Un observador inglés (5) – An unjust ‘justice’ system in Spain. A country in denial.

At last, a top Human Rights lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, has said what needs to be said this week [his words are below]. There’s not much more that one can add, apart from this:

Spain, I believe, is ‘in denial’. Complete denial. I’ve written here before about my own views on Catalan independence, and I repeat: I don’t think I initially did support it, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now. But you don’t need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence in order to defend the right to vote. You really just need to be democratic. Nor do you need to be a Catalan or in favour of independence to know that the brutality inflicted by the Spanish Police and Civil Guard on innocent people trying to vote on Sunday 1st October was wrong. Actually, it was evil. ‘Spain’, however, denied it happened. By ‘Spain’, I mean from the very top of Spain’s government, from the inept Rajoy, his increasingly bizarre vice-president, and even his blatantly lying foreign minister, who went on CNN and the BBC to state that the brutality images were ‘fake’. Even during the king of Spain’s diabolical speech on 3rd October, he not only failed to apologise for any violent injuries inflicted by his country’s police forces on its own citizens, but he failed to mention that any police violence took place at all. Even whilst the front pages of the world’s media on 2nd October clearly showed the true images from Catalonia, much of the pro-PP media in Spain failed to publish the truth (and still don’t). Almost a cover-up … but certainly denial. Total denial. And worse: Rajoy’s lot deny any police brutality took place, but they admit it cost €87m plus. Utter madness.

The denial about the true events that took place on 1st October continues with the denial that the Catalan independence movement is alive and kicking – more so than ever before. It is ‘kaput’, said Soraya. No, no, it is not kaput, Soraya – far from it – you are clearly in denial. The €87m failed to stop the referendum (political dialogue might have done so) and the police brutality only helped to fuel the pro-independence sentiment. Applying article 155 has not stopped the independence movement. Calling new elections on 21st December did not stop the independence movement. Arrest warrants and locking people up have not stopped the independence movement. And guess what? A text message exposed on a TV show hasn’t ended it, either. Rajoy’s career didn’t end with his ‘be strong’ text message to Barcenas, accused of handling all the ‘black money’ bribes for the PP. Why would over two million Catalans suddenly not want independence just because the man they voted for as their president (twice) has had a ‘bad’ or ‘down moment’, and all because the Spanish government won’t respect the results of the 21st December elections? Get real.

And the denial continues. Rajoy denies that his PP party is corrupt – going on air earlier in the week to claim that his party is ‘clean’ (yes, clean). Most importantly, his government denies that there is any political interference with Spain’s ‘justice’ system – yet day by day, something demonstrates that there clearly is. Some of the political interference in the justice system is to simply divert attention or corruption investigations away from the PP party itself. Other political interference relates to the Catalan independence issue, the Catalan Parliament, and the pre-‘trial’ imprisonments that are on-going. There are too many examples to list here, but the clearest of all took place last Saturday. Just before Spain’s Constitutional Court met to decide upon a possible long-distance investiture of Carles Puigdemont as Catalan president, members of the Spanish government, including Rajoy himself, contacted the magistrates, asking them ‘to sort it out this afternoon’, and transmitting the seriousness of the situation if they allowed an investiture to take place. In my opinion, it is a political and legal scandal in a so-called democratic Europe, that members of a government can call the courts to put pressure on a case, any case.

This week, The Economist Intelligence Unit ‘Democracy Index’ stated that Spain runs the risk of being downgraded to a “flawed democracy” following the national government’s attempts to stop Catalonia’s referendum in October. It deserves to be.

As mentioned above, the very best comments this week come from Ben Emmerson QC. He is leading a team of lawyers in London, Barcelona and Paris acting for three detained Catalan independence leaders. They have appealed to the United Nations, claiming the men are unlawfully imprisoned. Any determination made by the UN will not be binding on Spanish courts, but will be a signal of international disapproval. This was his statement at the press conference in London on Thursday 1st February:

“Spain has imprisoned three of those men. Oriol Junqueras, vice-president of Catalonia, and its minister of finance. Jordi Cuixart, a respected civil society leader and Jordi Sánchez, a member of the Catalan Parliament and President of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC).

Each of them has been imprisoned since autumn of last year, in October and November, and their detention and continued imprisonment is an affront to Human Rights, designed to prevent them from performing their roles as political representatives of the Catalan people.

Today we have lodged on their behalf an application to the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention.

Their imprisonment by Spain clearly falls foul of international law and we ask the UN to make that Declaration and then to use all of the resources at its disposal to secure the release of these men. In particular, our application sets out that the imprisonment of Mr Junqueras, Mr Cuixart and Mr Sánchez violates their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, their rights to political opinion and participation in public life, and discriminates against them because of their advocacy for the rights of the Catalan people to self-determination.

The proceedings against them have also failed in a number of respects to meet international fair trial standards and as those familiar with the situation will know, over a hundred academics and Spanish legal experts have gone on record as confirming that the charges brought against them are unsustainable in the light of what has happened since there was no element of violence in the allegations of violence against them. Charges are purely political and in short, this is a classic case of arbitrary political detention.

I want to emphasise that this case does not, and I repeat not, ask the UN to adjudicate on the issue of Catalan independence. Rather it seeks the UN’s reaffirmation that governments cannot repress political dissent through arbitrary detention of opponents.

Spain must release these men. The actions of the Spanish government set a dangerous precedent for the right to peaceful protest and political opposition around the world, and we ask therefore for the UN to strongly reiterate that governments cannot use empty criminal charges to quell political opposition.”

In the Q & A, Ben Emmerson also said the following:

“Imagine for a moment, that the United Kingdom imprisoned the leaders of the Scottish National Party for advocating the independence of Scotland. That is the situation that we’re here confronted with. These detentions are arbitrary and belong to a bygone era of Spanish history.”

Un observador inglés (4) – Forget dialogue. Forget real politics. This was a week in Spain …

Forget dialogue. Forget real politics. This is just some of what’s happened in the past week – all whilst there are still four political prisoners in jail, still without trial:

Spain’s Interior Minister, Juan Ignacio Zoido, tried to justify the €87m (plus) spent on failing to stop the referendum in Catalonia on 1st October. He refused, however, to appear in Congress to explain anything about the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August, or how much the Spanish intelligence services knew about the Imam of Ripoll, the mastermind of those attacks.

The new speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, asked to meet Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to discuss the situation of the Catalan MPs in prison, and five more in self-imposed exile in Belgium (including ‘ex-’Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont). The meeting was refused.

Hearing that Carles Puigdemont would be travelling from Brussels to Copenhagen to take part in a debate at the University of Copenhagen on Monday, and to meet with Danish MPs at their parliament on Tuesday, the Spanish Prosecutor’s Office said it would ‘activate all the mechanisms to stop Puigdemont if he travels to Denmark’ and seek to re-issue a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). A spokesman at the Spanish Embassy in Denmark said that he ‘did not like the fact that Danes will be able to hear Puigdemont’.

In the end, Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena rejected the urgent petition to issue an EAW. It was easier for Puigdemont to travel from Brussels to Copenhagen on that Monday than it was for Mariano Rajoy to travel from Madrid to Castellón on the new AVE ‘high-speed’ train that he was inaugurating – as it was delayed for 30 minutes. Puigdemont went ahead with his debate at the University of Copenhagen, with huge media attention. It was a very balanced, democratic debate. The pro-Rajoy media in Spain, however, focused only on the questions of one participant in the debate, Marlene Wind, but failed to report on any of Puigdemont’s replies.

Whilst in Denmark, someone obliged Puigdemont to kiss the Spanish flag whilst he was sitting at a café in a shopping centre. He did so, later Tweeting that he had no problem with Spain or the Spanish flag, as ‘democracy is more important than all borders, all flags and all constitutions.’

Catalan Parliament speaker, Roger Torrent, proposed Carles Puigdemont as the candidate to lead the new Catalan Government, with the plan for the house to vote on his investiture on 30th January. He stated: ‘Puigdemont is the candidate to be invested because the majority of representatives of the chamber have so decided. We need to find political solutions to enforce democratic measures.’

Zoido (again), interviewed on Spanish TV, said that he’d ‘prevent Puigdemont entering Spain in the boot of a car’. The comment was made in response to the possibility of Puigdemont sneaking back across the border to attend his own investiture – or whether he could be invested via Skype. ‘There are many country paths and you can get in by boat, helicopter or in a microlight,’ said Zoido, ‘but we are working towards that not happening.’

Roger Torrent then travelled to Brussels to meet with Carles Puigdemont and the four other politicians – but he had to pay for his own flight. On arrival, he found the offices of the Catalan delegation had been closed down by the Spanish government – and they had to find an alternative meeting room. Meanwhile, Torrent was being threatened with ‘all kinds of measures’ by Spain’s deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, if Puigdemont were to become Catalan president. Despite Puigdemont being democratically voted for (again) as the Catalan president (and despite obviously being allowed to participate as a candidate in the elections in the first place), Soraya simply told Torrent: ‘You can’t propose him.’

The offices in Barcelona of the two Catalan civic organisations, ANC and Omnium, were visted again and searched by Civil Guard officers – although no-one could really understand why. It took place, however, on the same morning that the former Secretary General of the Spanish government’s Partido Popular (PP) in Valencia, Ricardo Costa, admitted in court that the PP had been financed with black money. He also identified Francisco Camps, former PP president in Valencia, as one of the ringleaders.

Rajoy said on radio that his PP party was clean. He also said that he didn’t want to talk about equal pay for men and women (‘no nos metamos en eso’).

Spain’s Civil Guard and National Police started to inspect car boots at the French border, the sewer system outside the Catalan parliament, and even an airfield at Sant Fruitós del Bages, normally used by parachute enthusiasts.

One of the Spanish government’s candidates to be a judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Francisco Pérez de los Cobos, gained zero points on the technical test for his failure to speak English. It was revealed that a second Spanish judge elected as candidate, Maria Elósegui, had previously made homophobic statements and also falsified her CV.

King Felipe VI turned up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and in his speech said, ‘Catalonia has tried to undermine our democracy.’

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría announced that the Spanish government would make a legal challenge to Spain’s Constitutional Court against the decision of the Catalan Parliament to propose Puigdemont as president. Spain’s Council of State swiftly announced that there was no basis to challenge Puigdemont’s candidature. The Spanish government proceeded with its challenge, regardless. Late on Saturday evening, the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to suspend Tuesday’s planned Catalan parliamentary session for Puigdemont’s investiture, unless the candidate attends in person … for which he would have to obtain ‘authorisation from the judge’ conducting the case for which his arrest is sought.

At the moment, it is unclear precisely what Puigdemont’s next move will be. What is clear is that Rajoy’s government is totally incapable of dialogue. This isn’t politics anymore. It’s One Big Fat Court Case. And until they all sit down with mediators and talk through a solution, it will probably end up in Strasbourg …

Un observador inglés (3) – Bad PR: Felipe VI should have at least visited the Catalonia stand at FITUR.

I don’t know who’s in charge of the appalling PR & communications for Rajoy’s government, but it looks like Spain’s Royal Household could also do with some help.

On Wednesday, I was watching events unfold at the opening session of the Catalan Parliament, zapping between TVE and TV3 – the day that the Republican Catalan Left politician, Roger Torrent, was elected as the new Speaker of the Catalan Parliament.

At one point, TVE (24h) interrupted its coverage of Barcelona, to instead go live to the International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, where Spain’s King Felipe VI and Letizia had just arrived to inaugurate the 38th edition of the event. Nothing wrong with that. Good for them, I thought. Very soon, they – together with their entourage – strolled towards what must have been the media area, and directly towards the TVE camera, where they answered some brief questions. My first reaction was – oh, I didn’t realise you could ask the king of Spain direct questions – I mean, you can ask Prince Charles and William, I think, but not The Queen – and then I was shouting at the TV screen (it happens), telling the TVE journalist to therefore ask Felipe about his views of the Catalan Parliament session taking place right now on the other channel! – ask him about the yellow ribbons on the empty seats! – go on, ask him … but she didn’t, of course (not only because she couldn’t hear me). Instead, Felipe replied to a few banal questions, and said something about FITUR being ‘estupendo’, and that each year it ‘surpassed itself’, and then he and Letizia were off, free to roam around the stands, or at least be guided carefully by their entourage.

It was a wasted moment, I thought. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There you had the opening session of the Catalan Parliament being broadcast with powerful images of yellow ribbons occupying the empty seats of jailed or exiled Catalan politicians, unable to attend – but no-one had dared ask Felipe VI about it. Only his opinion of FITUR. Well, FITUR was fine. It was estupendo. Marvellous.

Wait … I’ve been to FITUR, more than once. Years ago, when I was doing a study to launch a one-off Condé Nast Traveller magazine in Spain; and then years later, too, actually launching Lonely Planet Magazine. So I know a bit about FITUR. It’s one of the world’s most important tourism trade fairs, ‘a global meeting point for tourism professionals’ – and held in Spain, itself one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. 165 countries and regions take part, many with extravagant and inviting trade stands – including, of course, all the ‘regions’ of Spain. So, after Felipe and Letizia continued to stroll around, I promise you that this is what I was thinking (with my editorial hat on): they need to get photos of them visiting and enjoying the Catalonia stand. That would not only be a good news image, but great PR, too. Surely?

I forgot about FITUR and went back to TV3 and the Catalan Parliament. Later that day, however, I saw something on social media – something about the king avoiding the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and I thought, no way, that’s impossible – that would be crazy, that would be almost childish – it must be fake news. But it was true.

Not only did Felipe VI and Letizia avoid the Catalonia stand at FITUR, but they made a point of visiting various stands of other regions of Spain – and their visit is detailed on the Royal Household’s website, complete with photos of them doing so. In ‘pavilion 9’ of the trade fair, they visited the stands of Turespaña (Spanish Tourist Board), Madrid, Galicia and Navarra, and them in ‘pavilion 7’ they visited the stand of Aragón, Castilla y León and Valencia … but Catalonia, nada. They did find time to visit the stands of Argelia and India (‘Incredible India’ being the honorary country and slogan of the trade fair this year), and they were also photographed with a robot. Everyone wrote about what Letizia was wearing, too, of course – a ‘beige and black colour block jacket, a crisp white shirt and smart black trousers’, plus ‘a pair of killer skyscraper heels embellished with gold spikes’, whilst Felipe, meanwhile, opted for ‘a grey pinstripe suit, injecting a splash of colour with a red polka dot tie’ … who cares?

I’ve written here before about my view of Felipe’s speech given on 3rd October last year, just a few days after the Spanish police brutality during the Catalan referendum – and I gave my opinion that the monarch failed miserably to defuse the situation, there and then. In fact, he did the opposite. He made it worse. It would have almost been better if he hadn’t spoken at all.

In the king’s Christmas message of 24th December – shortly after the 21st December election results – he issued another warning about the Catalan independence movement, in the face of the possibility of the unilateral path being taken up again. ‘The route cannot lead again to confrontation or exclusion which only generate discord, uncertainty, despondency and moral, civil and economic decline of a whole society,’ he said. Just two weeks ago, however, during the Pascua Militar on 6th January, the only reference he made to what might have been interpreted as a territorial and Catalan issue, was: ‘Security and national defense are a task for everyone.’

It is perhaps a small thing, but I believe Felipe should have made a point of visiting the Catalonia stand at FITUR – and he should have spent a lot of time there. If he was advised not to, I believe that was an error. I might be wrong, but I still believe he has the chance to intervene and defuse this whole situation. Someone has to …

Un observador inglés (2) – Would a European country (or any country) be allowed to deploy an army against its own citizens?

Writing about Spain’s minister of Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido, last August, I said that he had the appearance of being irritated when required to do a press conference, as if he’d just been interrupted from the start of a long lunch. Everything looked like it was an inconvenience. It happened again last week, after 3,000 vehicles were stranded for up to 18 hours in heavy snowfall on the AP-6 between Madrid and Segovia. This time, I think Zoido was interrupted whilst at a soccer match in Seville – not a lunch, but still a bloody inconvenience. He managed to maintain a public silence over the fiasco, and instead there was a bizarre picture issued of him with his ‘crisis committee’. They did look like they’d been dragged away from a lunch. Not from a Zoido-style banquet, however, but from a Burger King.

Anyway, the reason I mention this, is because I’ve been observing María Dolores ‘de Cospedal’, Spain’s defence minister. In my humble opinion, in the same way Zoido’s eyes must surely light up when you tell him it’s lunchtime, ‘de Cospedal’ gives the impression that the role of defence minister gets in the way of a more glamorous life that she was (and still is) hoping to lead. It is that on-going Partido Popular superiority complex – an attitude of superiority that conceals actual feelings of inferiority or failure. I know we shouldn’t judge people by their looks or the way they dress – but ‘de Cospedal’ reminds me of a beauty editor I once employed on an ‘alta gama’ glossy fashion magazine in Madrid. She absolutely loved all the freebies and fashion paparazzi, attending all the shop openings, product launches and champagne receptions, but she never actually wrote anything for the magazine. It was beneath her. Every time I see ‘de Cospedal’ inspecting the rows of troops, I picture her inspecting rows of fur coats in the boutiques of Madrid’s barrio Salamanca. I can’t help it.

The reason I keep writing Cospedal as ‘de Cospedal’ (but I’ll stop now) is because on the English Wikipedia entry for Spain’s defence minister, it states that she “started calling herself ‘de Cospedal’ in public, which sounded more aristocratic, but more recently she has reverted to plain ‘Cospedal’. It’s like me saying, “I’m Tim, of Parfitt” – but then stopping, as it would be very, very weird.

It’s that pompous ‘air of superiority’ that gets to me, though. I hate it. Why do right wing politicians always try to portray superiority? Clearly to conceal their failures. It’s the same in the UK with the Tories. ‘de Cospedal’ really is just plain Cospedal – and she keeps putting her foot in it. The best moment came last November when she fell victim to a telephone prank by two Russian comedians. On air, during 12 full minutes, they managed to get her to agree to a meeting with a false government of Latvia, which, they claimed, wanted to send tanks to Catalonia, also assuring the defence minister that Catalan president Puigdemont was a spy. Cospedal seemed completely convinced; she even informed Rajoy of their proposals. I’m sure he must have been delighted.

Putting pranks about tanks from Latvia aside, last week Cospedal stated in an interview with ABC newspaper that the Spanish army was indeed ready to act in Catalonia at any time during the peak of the tension between Madrid and Barcelona. ‘We were ready because we had the obligation of being ready, otherwise we would be useless,’ she said. ‘I would not have had any responsibility, nor the military commands, if they had not been ready for any eventuality.’ It’s not the first time she has said as such. On 12th October last year, she also caused controversy during Spain’s national day celebrations, when she said that she was “almost certain” that the Spanish government would not have to use the army to resolve the Catalan crisis. Well, here’s a question for Cospedal: would a European country (or any country) be allowed to deploy an army against its own citizens? Think about it.

Many have seen Cospedal’s comments as an admission of the threats of military violence previously denounced by Marta Rovira, the secretary general of ERC (Catalan Republican Left). She’d been criticised for revealing that Rajoy’s party had threatened the Catalan government that, if they continued on the path towards independence, it would lead to a climate of ‘extreme violence’ in which they wouldn’t talk about ‘rubber bullets’, but ‘bullets’. Early in December, however, a former army officer had also suggested that Rovira had been right in her comments: that the Spanish government did threaten the Catalan authorities with ‘deaths’ if the independence movement went ahead. Serious stuff. Very serious.

Also last week, and just a few days after Cospedal said the Spanish army was ready and prepared to act in Catalonia, she was back in the news again – for having awarded a 5,000 euro subsidy to an organisation with apparent Francoist values. The award had been given to the Asociación de Militares Españoles (AME), who produce Militares magazine, as well as granting it free use of premises at the Spanish army’s headquarters. According to reports, Militares magazine often praises the Franco regime, and has even promoted a book about the ‘crusade’ by the Francisco Franco Foundation – itself also still receiving subsidies, directly or indirectly.

This very real existence of ‘Francoism after Franco’, 42 years after the dictator’s death, just won’t go away – thanks to the likes of Cospedal and the rest of Rajoy’s cronies. In fact Rajoy himself also put his foot in it (again) last November. For years he lived in Marín, in Galicia, on a street named after Salvador Moreno, a naval officer who was also a minister under Franco. The name of the street had been changed ten years ago to honour a Galician writer in compliance with the ‘Law of Historical Memory’, which provided for the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and spaces. Rajoy, however, said he didn’t know why the street’s name had been changed and that he continues using the street’s Francoist name. This is Spain’s Prime Minister, remember …

I understand many of the ‘Historical Memory’ policies have also been put on hold since Spain applied Article 155 to Catalonia. Some 130 mass graves have been found in recent years in Catalonia, and several of them have already been excavated. Thanks to this, the remains of more than a hundred people have been recovered, and relatives have been able to trace the whereabouts of long lost family members. According to the United Nations, the whereabouts of 114,226 people remain unknown in Spain – and the UN stated that Spain’s failure to investigate the disappearance of civilians was ‘alarming’ and ‘especially worrying’. A final thought: for the past four years, Spain’s ruling PP have not allocated any funds to Historical Memory policies.

Un observador inglés (1) – Rajoy is inept and Spain’s lost its mojo.

First, to clarify: I love Spain. I love Catalonia. For over 20 years, on and off, I’ve lived and worked here – 10 years in Madrid, and 10 years in Barcelona, two of the greatest cities in the world. So I feel I can comment …

Not so long ago, Spain used to be cool. Very cool. Fiestas, football, food, fashion, fast and furious new flamenco, modern design and architecture, art and Almodóvar, Penélope and Paz, Banderas and Bardem, Nadal and Gasol, Domingo and Carreras – they all helped to make it cool – and, dare I say it, even Felipe, when he was still just a prince, or at least when he led out the Spanish Olympic team at the opening of the 1992 Games in Barcelona. He was cool then. Was.

Someone once told me that those good times in Spain were just ‘paper over the cracks’. I used to think it meant that behind the façade of all the fiestas, an economic hangover would always resurface, as it did in September 92 immediately after those Olympic Games, and again in 2008 as part of the global financial crisis, bursting the Spanish property bubble and much more. I never wanted to accept that the ‘paper over the cracks’ might refer to other sinister elements of Spanish society, such as the ghosts of Franco. I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning.

Friends from Madrid and elsewhere in Spain sometimes ask why I support the independence of Catalonia. To be honest I don’t think I initially did, and I’m still not 100% sure that I do now – although I more than sympathise with their reasons for not wanting to remain part of Spain, and even more so every day. What I do support and always will, is the right to vote. I didn’t want Brexit but I thought the referendum was necessary. I didn’t (and don’t) want Scotland to leave the UK, but I thought they should at least have the right to vote on it (and to do so again, if necessary, in light of Brexit).

I spent the whole of Sunday 1st October 2017, the day of Catalonia’s ‘banned’ referendum, working in a newsroom in Barcelona, from 8am until very late that evening – helping on a Catalan & Spanish newspaper’s English edition. As the news, images and videos came in of all the police brutality against innocent citizens simply trying to vote, I also did a report for Sky News. On air, live during the interview, the newscaster from London told me that some of the images they were receiving from Barcelona were ‘too bloody’ to even broadcast. As the day went on, colleagues in the newsroom turned pale with shock. One told me that he was more upset by that day’s events than during the terrorist attack of 17th August; this was the Spanish police attacking its own citizens. I was shocked by how much it also upset me. I really felt for the people of Catalonia. By the time I got back to Sitges later that night, I was in floods of tears. I had to be consoled. I will never, ever forget the impact that day had on me.

The next day, I was incensed that the ‘Madrid media’ failed to report on the true events – unlike the international (and Catalan) media. It incensed me that the EU remained silent. It incensed me that Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, went on CNN and BBC stating that the images of police brutality were ‘fake news’. It incensed me and it still does.

Right now, at the start of 2018, ‘Brand Spain’ is no longer cool – far from it. Spain has lost its mojo. I hope that one day it gets it back – but things need to change, starting at the very top. The prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is utterly inept. The way that his PP party (already stained with numerous corruption scandals) has handled the Catalan issue has been atrocious – not just an on-going international ‘PR disaster’, but totally wrong, and, I’d say, possibly illegal.

Despite saying he would, Rajoy failed to prevent a referendum in Catalonia from taking place in the first place. Refusing dialogue, the actions he did take, however, were absurd (and still are). Too numerous to list them all here, they range from threatening the Catalan parliament, department of economy and other institutions (as well as raiding some of those buildings), to searching the car boot of a printing company’s cleaner in search of ballot cards (even boasting that the police had managed to confiscate some). His government threatened Catalonia’s mayors, citizens and volunteers, banned posters and the media from running advertisements, stopped events and debates, clearly violating human rights and the freedom of speech. They shut down websites and apps, blocked telephone operators and even threatened to cut off the power. At a huge cost, they then sent a cartoon ship full of Civil Guard and Spanish Police to stop people from voting … but they failed. As for the gifts and awards to Juncker, or pointless trips to see Trump or May … just don’t get me started on all that.

Rajoy has never used ‘politics’ to try and resolve the Catalan issue at all. He’s simply used the judges and the courts … and continues to do so. Yesterday, the democratically elected Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, was ordered to remain in prison, still without trial. Meanwhile, the king of Spain’s brother-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, who was sentenced to over 6 years in prison yet is still ‘awaiting his appeal’, was photographed on holiday in Rome. I do not believe there is judicial independence in Spain – far from it. That is why Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four other Catalan ministers are still in Brussels. They went there to seek justice, not to avoid it.

Rajoy’s application of article 155 to take control of Catalonia was wrong. He then called the elections for 21st December, but lost. Yes, he lost. There are political prisoners in Spain – that is a fact. They should be released immediately. Every day, things are getting worse. I believe Rajoy needs to take a big step back (or better still, resign – but he won’t, I know). Puigdemont should be allowed to return from Brussels without any threat of arrest. Then they all need to sit around the table with international mediators, and which is what should have happened last September. Dialogue is needed. A political solution is needed. Then Spain (and Catalonia) will get its mojo back …

El Punt-Avui TV (11) – Yellow and political prisoners.

On Thursday 30th November, I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ again on El Punt-Avui TV, a local Barcelona TV channel, hosted by Matthew Tree, alongside two other guests, Toni Strubell and Mútur Hernández Mor. We talked a lot about yellow and political prisoners. Here’s the link to the full programme: El Punt-Avui TV (11).

Here are some links to previous appearances on the same show:

El Punt-Avui TV (10)

El Punt-Avui TV (9)

El Punt-Avui TV (8)

El Punt-Avui TV (7)

El Punt-Avui TV (6)

El Punt-Avui TV (5)

El Punt-Avui TV (4)

El Punt-Avui TV (3)

El Punt-Avui TV (2)

El Punt-Avui TV (1)

Letter from Barcelona (13): the king, the EU, and the foreign minister

The worst moments have been from the king of Spain, the EU, and the Spanish foreign minister. The moments are all linked – and they all stink, if you ask me. The king’s speech on 3rd October was shocking, to say the least. I don’t need to relate all the details here – we all heard the speech or read about it afterwards. It didn’t even look or sound like a monarch’s speech – it felt dictatorial, with an almost dangerous thumping of fists. He didn’t say one word, not one, to condemn the police violence against the Catalan citizens innocently trying to vote on 1st October. King Felipe could have been the hero; he could have defused the entire situation and become the monarch for all (more or less). He could have made a short and sweet speech, simply to say that he didn’t like what he’d seen on both sides, and that he’d expressed that to Rajoy and Puigdemont, and told them both to get a grip – but he didn’t, and he failed. He failed miserably. I think it is quite telling that he has not made any further long speeches on the matter – not even about the Catalan Parliament declaring independence on Friday 27th October, nor on the Senate voting to apply Article 155, just hours later. A week before, however, on 20th October, he did make a brief reference to the “unacceptable secession attempt” in Catalonia – on the night he gave an award to the EU – and another moment that stinks, in my opinion.

Because the EU has also failed miserably – Juncker and Tusk, specifically. Just to clarify: I didn’t vote for Brexit. I’ve always defended the concept of the European Union – but I’m seriously beginning to doubt all that now. As Alex Salmond brilliantly expressed it on LBC radio this weekend, the EU should be ashamed of its “guilty silence”. The former First Minister of Scotland said, “I don’t think the Catalan government should be in the dock, they’re pursuing the will of the Catalan people. I think the EU are in the dock on this … for their unwillingness to condemn outright the violence that we saw from the Spanish state on the people of Catalonia who were merely trying to exercise their right to vote.” He went on to say that the “guilty silence” applies to the UK government, too – yes, of course it does – and it’s because the UK is in a weak position in the Brexit negotiations.

On 20th October, the night Felipe VI made his reference to Catalonia’s “unacceptable secession attempt”, he was presenting the EU with the ‘coveted’ Princess of Asturias Award for Concord. Oh, sure. It was just hours after the European Council meeting in Brussels, where Catalonia wasn’t even on the agenda – and where Rajoy managed to avoid even speaking about the ‘issue’, despite Tusk and Merkel reportedly asking him if he’d like to.

It stinks. It stinks that the EU accepted an award from the king of Spain, just hours after still refusing to officially condemn the police brutality against innocent Catalan citizens, nor push for further explanations on the matter. It stinks that the Belgian Embassy in Madrid came under threats and “tomamos nota” pressure from Rajoy’s government, merely because the Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, had condemned the Spanish police violence, calling instead for dialogue and a ‘de-escalation’. And ditto, according to some reports, for Slovenia, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland and Holland. It stinks that Spain’s foreign minister has been on CNN and BBC, blatantly denying the police repression, calling the images ‘fake news’ and an ‘alternative reality’. It stinks that even today, that same foreign minister of a European state, can as good as pre-empt a non-existent and so far theoretical trial that Carles Puigdemont might have to face, and then even suggest the verdict, saying that “he might be in prison” at the time of the 21st December elections in Catalonia. It stinks that Donald Tusk can only say that the situation in Catalonia is “concerning”, and that “there’s no space for any kind of mediation or international action in Spain”. It stinks that Juncker can only moan about there being more work and administrative headaches if there are any other “fractures” in Europe. It stinks that Spanish diplomats are blatantly dictating to other EU states “the lines we ask you to include” in their condemnation of Catalonia’s declaration of independence. It stinks. It all totally stinks.

The Weekly Noticias (13): Show No.13 – 25th Oct 2017

Here’s a link below to the podcast of The Weekly Noticias Show No.13, hosted by me and broadcast on Weds 25th October 2017 on Radio Kanal Barcelona, with guests Xavier Castells, Chris Groves, Sue Flack, Paul Owen, Jon GrovesViveka Nilsson.

Topics and questions come up about: Andrew Marr & Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s Foreign Minister, Article 155, Halloween outfits, Ronaldo & Zidane, Donald Trump, Justin Timberlake, the Boy Scouts of America, toxic bracelets, condoms, Theresa May, Juncker, 1984, turkeys, the Charge of the Light Brigade, fighting elephants, the best way to pronounce ‘barba’ in Spanish, Mike Crapo & Butch Otter from Idaho (and the best way to pronounce Idaho). All wrapped up with a beautiful song from Xavi Castells and his ukulele.

You can also follow The Weekly Noticias on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubeMixcloud, Soundcloud, iTunes and iVoox … and soon on TV. In the meantime, sit back, have a glass of wine, listen to the 13th show’s podcast via Soundcloud right here, and enjoy:

The Weekly Noticias (11): Show No.11 – 11th Oct 2017

It’s back … The Weekly Noticias! It was a bit of shaky start to Season 2 (the sound technician is apparently still on the beach), but we’re definitely back. Here’s a link below to the podcast of Show No.11, hosted by me and broadcast on Weds 11th October 2017 on Radio Kanal Barcelona, with guests Xavier Castells, Jon Groves, Viveka Nilsson & Myriam Harrag.

We decided to avoid the Spain-Catalonia crisis this week, and discuss the “other news” that we know everyone wants to hear about: Harvey Weinstein’s dressing gown, Donald Trump’s IQ, Google’s tax bill, Napoleon’s penis, Boris Johnson’s middle names, Rajoy’s marathon, Gwyneth & Brad (& Angelina), Xavi’s ukulele, and the first woman to walk in space. …

You can also follow The Weekly Noticias on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTubeMixcloud, Soundcloud, iTunes and iVoox … and soon on TV. In the meantime, sit back, have a glass of wine, listen to the 11th show’s podcast via Soundcloud right here, and enjoy:

El Punt-Avui TV (10) – Rajoy, Trump, the international media & Catalan referendum …

I was invited back on ‘The English Hour’ again on El Punt-Avui TV yesterday, a local Barcelona TV channel, hosted by Matthew Tree, alongside two other guests, Roger Evans and Marc Reklau. As it was the last show before Sunday’s 1st October referendum in Catalonia, Matthew started the programme with a personal appeal to the EU, very clearly explaining the repressive measures being taken by the Spanish state to try and stop the vote. It is worth watching just for that – as well as the T-shirt he was wearing, printed with the Catalan polling card. Luckily the Civil Guard didn’t storm the TV studio and arrest us all. But I guess there’s still time for all that …

We also chatted about Rajoy’s expensive trip to see Trump at the White House, which seems to have backfired spectacularly, and the international press coverage of the Catalan referendum. Here’s the link: El Punt-Avui TV (10).

Here are some links to previous appearances on the same programme:

El Punt-Avui TV (9)

El Punt-Avui TV (8)

El Punt-Avui TV (7)

El Punt-Avui TV (6)

El Punt-Avui TV (5)

El Punt-Avui TV (4)

El Punt-Avui TV (3)

El Punt-Avui TV (2)

El Punt-Avui TV (1)