Category Archives: ‘Terror’

El País – from liberal leader to voice of the establishment

If El País is "co-author of the transición", what does the state of this newspaper tell us about the state of Spanish democracy? That is has retreated into an increasingly authoritarian, illiberal and limiting structure no longer aimed at liberating a nation but at preserving the status quo, above all else.

When I first moved to Barcelona nearly 15 years ago, El País was still read in progressive Catalan households. Even though it had practically always been close to the sort of 'Socialismo' represented by Felipe Gonzalez, El País seemed to stand up to the conservative, even post-Francoist caspa of the Aznar government. Throughout that era, as its readership shared in the boom of the 2000's, El País seemed to represent a progressive, hopeful agenda for Spain. After 2004's 11M bombings, El País offered clear analysis and avoided the unforgivable conspiracy theories of El Mundo and other parts of Spain's conservative press. Zapatero, the most progressive Spanish prime minister to date, helped encapsulate a sense that a certain 'can do' Spanish liberalism was dominating, and despite the launch of Público, El País was still there as the leading liberal voice.

The dawning of the crisis meant bad times for Spain, and bad times for El País and its proprietor Grupo Prisa. Despite layoffs, the newspaper struggled with huge debts, many with the banks it was supposed to be investigating. The ones that helped trigger the crisis itself. Now the government proposed critical labor reforms and I, in retrospect late to the game, saw that El País wasn't in the business of opposing central economic policy. As unions planned first one and then a second general strike, El País published hatchet jobs on their leaders and did its best to undermine turnout. When the Socialist government used Franco-era measures to forcibly militarize all air traffic controllers in the country, El País published lie after lie about the industrial dispute they were involved in. And as Catalonia, without its promised Estatut – which the newspaper had backed, started to look towards self-determination, El País retreated into the sort of dogmatic legalism which still informs its position today.

Grupo Prisa's CEO, Juan Luis Cebrián, was interviewed the other day in El Mundo by Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo y Peralta-Ramos, the 13th marquise of Casa Fuerte and hotshot at José Maria Aznar's right-wing Spanish nationalist FAES think tank (she who allegedly broke the law the other day at the trial of Mas et al, but who will doubtless face no penalty). Asked about the Catalan question, Cebrián laid out his position frankly and clearly: "If the king's brother in law can go to jail, why can't Artur Mas?" [a curious comparison, given that Iñaki Urdangarin, has been jailed for corruption and embezzlement, while Artur Mas is on trial for permitting a non-binding popular consultation to be held] and "Someone mentions sending in the Guardia Civil. People say 'no, not the Guardia Civil', but I say: yes, why not? That's what the Guardia Civil is for" and "[The government should act so that] the debate isn't about when they get their independence, but about when they get their autonomy back".

The interview is fascinating because it helps to explain the decline of El País as a leading liberal voice, the decline of the PSOE as the party of reform, and the end of the Transition Pact, the end of nearly 40 years during which the Catalan bourgeoisie represented by Convergència i Unió could be relied on to maintain the governability of Spain as a whole. The new pact which has replaced the old one is opposed to constitutional reform, which is why it maneuvered to prevent a PSOE-Podemos coalition in the last two elections, and preferred to gift Rajoy reelection than see Pedro Sánchez in charge.

The new pact can be defined by 4 particular policy lines on which its members agree: opposition to reform other than further liberalization of the labor market; the reduction of the concept of democracy to "the rule of law" and not much more; a strict and un-nuanced reading of the constitution; the rejection of the right to self-determination.

Regarding this last point, last month Alfred de Zayas, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, wrote to the Spanish government to raise concerns about its treatment of the Catalan question – the so-called 'Operación Cataluña', which involves criminal trials for elected officials, along with other, even murkier tactics. He reminded Spain about the right to self-determination. And he noted that a referendum is a very good way of resolving questions like that currently concerning Catalonia.

El País, once the leading liberal voice in the Spanish language, chose not to report this letter.

Spain's anti-terrorist parties law used against Catalan Democrats

Spain's law of political parties, enacted in 2002 to prevent Basque parties linked to terrorism, has been used for the first time to prevent the registration of a political party with an explicitly pro-Catalan independence manifesto. The party formerly known as Convergència was attempting to register its new name – Democratic Party of Catalonia – with the Spanish registrar of political parties. The name itself was also rejected for bearing too close a similarity to the Catalan Democrats party formed out of the ashes of Unió, but this was expected. What wasn't expected was a political reason for refusing to register the party.

The law, voted in with the support of CiU, allowed the courts to ban Batasuna and a range of other attempted Basque left-independence parties on the basis of alleged links with terrorism. In fact, at the time the law was introduced, many felt that it had been created solely for the ETA/Batasuna case and that there was no way that Spain would abuse the legal system to ban legitimate parties (i.e. parties with no links to armed groups).

It states that a party can be made illegal when it threatens democratic principles, particularly by threatening to reduce or destroy the 'state of freedoms' or to make democracy impossible. Specific grounds it cites include (excuse the rough translation):

  • Threatening freedoms and fundamental rights; promoting, justifying or otherwise supporting attacks that threaten death or injury; or excluding or persecuting people on the basis of their ideology, religion or beliefs, nationality, race, sex or sexual orientation.
  • Fomenting, enabling or legitimizing violence as a means of achieving political objectives or to endanger the conditions present for the peaceful exercise of democracy, pluralism and political freedoms.
  • Form part of and provide political support to terrorist organizations with the intention of aiding them to subvert constitutional order or seriously threaten the peace; intending to subject public authorities, specific individuals or parts of society, or society as a whole to a climate of terror; or contributing to the amplification of the effects of acts of terror the fear and intimidation they cause.

However, article 6 of the law states that parties "will align their organization, operation and activity with democratic principles and with the content of the Constitution and the law". And it's this flimsy sentence which the Interior ministry is using to effectively ban the PDC.

It's very clear indeed that the law is aimed at banning political parties which threaten, carry out or justify – by their own acts or via proxies – violence or terrorism. Altering the purpose of this law so that it now covers any party which campaigns for radical change, however peacefully, is confirmation of the PP's disturbingly authoritarian attitude to constitutional democracy.

Osama bin Laden and the power of nightmares

A couple of days ago, I read what in retrospect was a fortuitously timed article on CNN.com. After detailing Osama bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora, Tim Lister ended by noting that OBL probably wasn't hiding in the 'tribal' area on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at all. He reckoned that the fugitive might be holed-up in the wilds of Kunar, a remote zone that includes places where "no man has set foot". Lister was, as we know today, only half right. Osama bin Laden was actually hiding near Islamabad in what seems to have been relative comfort. He was shot dead last night by US special forces.

So the era of bin Laden at #1 on the FBI's most wanted list (he was already there when the September 11th 2001 attacks happened), is over. I can't help but feel that it makes little difference now. Because America has already accepted mortal head wounds as 'justice', permanent internment camps as 'security', and permanent war as normality.

Adam Curtis's film "The Power of Nightmares" dealt with the twin forces of militant Islamism and neo-conservatism that ended up shaping much of the current geopolitical landscape. Together (and they must always be taken together, for they needed each other desperately), they succeeded in causing probably over a million deaths, most of which occurred in the middle-east. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend that you try to get hold of a copy. UPDATE: As Erik points out in the comments below, the film is available to watch or download for free at the Internet Archive.

If all this is making you nostalgic for the days of "Get this!" Iberian Notes, check out this online novel which features a familiar-sounding character. It's eerie.

More national policy soon. Until then, sleep well: they haven't invented their new nightmare yet.

Another political party banned in Spain

Iniciativa Internacionalista, a new party formed for the EU elections, has been banned by the Spanish supreme court. The court judged that it is a reformed edition of Acción Nationalista Vasca and Batasuna. and therefore represents the political wing of separatist group ETA.

The party, which seems to have been standing accross Spain, describes itself as supporting 'state socialism', the protection of rights, an end to capitalism in Europe, independence for the Basque and Catalan countries, and has links with some internationalist/Trotskyite groups in Spain. The Spanish government, which retains the right to ban any political party it alleges is working to represent ETA at the ballot box, stated that it had received information from state security forces that various members of II have differing levels of contact with multiple far-let, violent and 'terrorist' groups in the Basque Country. Among those accused are the party's leader, writer Alfonso Sastre [ES].

It should be clear to anyone that banning political parties is not the way to deal with problems in a democracy. Whether or not Spain is still deemed to be 'emergent', it strikes me that this is not the measured action of a mature government. And now, the illegalisation of parties is beginning to affect polls in the other regions of Spain.