Tag Archives: eta

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.

El Mundo's corruption allegations – a November surprise

A few days ago, the pro-PP Spanish newspaper El Mundo published a story indicating that Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol were under suspicion of having secret Swiss bank accounts filled with money gained through corrupt practices linked to the Palau criminal case. The newspaper presented a police memo which suggested that these suspicions were already under court investigation.

In the days that have followed, Mas and Pujol have opened legal proceedings against the journalists behind the story and they've repeatedly denied the accusations. At the same time, they've asked the Spanish ministry of justice to explain how an apparently secret police report could have been leaked, and to identify who's responsible. The judge investigating the Palau corruption case also made clear that he hadn't been given any such police report. The following day, El Mundo accused the Mossos d'Esquadra, Catalonia's police force, of helping to destroy evidence linked to the case. The seo uk agency are also opening legal proceedings against the newspaper.

Yesterday, the ministry of justice informed the Catalan newspaper ARA that it couldn't find the original police report but that it seemed to be at least partly based on several different unofficial reports that it has found. Meanwhile, the same ministry informed the EFE agency that it thought the rest of the info on the mysterious police report could well be sourced from internet rumours, and not from any formal investigation. The rumours, not hard to find online, contain several names linked with the Catalan government. Many of the other names implicated are of senior PP officials in various central or autonomous governments. El Mundo did not publish any of these names in its story.

El Mundo has a mixed record when it comes to political revelations. In the past it helped uncover corruption scandals and government involvement with the GAL terrorist group. More recently, it spent months insisting that ETA was involved in the 11M Madrid bombings, despite a lack of evidence. Historically, El Mundo's targets for these exposés have been either politically neutral civil servants or political opponents of the PP.

Right now, it's not clear how this story will develop. Is it possible that Mas and Pujol have actually received funds from corrupt public contract deals? Of course it is. But the absence of an actual police report on which the story depends, and irregularities in the info presented by El Mundo suggest that there is at least a chance that this might not join the ranks of El Mundo's illustrious investigations. Some police sources apparently blame central government HQ for the leaks.

El Mundo most likely planned this story as a sort of late 'October surprise'. Will it have any effect on the Catalan elections? I doubt it.

State of alert: How the PSOE used Franco's strike breaking tactics

[I intended to write this sooner but I've been rather knocked out with flu since Saturday.]

The press was full of it: on the evening of December 3rd, the Spanish military 'took over' air traffic control towers across Spain at the request of the government. Air traffic controllers (ATCs) had, we were told, abandoned their duties en masse, calling in sick in a wildcat strike that brought the 'public infrastructure' of the airports to a grinding halt. But once again, the story we were being told was a narrow and distorted version of events. One that omitted key details intentionally. So it was little wonder that Spanish workers fel little solidarity for the ATCs.

The truth is that the air traffic controllers strike of December 2010 was precipitated intentionally by an agressive PSOE government, and then dealt with by that same government using the weapons of Franco's dictatorship.

Step one is always to demonise the strikers, removing the risk that solidarity poses.

  • We were told that ATCs had an average state-funded salary of €370,000. LIE. ATC salaries are paid out of airport levies. Last available figures point to an average salary of €138,000. Which sounds like a lot, but bear in mind that ATCs are held criminally responsible for mistakes, and the awful stress that this must put on people. There are plenty of other people who earn a lot more than ATCs but few with such a horribly stressful and injurious type of work. Spanish ATCs are among the lowest-paid in Europe.
  • We were told that ATCs phoned in sick, en masse, asking for more money. LIE. On December 3rd, the government announced plans to partially privatise Spain's airports (the 'public infrastructure' that the government fought so hard to protect the very next day). Simultaneously, AENA (Spanish airports management agency) had been engaged in a policy of cancelling vacations, demanding that people 'pay back' sick leave. AENA also intentionally named fewer personnel than were necessary for rotas that week, knowing that the puente weekend would see increased air traffic. AENA, without question, intentionally precipitated the situation.
  • We were told that the ATCs operate a closed shop and keep numbers down in order to keep their pay up. LIE. AENA is responsible for all hiring. AENA has not announced public entrance procedures for four years.
  • We were told that ATCs carried out a strike. LIE. After AENA deliberately sabotaged air traffic control, delays were always going to happen. But AENA publicly claimed that ATCs had walked out. These false accusations led to verbal and physical attacks on ATCs.

So the stage was set for interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba to deal a vicious blow against the ATCs. And that he did. On December 4th, he declared a 'state of alert' (you could also use the term 'state of emergency' but that lacks something of the nuance of the various 'states' Spain can be in, like alerta, excepción, etc). It was the first time in Spain's current democracy that such a measure had been used. And unless you'd been here in the 60s and 70s, you might well think it was a pretty standard, if very grave, response to a crisis.

The truth is that the state of alert is a peculiar item of Spanish law that has its roots in Franco's fascist dictatorship. Throughout the 60s and 70s, Franco's government used the state of alert to smash strikes. It works by declaring all workers of a specific convenio (like metro drivers or, in this case, ATCs) as 'mobilised' military personnel. So you start the day an ATC and before you know it, you're a military ATC with orders from military staff to attend work as and when they demand it. It doesn't matter when your shift was supposed to start because the army can tell you to start when it wants you to. And if you fail to do so? Because you've just become a member of the military, failure to turn up for work on their command means that you are committing sedition. Mutiny. And anyone who does this is sent to court martial and can end up in a military prison for up to 7 years.

So the state of alert is a method controlling workers by bringing in the army. Thus, ATCs were forced to work at gunpoint in some Spanish airports.

The lessons here are clear. Firstly, whenever there's a labour dispute, the last people to trust are (a) the government, (b) the management, and (c) the media. This should have been clear before but it bears repeating. Secondly, the failure of the general strike on September 29th had one major effect: as we warned, the government felt it could move on and get away with anything. Thirdly, the PSOE has once again displayed a flagrant disregard for workers' rights. The state of alert has set a nasty new precedent. By breaking one of the last taboos of Spanish democracy (the army permitted to take command of civilian infrastructure and the militarisation of civilian staff), the PSOE has made Spain a less just, more dangerous country. Now the cat is out of the bag, we can only wait and see when the state of alert will next be used.

We've been warned by the PSOE not to undertake more strikes against its dismantling of Spain's social system and public infrastructure. Now is the time for another general strike. This time, lets make sure it works.

Reference links:

http://www.diariodemallorca.es/mallorca/2010/11/28/razones-atasco-acabado/623975.html

http://www.corrientemarxista.org/estado-espanol/9-estado-espanol/348-decretado-el-estado-de-alarma.html

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.

Nationalism and Catalonia (Part I)

Nationalism plays a major part in Spanish politics. In the press, both here and abroad, nationalism in Spain nearly always refers to Basque or Catalan separatist movements. Doubtless this focus is due partly to the violent campaign waged by armed Basque group ETA; and partly because perceived nationalism amongst minorities makes a shriller sound than the deep underlying drone of majority nationalism.

This majority nationalism – Spanish nationalism – is probably the single strongest political force in Spain today. Nearly half of all voters here can be accurately described as at least sympathetic to the Spanish nationalist agenda – that is: cetralised power in Madrid, no further autonomy for the regions, Spain is one nation: indivisible.

Opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy recently travelled around Spain collecting signatures of people who wanted a Spain-wide referendum on whether Catalonia should be allowed to claim more rights of self-governance. He managed to collect 4.5 million names. Putting aside for the moment more general criticisms of Rajoy's politics, this is clearly a large number of people. Considering that there must have been many who would have signed had they had the opportunity to, or if they'd been pressed to, we can see that Rajoy's petition – while not 'the single largest political movement in democratic Spain' as some right-wingers claimed – had the support of wide swathes of the Spanish population.

While the focus here in Catalonia is always on the two major Catalanista parties (ERC and CiU) and one increasingly Catalanista bloc (PSC), little time seems to be spent considering the reasons behind the growth of the separatist movement. As Giles Tremlett ably points out in Ghosts of Spain, almost anyone you ask about the issue has trenchant views on the debate. Whether in favour of independence, against independence, or sick of the entire question (this counts for a lot of people), Catalonia and Catalan independentism are seriously hot potatoes.

I reckon that the key arguments behind Catalan independentism are actually not nationalist, per se. Of course, political parties who are ostensibly in favour of greater autonomy often use nationalist rhetoric to win votes. To a greater degree though, the 'nationalist' tag is usually applied by opponents of the movement, often by the same people who can be accurately described as Spanish nationalists. The main arguments I hear over and over again are historical (some Catalans still feel that their land is occupied by the Spanish), left-wing (Catalonia has developed a rare breed of business-savvy socialism which doesn't marry at all well with the aims of certain Spanish political parties), and a sense of difference, so difficult to describe that I'm going to have to come back to it at a later date.

All nationalism is stupid, more or less.
More next week…

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On a related note, just a couple of thoughts about politicians. Of course they're all there to gain power for themselves, to some degree. But this doesn't mean that none of them  have any values. It seems that if we dismiss all politicans as liars, all parties as morally bankrupt and all political philosophy as bunkum then not only do we damn the population as stupid (which I find an abhorrent attitude), but also we end up with politicians and parties who fulfill our worst expectations.