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Catalonia Update: Political Prisoners Return to Spain

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Spain now has political prisoners for the first time since the dictatorship of the fascist, Francisco Franco. Last night, a Spanish judge ordered the preventive arrest of two of Catalonia’s most outspoken supporters of independence, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart. Another man, Josep Lluís Trapero, was sent home but obliged to turn in his passport.

These men are not ETA terrorists. They have not planted bombs or murdered anyone. The two Jordi’s are leaders of Catalan civic organizations, the Assemblea Nacional Catalana and Omnium, respectively. Mr. Trapero is the head of the Catalan regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who behaved with impeccable professionalism during the recent Barcelona terror attacks.

Spaniards will be quick to argue that these are not political prisoners. They are being charged with obstructing an ongoing police investigation. But the Spanish are not investigating drug trafficking or child pornography, a group of Al Qaeda affiliates or a ring of kidnappers. They are investigating the crime of sedition. To be perfectly clear: Messrs. Sánchez and Cuixert are being held for organizing peaceful demonstrations in front of Catalan government buildings that Spanish police were ransacking in order to disrupt a referendum declared illegal by the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal. Mr. Trapero is accused of insufficiently supporting Spanish police efforts during the 1 October referendum itself. In other words, he is accused of not ordering his Mossos to help Spanish police and paramilitaries Civil Guards to put more than 900 defenseless citizens in the hospital.

The Spanish government and courts have been threatening to apply sedition charges with an extraordinary breadth for a democratic country. Public officials, civic leaders and protest organizers could face up to 15 years in jail. Ordinary protesters could face fines of up to 100,000 euros. These threats have been the hysterical shriek of bureaucratic and political mediocrities who are confounded by the mass defiance of 2.5 million independistas and can only bellow in rage.

Until now. Now it seems that the witch hunt may begin in earnest.

Sedition — conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.

Rebellion — 1) an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader.
2) the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention.

No one in Catalonia has called for armed resistance or open rebellion against Spain. The only people using force in the region are the 10,000 Spanish police and paramilitary forces deployed there for the failed suppression effort on October 1st and still present as a latent threat. So the Spanish are applying the second definition: “resisting authority, control or convention.” But any act of protest is an act of resisting authority by its very nature, which means the Spanish government could charge anyone protesting their actions, no matter how peacefully, with seditious speech or intent. And Madrid doesn’t need to apply the sedition law to crush demonstrators: they already have the neo-fascist “Gag Law”, a law which more closely resembles Franco’s Law of Political Responsibility than anything worthy of a modern European state. So much for the guarantees of peaceful assembly and protest.

The contrast in the Spanish treatment of political crimes versus other types of offenses couldn’t be more revealing. Messrs. Sánchez and Cuixert are arrested as a “preventive measure”. Preventive of what? These are peaceful men who have no intention of leaving Catalonia for any reason until they have their own country. They have been public figures for years and never hidden their beliefs, their activities or their location. Rodrigo Rato (Partido Popular), convicted of fraud, embezzlement and tax avoidance: sent home. Iñaki Urdangarín (Royal household), convicted of embezzling public funds: sent home. Cristina de Borbón (Infanta of Spain), wife of Urdangarín, member of his company’s Board of Directors and cosigner of numerous incriminating documents was exonerated because the judge accepted the argument that “she didn’t know what she was signing”. Poor lamb. Meanwhile, another 2,000 public officials in both the Partido Popular and its indistinguishable “left-wing” co-conspirator, the PSOE, remain under investigation for various degrees of fraud, illegal financing, awarding public contracts illegally, and sundry other crimes of a mostly economic nature. Many of them have been under investigation for years. Organizing a vote? Sedition? 48 hours. In contrast, if Sánchez, Cuixert and Trapero belonged to the Partido Popular, their trials might take a decade or more.

That is modern Spain, a democracy where everyone votes for the same pack of unaccountable and corrupt elites, who paint themselves red and blue because there is no other way to distinguish their swinish forms, and who are only pulled away from the public trough for the grossest of transgressions. They recognize the need and utility of periodically sacrificing one of their number to “show resolve” in the never-ending and never-started war against corruption, but for the most part, they act like feudal lords extracting rents from an ignorant peasantry that ought to show gratitude that the fleecing is not worse. They even call their political bosses “barons” in Spanish. Of course they don’t want Catalonia to secede: that much less swill for the swine.

No wonder ordinary Catalans want out [1].

It is the rankest hypocrisy when the worst transgressors declare themselves to be the defenders of the “rule of law”, so truly necessary for a democracy to function properly and not become an oligarchy. These men an women are very patriotic except when it comes time to pay taxes, which is why Spain has one of the highest tax evasion rates in Europe. But Spain is not unique in this respect; in every country and throughout history, those who have most avidly wrapped themselves in flags are usually the ones with the most need to cover up.

These arrests constitute another “unforced error” on the part of the Spanish government. Whatever face they try to put on it, there are two men in jail for their political convictions in Western Europe in 2017. The two Jordi’s will quickly be converted into Lech and Nelson by the Catalan press and it will resonate in a Europe that is already denouncing this sort of hounding of political enemies in Turkey.

Jail may turn out to be the greatest service Messrs. Sánchez and Cuixert can do their self-declared country; Catalonia has no shortage of grassroots organizers. Mr. Trapero could also play an expanded role. Rather than return to the Mossos, where he has capable lieutenants, he ought to seek political asylum in a sympathetic embassy, like those of Finland or Estonia. It might even be granted. That would be as clear a signal of disapproval as possible by other EU member states of Spain’s position, as well as a slap in the face to Jean-Claude Juncker’s policy of selective and hypocritical non-interference in internal matters. If a few Catalan journalists could contrive to have themselves jailed as well, or even knocked on the head, the picture against Spain would be complete.

Mariano Rajoy could not do a worse job managing this crisis if his script was being written by Carme Forcadell. How does he think any of this will solve his problem? One that is political, not legal? Most unaffiliated Catalans probably don’t care over much about the fates of Messrs. Sánchez and Cuixert, but they are fond of the Mossos, which is probably why Mr. Trapero was let off more easily…for now (the fact that he committed no crime has no bearing). But once the Spanish crack down on ordinary people — and they will be obliged to — repugnance and support for independence can only grow. Every neighbor jailed is another 100 votes for independence; every Catalan grandmother or child sent to a hospital by a Spanish truncheon is an affirmation of the breach between two peoples — and eventually two nations. What will Rajoy do? Jail two and a half million people? Turn Catalonia into an Iberian Stalag?

Catalan President Puigdemont has fixed a two month deadline on his offer to negotiate during the temporary suspension of the declaration of independence, but he needn’t have bothered. This is the only sort of “dialogue” that Spain proposes to Catalonia: that between judge and condemned, the discourse of the gaoler. If Mr. Puigdemont was waiting for excuse to promulgate that Declaration of Independence, he now has it. This one is as good as any. The Catalan Parliament should not wait any longer.


Sources and Notes

[1] Which is not to say that Catalan political parties are any cleaner than their counterparts in the rest of the system. Same tree, same apples. But to the extent that the Catalan independence movement is a popular one, the ordinary people involved say they are keen to eliminate corruption once they are out of the whole venal system.

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