted in favor of the independence of Catalonia. Some weeks later, the Catalan Parliament approved and, in a not quite understandable political maneuver, immediately postponed a Declaration of independence, in the hope this would move the Spanish Central government to some process of negotiations. The response was the immediate dismissal of the Catalan government and dissolution of the parliament by implementing an obscure article of the Spanish Constitution, the 155, that allows the central government to intervene the political organisations of the regional (autonomic) governments in circumstances of constitutional conflict. This meant a de facto suppression of the autonomic regime for Catalonia.
Just as immediately, the Central government called for a general election in Catalonia to take place as soon as the law permitted, in some 50 days. The election took place on the 21st of December and the results did not change much the composition of the parliament forces, giving again a scant majority to the independentists parties, while reducing the representation of the Partido Popular governing in Spain to an insignificant number of three members in a chamber of 135 (later raised to four when the votes of Catalans residing abroad were recounted, a fact considered for many as proof of ballot rigging). The important defeat of the Partido Popular enraged the Spanish government.
With the application of the article 155 the Central government proceeded to imprison several members of the Catalan government as well as the leaders of two very influential civil organisations, Omnium Cultural and Assemblea Nacional Catalana on trumped charges of “rebellion”. Some other members of the dismissed Catalan government, including the president Carles Puigdemont, went into exile to Belgium.
The judicial part.
The Spanish central government and the Popular Party in power have refused any possible negotiation or talks about the situation in Catalonia. They have decided to give the whole problem a judicial treatment by injunctions, indictments and other legal proceedings to what is, obviously, a political problem. To carry this on, they have enlisted some judges well known for their political leanings, close to ultra-conservatism, and with clear or semi-occult relations with the Popular Party. This in total and complete contempt of the separation of powers of any modern democracy. The so-called “ministerio fiscal”, equivalent to District or State Attorneys in Spain, reports to the Justice Department and depends organically of the seating government. All their actions are ordered by the executive. Besides this, the corps of “Abogados del Estado”, State lawyers, is chartered to bring to court whatever the government deems worth to fight for. The Central government has used the “Audiencia Nacional”, a judicial body instituted some years ago to combat national and international terrorism and drug traffic, to indict politicians, a move of very dubious legal grounds. For more local matters, police takes injunctions to one specific court, Barcelona 13th, manipulating schedules. This court has been known of issuing sentences biased against Catalan plaintiffs in many occasions. All the judicial matters concerning political representatives, who have a special immunity charter, raised in Catalonia should be taken to the Supreme Court of Catalonia. However, in use of the above-mentioned Article 155, this has been overpassed and all the proceedings have been taken to the Spanish Supreme Court and to an specific instructor judge, Pablo Llarena, well known for his ultra-right leanings, who was appointed by the Popular Party. (Judge Llarena’s wife, also a judge and director of the Judicial School, a training institution for aspiring judges, is a very close friend and classmate of the current vice-president of the Spanish government). Judge Llarena has imprisoned without bail, under “provisional” predicament, something meant for high crimes or plaintiffs with high risk of evasion, nine politicians and civil leaders with accusations of “rebellion”, “sedition” and misappropriation of public money that may carry up to 30 years of jail term. To most Catalans, they are political prisoners, something unacceptable in the European Community. Also issued what is called “euro-orders”, search and detention orders within the European Union, against the president of the Generalitat and other members of the Catalan government currently in exile in Belgium, Scotland, Switzerland and lately, Germany. This has proved to be a very wrong move, as those countries and their judiciary have refused to extradite them to Spain, mostly on grounds of not accepting the “rebellion” charges, as no violence has been involved in any moment, other than the provoked by the police forces themselves. This is commonly viewed as a big mess. The Spanish government has forfeited the old Gypsy curse: “Pleitos tengas. Y los ganes.” “May you have lawsuits in your life. And win them.”
The political part.
The political conduction of this whole affair by the independentist parties has not been free of difficulties and great errors. On top of the ones imposed by the Spanish Central government, the legal constraints of the Constitutional framework, the lack of consistency of the position of the different options of the Catalan politicians, disagreements have plagued the evolution of what is being called “el Procés”. Some decisions have been taken in the Catalan Parliament with scant majorities, legally sufficient but “politically” short for the importance of the issues at hand. Some others have been decided and immediately retired, misleading the public opinion, unable to understand the shortcomings of political wheeling and dealings. With a good part of the political leaders in jail or exile, to decide who is going to opt to the job of President of the Generalitat after the elections of December 21st, has rendered the nomination of the new government to a limbo of indecisions. Not that the impossibility to form governments is something unusual. Some countries have fared months without one, the record Belgium that took 541 days to nominate a government of consensus back in 2011. But the Parliament regulations, after one candidate has not been able to obtain the election as president, a clock is set on, giving a limited period of three months to try again. Otherwise, the Parliament will be dissolved and new elections will be called. While the Spanish Central government wants a candidate to be someone with no legal issues that may interfere with the nomination, the independentists want to offer the position to one of the political leaders, legally elected but in jail. This will prove very difficult unless the Supreme Court allows the candidate to be freed and take the office. Mind you that being in jail “preventively” and not yet sentenced, the imprisoned politicians retain all their rights to elect and be elected to public office. However, not being able to be present at the nomination interferes with the possibility of taking office. The presence in various European countries, in exile, of former members of the Catalan Generalitat is giving an international resonance to the whole situation. Whether this would entice the European powers: states, international bodies, parties, media and opinion leaders to lean onto the Spanish central government and force some form of negotiations with the Catalans, is yet to be seen.
Some new actors have come to the political scene. For most of the Spanish public opinion as well as many Spanish politicians, the whole independence process in Catalonia is promoted, managed, sustained and put forward by a group of independentist zealots ingrained in the Generalitat government with the support of two main civil organisations: Omnium Cultural i ANC. Most of the government members and the leaders of the civil organisations are currently in jail. This would mean the independentist movement has been beheaded. This fails to understand the Catalan reality. What really leads the movement is the people. This is not just “big words”. Those great rallies that put more than two million people in Barcelona streets were carried on by people from all walks of life. The whole execution of the 1-O referendum, hiding the ballot boxes, occupying the voting centers, resisting the police onslaught and completing the voting was carried out by plain people, volunteers. There was a subtle grassroots organisation with no leaders nor records that came to be named “Comités por la Defensa del Referendum” Committees for the Defense of the Referendum or CDR. More recently it has changed the name to “Comités de Defensa de la República”, retaining the same acronym. The CDR’s are now putting civil and peaceful pressure both on the Catalan political parties and the Spanish government: marches, meetings, decorations of public spaces with symbols (mostly yellow ribbons, claiming the freedom of the political prisoners), conferences, interrupting traffic in main thoroughfares, “liberating” tolls in highways, circling official buildings and some other imaginative ways of expressing their will to upkeep a republic independent from Spain. They are organised by towns and city (“barrios”) quarters and they are here to stay.
Of course, my view is still partisan and, Alás! optimistic. I am in this for the long run. I see the only way out is the outright independence of Catalonia. No matter what and how long it takes. I tend to see the Catalan bid for independence as a part, even a solution, to the major crisis of the Spanish state as it is. The Spanish “system” is rotten, corrupted and crumbling, just as the “estaca” (the stake) of the popular Lluis Llach song. The Partido Popular is mired in multiple corruption charges, with some 900 members indicted on charges of embezzlement, misappropriation, graft and general corruption. Corruption means the involvement of corrupted and corrupters, as so many firms and business have been prying public officials for favors. The judiciary has proven not to be independent of the other powers, losing any credibility it could retain. The royal family involved in scandals that question its very existence. The Catholic church is still meddling shamelessly in public affairs from ultra-conservative positions. The social welfare state is a shambles having consumed all the reserves of the pensions fund, unemployment in double-digit figures and up to 40% of the young. The economy leans heavily on the Catalan exactions. If the fiscal balance between Spain and Catalonia was even, that may solve many of the Catalan needs. But may ruin Spain. Thus the resistance to any independence movements. But this will come, sooner or later, to an end. And I see no other than a negotiated separation. Or just a severance, come what it may.
March 7, 2018
Addendum (to be expanded): The terror attacks of 17A (of which I have no doubt that it had a very specific origin), the deployment of the "piolins" (Spanish Policia Nacional and Guardia civil forces, nicknamed after the tv cartoon character "Tweety", in Spanish), the 1-O, and the taking of hostages are events that, over the years, should be recognized as "warfare" . Read Sun-Tzu.
We are not Spain, as already stated by Gaspar de Guzmán and Pimentel, better known as count-duke Olivares 400 hundred years ago...
More to follow.