Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said during the week that ‘the government of Spain is building confidence around the world, and everyone sees that we have a consolidated democracy.’ Well, let’s just consider that absolutely absurd claim, Enric, as we reflect on some of the week’s news, more or less in the order that events unfolded. Much of what has happened in Spain in the past 6 days has been slated and ridiculed in the international media, bringing further damage (if that’s possible) to ‘Brand Spain’ or ‘Marca España’ …
Last Sunday there were reports that a Spanish runner in the London Marathon spat in the face of a spectator carrying a Catalan flag; she was the daughter of another runner, a Catalan dermatologist. After the Spanish National Police had confiscated yellow T-shirts and scarves from Barcelona fans before the start of last Saturday’s Copa del Rey (in which the king of Spain was met with a ‘deafening whistle’ during the national anthem), questions were asked in the Spanish senate as to why. The Spanish government eventually denied that any order had been given, and insisted that it was a police and security decision.
Yellow roses featured prominently during Monday’s celebration of Sant Jordi across Catalonia, as a symbol of protest against the Catalan political prisoners. Spain finally began some civil war exhumations at the ‘Valley of the Fallen’ – Franco’s grotesque mausoleum. I say ‘some’ because there are around 34,000 civil war dead there (from both sides) – but only four were to be exhumed. Only in 2016 did a court finally approve the exhumation of two brothers executed by Francoist forces at the start of the civil war. ‘The bodies of Manuel Lapeña, a vet, and his brother Antonio, a blacksmith, were dumped in a mass grave in Calatayud, north-eastern Spain and then dug up decades later and reburied in the basilica without their families’ knowledge or permission,’ reported The Guardian. On Monday, the families weren’t even allowed access in order to witness the start of the search for exhumation.
Willy Toledo, the actor accused of insulting God and the Virgin Mary, failed to turn up for the court hearing (and nor did God and the Virgin Mary). Toledo has now been summoned again for 22nd May, and threatened with arrest if he fails to appear.
The ‘number two’ at the Spanish Treasury was reported as agreeing with his Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, in that there was no misuse of public funds for the 1st October referendum in Catalonia. It seems that five reports have already been issued stating the same thing. The news has been widely reported in the German press, as authorities there still await further evidence in the extradition request of Carles Puigdemont.
On Wednesday, the former president of the Assembly of the Council of Europe and current PP senator, Pedro Agramunt, was forced to deny all allegations against him in a report by an Independent Commission of the European institution that investigates possible corruption. He claimed it was ‘219 pages of lies’ which included reports of bribes, threesomes with prostitutes, envelopes containing €500 notes, bank transfers of €15,000, as well as gifts from Hermès and loads of caviar. He added, ‘I wish I could do these things’, but that he was ‘at an age’ and that ‘it was all false … a ridiculous accusation and without evidence.’ So there you go.
Both Oriol Junqueras and Jordi Cuixart have again requested to be moved to prisons in Catalonia; the request will no doubt be refused. Catalan MP Jordi Sànchez was ordered to remain 18 hours a day in his cell for a month as punishment for recording a voice message for last December’s electoral campaign … er, an electoral campaign in which he was legally allowed to stand as a candidate. The Spanish Constitutional Court (perhaps on the Spanish government’s instructions) has also ruled that Carles Puigdemont can’t actually be the President of Catalonia … er, despite also being allowed to stand in last December’s elections as the leader of his party, and despite gaining enough seats to retain his position as President in a coalition of the pro-independence groups. Indeed, The Times newspaper published an in-depth interview with Puigdemont this very weekend, referring to him as still the current Catalan President … as well as ‘Spain’s public enemy No.1.’ Meanwhile, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, told German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt, that ‘any mediation [with Catalonia] through a third party would be a victory for Puigdemont, which he didn’t win at the ballot boxes.’
A security camera video (that had been kept concealed for seven years) emerged of Cristina Cifuentes, the PP president of Madrid’s regional government, stealing two tubs of Olay anti-ageing face cream, worth about €40, from an Eroski supermarket. Eroski’s security videos are normally erased after 15 days, so it is unclear how OK Diario obtained the footage and published it. Cifuentes had already been under pressure to resign over allegations that she’d faked her master’s degree, awarded by the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid – and on whom she’d tried to put the blame. Finally she resigned without using the word ‘resign’. Instead, she said she was stepping aside to not jeopardise her administration’s achievements and not allow the ‘leftist opposition’ to take control. It was reported that Rajoy had ordered her to resign before 12 noon, which was the start of the crucial budget debate.
The ‘News Council’ of Spain’s public broadcaster, TVE, has asked the European Parliament to evaluate whether the corporation fulfils ‘the principles of objectivity, plurality and impartiality’ in its efforts to denounce cases of ‘news manipulation and censorship’. Recent controversies included playing the theme tune of The Exorcist over images of Carles Puigdemont.
A judge dismissed the case of some municipal police who’d threatened the Madrid mayor, Manuela Carmena, in a WhatsApp chat. The hate speech, that included wishing her ‘an agonising death’ and referring to her as ‘a motherfucking red bitch’ was private, according to the judge. There were unconfirmed reports of people being paid €50 euros a night to go out and remove yellow ribbons and ‘free political prisoners’ posters, after videos emerged of men in balaclavas doing so. A 3,000 person human chain at Montserrat mountain was formed to demand freedom of Catalan political prisoners still in Spanish jails.
Spain’s Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, wanted to give awards to the German police who detained Puigdemont. That was embarrassing in itself. The fact that the German authorities then said that they didn’t want him to, made it even more embarrassing. The story was picked up by The Washington Post, which explained that the government of Schleswig Holstein (where the 25th March arrest occurred) had refused to give Spain the names of the officers involved because they ‘only did their jobs’.
A video emerged of scenes outside the ‘bar fight’ in Alsasua, that appeared to contradict versions given at the trial by one of the off-duty Civil Guard officers attacked. Albert Rivera, leader of Spain’s Ciudadanos party, retweeted a collage photo published by El Mundo newspaper, identifying eight Catalan teachers under investigation for supposed ‘hate crimes’. He accused the Spanish government of cowardice for not applying further disciplinary measures. This man hopes to become the next Prime Minister of Spain.
Warning: this last piece of sickening Spanish news (and which became global news) might not be suitable for some people to read.
Back in July 2016, five men from Seville (including a Civil Guard officer and a military officer) gang raped – yes, gang raped – an 18 year old woman at the bull running festival in Pamplona. The men called themselves ‘la manada’ (or ‘wolf pack’) in their WhatsApp group. As the sickening ordeal was detailed by the three judges handling the trial, the victim was ‘penetrated in the mouth’ by all five men, in the vagina by two, and anally by another. None of the men used condoms. Two men filmed their crimes on mobile phones, and one also stole the victim’s phone. The judges described the victim as ‘crouching down’ in the videos, ‘shouting’, ‘moaning in pain’, ‘terrified’, ‘trapped against a wall’ and also ‘boxed in’ – and she was clearly ‘subject to the will’ of the attackers. The victim suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and still receives psychological treatment.
On Thursday, a Navarra court cleared the five men of rape, and found them guilty of just ‘sexual abuse’, with a sentence of just 9 years. Believe it or not, one of the three judges had even called for a not-guilty decision. Lawyers for the victim are appealing against the sentence. The article of the Spanish Criminal Code dealing with sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape makes a distinction between different crimes based on the presence, or not, of ‘violence or intimidation’ during the events. The judges ruled there had been no violence or intimidation used, and therefore no crime of rape. The verdict provoked an immediate public and social outcry, with more than 40 protests across Spanish towns and cities. The protests in Pamplona are on-going.
There are several things that need to really change in Spain, and fast.