MADRID — Spain’s left-wing Podemos party threatens the country’s unity by supporting an independence referendum to be held in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, Jose Ramon Garcia-Hernandez, the head of international relations of Spain’s ruling People’s Party (PP), told Sputnik on Saturday.
Unidos Podemos, an electoral alliance between Podemos and several other left-wing parties, has backed allowing Catalonia to hold a binding independence referendum, a move which has garnered significant support for the party in the region.
“The main opponent in these elections [Podemos] puts at risk the unity of Spain… Those who want to separate Catalonia from Spain should know that they are not going to achieve this because they are going against the majority of the Catalans and the Spanish,” Garcia-Hernandez said.
All public authorities, especially the government, have a duty to protect national unity, he added, stressing that the PP will uphold Spain’s laws and prevent secession.
Spain is due to hold a snap general election on Sunday, with the PP and Podemos running alongside the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) after failing to form a coalition government. In last year’s election, the PP won 123 seats in the lower house of parliament, 64 less than in the previous election. The PSOE won 90, and Podemos came third, securing 69 seats. At least 176 seats are required for a parliamentary majority, necessary to form a government.
Catalonia held a non-binding referendum on independence from Spain in 2014. Over 80 percent voted in favor of the autonomous community becoming an independent state.
Regime change, the term hundreds of millions hear on the nightly news is rendered innocuous by the sheer repetitiveness. But regime change is almost always accompanied by death and destruction, and after effects that affect us all, no matter where in the world it occurs. The overthrow of Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 by an American president and co-conspirators is truly a case for an international tribunal. Here’s a starting lineup for an international war crimes double header.
Every time I think of Barack Obama’s former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, images of her gloating and bragging over Libya flood into my mind’s eye. Then my mind races cognitively, to a culvert in a ditch near the town of Sirte, to a bruised and bloodied figure, staring up and fearful of his captors, just before they kicked and beat him, then riddled his body with bullets, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al- Gaddafi’s life surely passed before his eyes. In the blink of a US drone electronic eye, the most powerful man in Africa was dethroned, and the Middle East was set on fire. History will inquire, “Who was it that set a whole people adrift in the world?” Well I have history’s answer.
Exhibit A: A US President Misleads His People
On March 28th, 2011 the Obama White House issued this transcript of the American president’s address to the people he swore to lead and protect. Within this insulting and misleading address, there are many lies and reversals of fact, but there are also great truths as well. For instance, the nations complicit in the violent coup d’é·tat in Libya were named by Obama, they were: the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Qatar along with the United Arab Emirates. Each of these nation’s geo-political interests in Libya and Gaddafi can be traced directly to big business or US surrogacy, this is irrevocable and irreconcilable. The involvement of US, UK and European agents inside Libya, the levers put in place to unseat the standing Libyan government, are just now coming into the daylight. I’ll shine more light on these further on, but right now characterizing the unmitigated audacity of Barack Obama is important. Not only did the US president mislead the American people on March 28th, 2011, his character would not allow him to pass up the opportunity to brag about how swiftly and decisively he had acted. On the mandate for unseating Gaddafi, the president said:
“It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country -– Libya — at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.”
This statement is key for understanding the truth of not only Libya, but Syria, Ukraine, and even for policies as far back as the NATO agenda in Bosnia. In a caveat to this, Obama also frames a hidden strategy beneath by discussing what we now know as the larger European tragedy. The president claims “our interests” were served by preventing:
“A massacre (that) would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful –- yet fragile -– transitions in Egypt and Tunisia.”
Not only did Barack Obama and his administration sell this lie to the American people, he also committed one of his worst political mistakes ever.
“Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
This was 2011, take note of this. The Obama team now openly professed a US and coalition plan to take down Gaddafi, they foretold of a larger scheme, the Arab Spring and western expansionism that grips the world today. Violence on a horrific scale, instigated by the Bush and Obama administrations. The refugee crises, which are clearly “ordained” in the quotes above as “warnings”, these were in fact part of a regional plan of destabilization.
Exhibit B: Obama – the Little Big Man 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin is not often wrong, but his statement last week about Barack Obama being “strong” enough to admit the mistake of Libya, it’s dead wrong. Barack Obama is not at all strong. He’s a decent actor, and can read a teleprompter like nobody’s business. Being strong in the Putin sense, it means serving the people, and not the hidden masters of the policy universe. In a now famous interview with Fox News anchor, Chris Wallace, Obama admits not planning for the aftermath of the ousting of Gaddafi was his biggest mistake as president. Obama says (via the transcript) on being asked “Worst mistake?”, by Wallace:
“Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.”
This is not the statement of a strong president, it is weak and pitiful in so many respects. The man cannot even come to grips with a truth, let alone take responsibility. “Probably”, the “right thing to do”, “think” – the whole snippet hints at lying or misdirect. Wallace never returns to the issue, the “central issue”, as it were, for America’s role in world terror and upheaval. The “facts” of Barack Obama’s regime change agenda contravene any suggestion Libya was simply an error. Most Americans are completely unaware of the battle in the US Congress to forestall this coup.
“Despite its failure to obtain legal approval from Congress, the Obama administration continued to provide the bulk of the military support for the NATO operation until the overthrow of Gadaffi in October. Before the official termination of Operation Unified Protector, US Permanent Representative to NATO Ivo Daalder said that “the United States led in this operation… It led in the planning of the operation, it led in getting the mandate for the operation, and it led in the execution of the operation… the United States conducted more sorties than any other country in this operation, twenty six percent.”
Barack Obama, with the adamant support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Neocons like Arizona’s Sen. John McCain, and military industrial complex lap dog, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, ousted Gaddafi circumvented the people of the United States of America. For those wondering at my vehemence here, General Dynamics and the US Navy will name a new destroyer after Levin, just in case any out there are reticent in disbelief of my assertions. The arrogance, the insolence of these people staggers the imagination, but I must frame another constituent’s part in America’s export of revolution. Obama was not owning up to a mistake in Libya, he was sliding past a question by a sellout Fox reporter. The only reason for him even answering the question was to insert a tenant of plausible deniability later on.
Accept Open Society or Else
No one reading this report will be surprised to hear George Soros’ Open Society Foundations is neck deep in this regime change. The man who essentially got Obama elected in the first place, he and his NGO have been implicated in many political machinations. This Arizona Daily Independent opinion piece casts a blistering light on John McCain, the aforementioned Levin, and a neocon system of levers most are aware of, but know not how to confront. I’ve not the space to go into McCain’s shady past here, but his face on crisis has been adequately established. It was the Soros connection to the defense spending champion that caught my eye.
George Soros’ gift of $100 million dollars to Human Rights Watch did not make big news back in 2010. Human Rights Watch was thrilled though. A few months later, Human Rights Watch reported on the International Criminal Court (ICC) charging both Muammar Gaddafi, and his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi with crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch’s position in this strategy was to validate and provide presidents for a tribunal, at least in my view. This quote from the report by HRW is telling:
“Should the court issue an arrest warrant for Gaddafi, it would not be the first warrant for a sitting head of state by an international court. In 1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia issued its first indictment against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo.”
Almost immediately after ICC head prosecutor Moreno Ocampo issued an arrest warrant for the Gaddafis on 7 June 2011, 30 nations recognized the Libyan rebels of the NTC as the legitimate government of the country. A key in understanding how collusion and influence parlay uprisings is in understanding how the Open Society Foundations grants and meetups operate. Central to the legitimacy of Gadaffi’s overthrow, was the notion he was a tyrant and a killer. Legitimacy for the White House agenda comes in many forms.
Legality: The Ultimate Lie
In December of 2005 the Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor was part of a Soros backed roundtable series, which was an initiative of OSI and the Security and Peace Initiative, which is a joint initiative of the Center for American Progress and an interesting think tank, The Century Foundation. The goals of these organizers, was ostensibly described in the title of published essays by these think tank elites, “Restoring American Leadership: 13 Steps to Improve Global Cooperation.” I believe it was the purpose of these meetings to establish Moreno Campo’s legitimacy and position within the greater scheme of things. After these meetings, and the associated United Nations meetups back then, the ICC played an ever-increasing and interesting role. Please remember, the Center for America Progress is funded by not only Soros, but Bill and Melinda Gates, huge corporations, and even the government of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE should ring bells for their part in the coalition to overthrow Gadaffi.
Subsequent Open Society Foundations rhetoric and policy showed us the ICC’s mission. First in Uganda, then in the crucial case of Sudan, the ICC allegedly became the tool of Soros and the people behind him. While I do not always agree with the controversial activist Lyndon LaRouche, there’s no denying his insight and investigations often bear fruit. In this report from 2008, the implications are black and white in this press release:
“The Soros organization also directly funded another agency at the Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which prosecuted and judicially murdered Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.”
Yugoslavia rises from the mist once again. I’ve drummed on the notion of “templates” enacted by western leadership, on think tanks and their roles, and Yugoslavia in the Clinton era was a crucial turning point. The “legality” in all this, the big lie of democracy’s validity as a new quasi-religious crusade, this is where Soros funding, American leadership role playing, and regime-policy change meet globally. Gadaffi was essentially assassinated. His son is now under a death sentence in Libya, and the old school Cold War warriors want to install a king in his place. It’s all illegality made to look legal, Soros the Nazi sympathizer transformed into the philanthropist. It’s Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the biggest killer of innocent civilians since Idi Amin.
In conclusion, the question I began with remains; “Who was it that set a whole people adrift in the world?” Why the very people swearing oaths to protect us, that’s who. The champions of industry, the philanthropist, their paid for brain trusts, the money has bought out the entire democratic system of governance. The world has the true war criminals by the scruff of the neck now. But the wrong men and women will die, just as sure as I am writing this. The mission of Soros, his NGO, and the elites in power in the west is the eradication of the idea of the sovereign state. Killing Gaddafi was central to this goal.
Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe.
In 2012, there were nearly 15,000 demonstrations throughout Spain, amounting to around 40 per day. In 2013, there were 4,500 demonstrations in Madrid alone: an increase of 1,000 from the year before. Protest increased on a par with the continual disintegration of full employment and the implementation of severe austerity programmes accompanied with a lack of government transparency and accusations of corruption at the very highest level.
In April last year, Amnesty International (AI) was clearly getting concerned with how the authorities in Spain were dealing with peaceful public protest in Spain by saying:
“With threats of fines or threats of being beaten, the government is trying to stigmatise and criminalise people who are just practising their rights.”
Amnesty International investigated and discovered that although the vast majority of protesters were indeed peaceful, police treated the protests as riots and the people in them in the same manner as those who incited violence. In many cases, the police had used excessive force to confront protesters. AI’s report entitled Spain: Protests and the suffocating embrace of the law makes for sobering reading.
By June, Spain officially went police state with a series of “gag laws” that effectively criminalised peaceful public protest. Among the many new repressive stipulations was the implementation of €30,000-€600,000 fines for “unauthorised protests,” which can be combined for maximum effect with a €600-€300,000 fine for “disrupting public events.”
This awful set of authoritarian statutes arose from Spain’s position as a flashpoint for anti-austerity protests. The European Union did not want to see a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement gaining significant ground in its territorial fiefdom and has allowed breaches of internationally recognised human rights laws to be perpetrated right under its nose. Fines and mistreatment await anyone who refuses to recognise authority with the respect it’s forcibly requiring citizens to demonstrate.
The law also extended its anti-protest punishments to social media, where users can face similar fines for doing nothing more than encouraging or organizing a protest. Failing to present ID when commanded is another fine. And then there’s this:
Showing a “lack of respect” to those in uniform or failing to assist security forces in the prevention of public disturbances could result in an individual fine of between €600 and €30,000.
What could go wrong? The Spanish news outlet eldiario.es filed a request for information which revealed an alarming number of penalties and sanctions issued since the Gag Law, otherwise known as the Public Safety Act, was passed on July 1, 2015.
In the space between July 1st 2015, the date the new laws were enforced and January 28, 2016 police have grabbed the opportunity with both hands and sanctioned or fined 40,000 people for “disrespecting” law enforcement. Some of the numbers include; 6,217 for ‘disrespecting the police”, 3,700 for disobedience to authority and 2,027 for causing public disorder.
“Now the government is judge and jury on a number of violations that were previously in the hands of independent judges,” says Joaquin Bosch, spokesperson for Jueces por la Democracia (Judges for Democracy). Bosch’s critisisms continue – “Article 52 of the law states that the complaint of a police officer constitutes “sufficient evidentiary basis” to take legal action. “In the judicial field, the cop’s word is not enough, it has to be proven.”
Spain is one of the least violent countries in the world but other controversial articles of the law are extended to areas similar to that of totalitarian states. There are penalties just for refusing to provide identification, taking photos of police or other objects that could identify a member of the security forces or for obstructing authority in compliance with administrative or judicial decisions, including people who try to prevent an eviction, for example.
Amnesty International also stated that;
“The excessive use of force by Spanish police and plans to strengthen repressive legislation are a damning indictment of the Spanish government’s determination to crush peaceful protest. The police have repeatedly used batons and rubber bullets against demonstrators, injuring and maiming protestors and by-standers alike. The police act with complete impunity, while peaceful demonstrators and leaders of social movements are continually harassed, stigmatized, beaten, sometimes arrested to face criminal charges, imprisonment and fines.”
And as one peaceful protestor, Ester Quitana said after being hit in the face with a rubber bullet fired by the police – “Due to the impact of the rubber bullet, I have a deformed nasal septum, injuries in my mouth and my ear, and have lost sensation on the left side of my face. I am still under psychological treatment, my daily routine has been affected, as well as the way I am connected with people, how I am seen by them. I’ve been denied any kind of social benefits I have applied for.”
Maria, for protesting against budget cuts was ¢1,000 told AI “They want to destroy the leadership of the movements, and so are seeking out the spokespeople”.
Amnesty International also reports that those unfortunate to become detainees have been ill-treated when taken into police custody and that journalists and photographers covering demonstrations have also reported being the target of police violence. Cameras and equipment have been damaged by police to prevent the documenting of police violence.
Revenue from the sanctions since the new laws were enforced last July has now reached 18.3 million euros.
As the government itself has since recognised, demonstrators committed violence in less than one per cent of the rallies and protests.
In the meantime, the unelected bureaucrats of the European Union, of which Spain is a member state, have looked the other way as has the United Nations, both of whom promote as central to their existence the protection of human rights.
Israel’s Diplomatic Wars of Aggression
Israel these days seems to be increasingly at odds with a good portion of the rest of the world. In just the past few months it has quarreled with:
- Spain over arrest warrants issued for Netanyahu and six other Israeli officials for the 2010 attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla;
- Sweden over comments by its foreign minister who has called for an investigation into extrajudicial executions of Palestinians;
- college campus student groups supporting the BDS movement;
- academic associations who have issued calls for academic boycotts of Israeli universities;
- Brazil over its refusal to recognize an Israeli ambassador who hails from the right-wing Israeli settler movement;
- The EU over labeling of products from Israeli settlements.
- The UN over Ban Ki-moon’s recent criticism of the settlements
And really, if truth be known, Israel is probably not too happy just now with Italy either, which recently received Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on a state visit, resulting in a number of agreements between the two countries’ energy sectors as well as cooperation on a future high-speed rail project. Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, complained that Rouhani was being treated like “the king of the world.”
War with Sweden
All in all, Gilon’s comments would have to be viewed as rather tame, however–at least by comparison. For some of the statements issuing from Israelis now, particularly those aimed at Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, are positively chilling in their level of malice expressed, and frankly it might behoove the Swedish official to consider hiring a bodyguard at this point, if she hasn’t already done so.
As I noted in an article five days ago, Wallström is now regarded in Israel as “public enemy number 1” (the Jerusalem Post’s words, not mine) because of remarks she has made critical of Israel, including a recent call for an investigation into extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
Now it seems there may be those in Israel hankering for the foreign minister’s blood–literally. If you haven’t read my article, Swedish Media Target Country’s Foreign Minister Following Her Remarks on Israel, I suggest you do so as it will place what follows into greater perspective. One day after posting that article, I became aware of two other articles, one by blogger Richard Silverstein and the other by Jonathan Ofir and posted at Mondoweiss, both of which discuss what appears to have been a scarcely veiled threat on Wallström’s life by a former Israeli official.
The comment was made by Zvi Zameret, a former official in the Israeli Ministry of Education, in an op-ed piece he wrote for an Israeli newspaper owned by Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In the article, Zameret waxes lyrical on the 1948 assassination of Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, and then goes on to suggest that Wallström might meet a similar fate. Here is a bit from Silverstein’s commentary on the matter:
Zvi Zameret, the former director for instruction for the Israeli education ministry has written an op-ed in Makor Rishon, Sheldon Adelson’s pro-settler newspaper, praising the 1948 assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte by Yitzhak Shamir’s Lehi gang. Zameret accuses Bernadotte of being an anti-Semite and claims that his views originated in a Swedish society that was suffused with this perspective. He claims that ridding the world of the Swedish Count was necessary to protect Israel’s new existence.
He wends his way through a long historical discourse involving material already well-known related to Bernadotte’s proposals, which were rejected by Arabs and Jews alike. Then he brings us up to the present day by alleging that remarks of the current Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, demanding that Israel be held accountable for the 160 Palestinians killed over the past two months in the latest Intifada, stem from the same well of Swedish anti-Semitism.
Silverstein says Zameret “hints that Wallström herself should share a similar fate to Bernadotte” and then gives us a direct quote from his article as per its English translation:
“What do the things I have mentioned attest about Bernadotte? [They indicate] covert anti-Semitism, ignorance and arrogance, collaboration with senior elements in Israel [Hebrew University President Judah Magnes] and interests that play a decisive role. Has anything changed in the Swedish DNA in the decades following Bernadotte’s death? Nothing has changed.
The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom, in the covert anti-Semitism which characterizes her, along with her ignorance and arrogance, and anticipation of the interests of her future Muslim voters–she too is attempting to battle against the basic foundation of the State of Israel. I am certain that her intentions will be defeated, just as were those of the disreputable Count Bernadotte.
Bernadotte was assassinated by Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang, the same Jewish terrorist group that carried out the Deir Yassin massacre. Zameret’s glorification of his murder doesn’t seem entirely lucid or rational–during World War II Bernadotte negotiated the release of 31,000 prisoners from German concentration camps, including a large number of Jews. After the war, he became the UN Security Council’s unanimous choice, in a vote on May 20, 1948, to try and mediate a settlement in the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
His murder took place September 17, 1948, carried out by a four-man team of assassins. The Stern Gang had been around since 1940. Its stated goal was to terminate the British mandate in Palestine and set up a “new totalitarian Hebrew republic,” and one of its members, Yithak Shamir, ended up becoming an Israeli prime minister. It was Shamir, in fact, who ordered Bernadotte’s assassination. The man who actually pulled the trigger, Yehoshau Cohen, later became a close confidante of David Ben Gurion and was never charged in the case.
In October of 2014, shortly after Wallström took over as foreign minister, Sweden became one of the first Western countries to recognize Palestinian statehood. Wallström called it “an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination” and added that “We hope that this will show the way for others.”
In November of last year, shortly after the Paris terror attacks, Wallström suggested that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians could be helping to fuel terrorism. She followed that up with a comment in December about Israeli “extrajudicial executions,” and this month called for an investigation of Israel.
“Whether Zameret advocates Wallstrom’s demise explicitly or implicitly is hardly important,” comments Silverstein. “Even if you accept the argument that he isn’t explicit, clearly the reason Bernadotte failed in his mission is that Jewish terrorists assassinated him. When you say you wish her intentions to be defeated just as his were, the line between murder and political defeat becomes exceedingly murky.”
Boycott Sweden! say Israeli Mayors
But of course it isn’t just Zameret. Lots of people in Israel despise Wallström and have “vociferously attacked her contentious words,” as an article here puts it. And this apparently applies to a good many Israeli officials. The same article goes on to give us the low-down on a “boycott movement” launched by 15 Israeli mayors and aimed at Sweden. The mayors were planning to attend a conference in the Scandinavian country in March, but recently announced they have cancelled, while former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also called for a boycott of Ikea.
War With Spain
In November of last year, a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and six other officials in connection with Israel’s 2010 raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a violent episode in international waters which resulted in the deaths of 10 people.
The warrants were issued by Judge Jose de la Mata, and in effect meant that should any of the seven officials set foot on Spanish soil they would be subject to arrest.
“Spain is just the latest member of the international community to accuse Israel of war crimes and pursue Israeli officials over the affair,” the Jerusalem Post reported at the time. And that is indeed correct. Both South Africa and Turkey had previously issued similar warrants.
Predictably, the Israeli government expressed hostility and outrage.
“We consider it to be a provocation,” said an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson. “We are working with the Spanish authorities to get it cancelled. We hope it will be over soon.”
What do you suppose the words “working with Spanish authorities” might imply? Did it include issuing threats? Whatever it was, it took only two months to accomplish. The arrest warrants were in fact cancelled, according to a report published January 13 by the Adelson-owned Israel Hayom newspaper.
War with Brazil
Brazil, on the other hand, seems to be showing a little more resilience. According to a report here, “Israel and Brazil remain at loggerheads five months after Brazil refused to recognize Israel’s appointment of a right-wing settler as its next envoy to the South American country.”
“Settlers are Zionist agents that the world cannot accept, they steal others’ land, they are an insult to Brazil, to the government, and to millions of Brazilians with roots in the Arab world,” said Brazilian parliament member Carlos Maron.
Maron isn’t alone. A group of 40 retired Brazilian diplomats signed a statement against the appointment of Dani Dayan, who lives in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Shomron, in the Occupied West Bank. Dayan is an advocate of the settler movement and has made no secret of his views, having widely published articles in the mainstream media, including the New York Times.
“We consider it unacceptable that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has publicly announced the name of the person he intended to appoint as his country’s new Ambassador to Brazil before submitting it, in accordance to the norm, to our Government,” said the diplomats. The announcement of Dayan’s appointment was reportedly posted initially on Twitter rather than being communicated directly to the Brazilian government.
The statement continues:
This rupture with a diplomatic practice seems to have been on purpose, an attempt to establish facts, since the appointed, Dani Dayan, between 2007 and 2013, was the President of the Yesha Council, responsible for the settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal by the international community, and has already declared himself contrary to the creation of the Palestinian State, which counts on the support of the Brazilian Government and was already recognized by over 70% of the UN member States.
Reportedly a group of 200 Brazilian academics have also endorsed a boycott of Israel. Netanyahu has refused to withdraw Dayan’s nomination or to appoint someone more acceptable to the Brazilians. If the Brazilian government stands its ground, it will mean a de facto end to diplomatic relations between the two countries.
War with the EU
On January 18, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council reaffirmed requirements that export products from the Israeli settlements be labeled as such. More or less as with Sweden, Spain, and Brazil, the EU’s action has prompted cries of Israeli outrage. Netanyahu pronounced his unwillingness to “accept the fact that the EU labels the side being attacked by terror,” while ‘Justice’ Minister Ayelet Shaked called the EU measure “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.”
Likewise, opposition party leader Isaac Herzog (supposedly a liberal) compared it to the “Zionism equals Racism” resolution passed by the UN in 1974, while Yair Lapid, another opposition party member, denounced the EU for “capitulating to the worse elements of jihad.”
War Against the BDS Movement
In summer of 2015, ‘Justice’ minister Shaked announced she was preparing lawsuits against BDS activists. The announcement was reported at the time by the Times of Israel in a story which also mentions that Shaked has expanded one of the departments within her ministry in order to “push ahead with the program as soon as possible.”
Ministry officials believe that legal circumstances present the option of suing activists for damaging Israeli trade, and for discrimination and racism, based upon laws as they currently exist in various countries, the report said.
So far as I’m aware, no lawsuits have been filed against individual activists, however Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, seems to be generally in support of the idea of striking back in some manner at the BDS movement.
“Let it be clear to any company or organization that’s considering boycotting us: We will hit back. We will attack our attackers. We will boycott our boycotters,” Bennett said.
“The boycott weapon is a double-edged sword,” he added. “If you’re thinking of boycotting Israel, keep in mind that there are tens of millions of Israel supporters around the world — Jews and non-Jews — with considerable buying power and boycott power. Whoever boycotts Israel will be boycotted. Whoever hits Israel, will be hit back. We will no longer remain silent.”
Bennett’s comments about the “tens of millions of Israel supporters around the world” are perhaps salient. Also last summer, Adelson hosted an anti-BDS summit in Las Vegas with the aim of establishing and funding “successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses.” Held at the billionaire’s Venetian hotel on the Vegas strip, the conference was attended by a number of wealthy Jews, including Haim Saban.
“The key decision reached at the conference was that there would be a concerted effort to curtail BDS,” reported the Jerusalem Post.
Though Netanyahu did not attend, a letter from him was read aloud to the conference participants. “De-legitimization of Israel must be fought, and you are on the front lines. It’s not about this or that Israeli policy. It’s about our right to exist here as a free people,” the letter stated.
Reportedly the Israeli government intends to allocate NIS 100 million, or roughly $25.2 million, to the anti-BDS effort.
War Against Academic Associations
At a business meeting held in November, members of the American Anthropological Association voted overwhelmingly (88.4 percent) in favor of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. A similar measure was passed that same month by the National Women’s Studies Association Executive Committee. These aren’t the first boycott actions taken by academic organizations in the US. The American Studies Association, The Association for Asian American Studies, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have all passed academic boycott measures against Israel. And this is just in the US.
Measures have also been passed by academic organizations in Brazil, South Africa, Canada, the UK, and, of course, in Palestine, and probably elsewhere. And perhaps most recently a group of 71 British doctors have called upon the World Medical Association to expel the Israeli Medical Association. The physicians have accused Israeli doctors of “medical torture” on Palestinian patients and want to see a ban on joint projects with Israeli universities.
On January 20, the Science and Technology Committee of the Israeli Knesset held a meeting to discuss the issue (H/T Helvena). A press release on the discussion which took place can be found here on the Knessett’s website. One of those who gave input at the meeting was Peretz Lavie, president of Technion, or the Israeli Institute of Technology.
“We have no complaints against the global academic leadership; our problem is the campuses,” Lavie said. “Initially it was insignificant campuses, but it quickly spread to leading campuses in the United States.”
When Lavie says he has “no complaints against the global academic leadership” he is probably referring to the Association of American Universities, which on January 14, in response to the vote by the Anthropological Association, re-issued an earlier statement in opposition to academic boycotts. The AAU is an organization whose leadership consists of the presidents and chancellors of the 60 universities (in both the US and Canada) that are its members. Membership is by invitation only. The group’s statement opposing boycotts was initially released in 2013 in response to the boycott actions taken by the American Studies and Native American and Indigenous Studies associations.
The group’s re-release of that canned statement from more than two years ago was described by the Jerusalem Post as “a blow to the BDS movement.”
“Students who are exposed to this activity will be the next generation’s senators, and therein lies the great danger in the long term,” Lavie went on in his testimony before the Science and Technology Committee.
“In its report, the American Anthropological Association referred to us as universities of apartheid and decided to conduct a survey on whether the Israeli academia should be boycotted. We have to reach all 12,000 members of the Association. It is a symptom, and if we do not act now, it will spread. There must be one entity that will concentrate all the efforts related to this issue,” he added.
Another person who gave testimony was Ze’ev Feldman of the Israel Medical Association. It was Feldman who informed the committee of the recent statement by the 71 British doctors.
”The sword of the boycott is being raised on the Israeli scientific-medical community,” he said.
Ariel University Chancellor Yigal-Cohen Orgad asserted that Israel has “a real problem with governments, including western governments that encourage boycotts,” while Professor Zvi Ziegler warned, “We are unable to stop anyone with our meager resources.”
Several committee members are also quoted, including Chairman Uri Maklev:
“There is no doubt that the academic boycott phenomenon is expanding and is connected to the financial and consumer boycotts on Israel. Economic and commercial boycotts are associated with politics, but an academic boycott by educated and moderate people has a very strong effect.”
But rather than calling for an end to the settlements, most of the committee members seemed to be of the opinion that the Israeli government needed to devote more resources to fighting the boycott movement. The one exception to this was Arab Knesset member Basel Ghattas:
The world considers the settlements to be illegitimate. You can think differently from the entire world, it is your right, but it is also the world’s right to take measures in order to force you to establish two states.
War with the UN
On October 1, 2015, Netanyahu gave a speech before the United Nations General Assembly that was marked by a 45-second segment during which he paused and projected hostile glares out at those present:
On January 26, 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon broke the UN’s “deafening silence” and, in a rare display of courage, issued a scathing criticism of Israel’s settlement policies.
Progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israel’s settlement enterprise.
Continued settlement activities are an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community. They rightly raise fundamental questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.
I am deeply troubled by reports today that the Israeli Government has approved plans for over 150 new homes in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This is combined with its announcement last week declaring 370 acres in the West Bank, south of Jericho, as so-called “state land”. These provocative acts are bound to increase the growth of settler populations, further heighten tensions and undermine any prospects for a political road ahead.
The inevitable furious response came quickly, with Netanyahu excoriating the UN chief for helping to “stoke terror.”
“There is no justification for terrorism,” he said. “The Palestinian terrorists don’t want to build a state; they want to destroy a state, and they say that proudly. They want to murder Jews everywhere and they state that proudly. They don’t murder for peace and they don’t murder for human rights.”
He went on to assert that the UN has “lost its neutrality and its moral force, and these statements by the Secretary-General do nothing to improve its situation.”
A Lack of Imagination?
Perhaps most striking in all this is the Israeli lack of imagination–or at least that is one way of looking at it. Nowhere in his hostile comments aimed at his various enemies on the global stage does Netanyahu give the slightest indication of having once thought about halting the settlements and pulling back to Israel’s internationally recognized pre-1967 borders. Ditto with the other Israeli officials quoted above, with the lone exception of the Arab Knessett member. It is almost as if the idea has never even occurred to them.
If that is the case, one could perhaps ascribe all of this to a lack of imagination. Certainly at this point, after 68 years of oppression, it probably does indeed require considerable imagination to conceive of how the two peoples could live at peace. But of course it wasn’t always so. And had Israel, starting in 1967, respected the people of the West Bank, and above all else respected their space rather than crowding them in with settlements and walls and soldiers, a peaceful resolution to the conflict probably could have and would have been achieved by this time.
Yet even now, it isn’t too late. Though it would be politically difficult, Israel could dismantle its settlements (anything is possible when the national will is present) and pull back to the pre-1967 borders–basically the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative proposed back in 2002. If necessary, and it probably would be for a lengthy period of time, UN peacekeeping troops could be deployed along the border.
But Israel’s response to the Arab Peace Initiative was to call it a “non-starter,” and that seems to be its position today as well. And not only is there little prospect of dismantling of presently-existing settlements, but we see even a refusal to halt the construction of new ones. All of which would suggest that Ban Ki-moon is correct and that the settlement enterprise raises “fundamental questions about Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.”
Or in other words, Israel has no intentions of making peace.
Certainly it’s possible that things could change, and that a new slate of leaders could arise in Israel with the imagination necessary to see the wisdom of complying with international norms of conduct. And that is what its more liberal Jewish supporters in America seem to be hoping for. But failing this, Israel’s wars with the rest of the world are likely to grow in stridency and ferociousness, and at some point could expand from the realms of diplomacy and/or covert operations fully outright into the military arena.
Former members of a U.S.-trained death squad in El Salvador may finally face justice after massacring 6 priests and two women 26 years ago.
In El Salvador, the beginning of a new year brings with it the opportunity to heal old wounds.
In the first weeks of January, nearly 20 retired military officers accused of human rights violations during the country’s civil war have been called to answer for their crimes. While the great bulk of the charges being leveled against the former soldiers relate to a single massacre carried out in San Salvador, at least one of the former commanders is known to have directed multiple atrocities during the 12-year conflict. In all, some 75,000 were killed during the war, while thousands more were disappeared in a rampage of human rights atrocities largely perpetrated by the U.S.-backed, right-wing government’s forces.
The importance of these developments cannot be underscored enough.
In addition to the closure that may be offered to victims of civil war-era human rights abuses and their families, the apprehension and trial of accused war criminals in El Salvador signals the end of impunity enjoyed by members of the old guard—some of whom were responsible for brutal campaigns of violence, like the massacre of six priests and two others at a university in San Salvador.
On Nov. 16, 1989, a small band of soldiers stormed the campus grounds of the Central American University (UCA). Members of El Salvador’s elite Atlacatl Brigade—a death squad armed and trained by the United States—murdered a group of Jesuit priests, a campus housekeeper, and the woman’s teenage daughter. Among the dead was Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the university, prominent proponent of liberation theology, and a critic of the conservative ruling regime governing El Salvador during the war. The other five priests were Spanish nationals.
The military initially tried pinning the blame on FMLN rebels. The Actlacatl Brigade used weapons that had been captured from guerilla fighters and, after murdering those inside the compound, staged a phony assault on the campus to make it appear as if rebels had carried out the slaughter. In order to ensure that no one would question who was responsible for the UCA massacre, the troops placed a cardboard sign near their victims which read: “The FMLN has executed the spies who informed on them. Victory or death. FMLN.”
Despite the fact that few believed the military’s deception, justice in this case—as it was for countless other victims of human rights violations during the civil war—has proved elusive. In 1991, a group of the officers involved were put on trial. Two soldiers were found guilty, and sentenced to prison. Shortly after, however, all of the accused were relieved of responsibility for the killings. An amnesty law approved by the legislative assembly following the 1992 peace accords offered the shelter of impunity to everyone implicated in war crimes over the previous decade.
On Jan. 5, a Spanish court asked that arrest warrants be issued for the 17 retired military men connected to the slaughter at the university. The following day the Salvadoran government signaled its willingness to cooperate. Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman David Morales, speaking at a press conference, told reporters that “there is an obligation to prosecute these acts and, in the absence of domestic justice, there is an obligation to collaborate with the legal process that the Spanish National Court is leading in this case.”
Spanish authorities have tried to have the officers arrested in the past, but to no avail. In 2011, Spain pushed for their apprehension but was rebuffed by the Salvadoran high court. The court found that the warrants issued by Interpol for the 17 soldiers mandated that Salvadoran authorities locate the men in question, not apprehend them, and that the officers were protected under the old amnesty law governing civil war crimes. This changed last year in a welcome reversal by the court, which has opened the door to their arrest and extradition.
The impending arrests aren’t the only sign that the limits of impunity for past crimes may have been reached in El Salvador. A week after the 17 military officers were identified for arrest, a former minister of defense, Jose Guillermo Garcia Merino, was deported from the United States—where he had been residing since the late 1980s—to El Salvador for war crimes committed on his watch. Among other incidents, Garcia has been tied to the murder of four American nuns, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, as well as the Rio Sumpul and El Mozote massacres.
In expert testimony included in the case of Garcia-Merino, Terry Lynn Karl, professor of political science at Stanford University, argued that El Salvador’s armed forces “engaged in a widespread pattern and practice of massacres, torture, and arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and other gross violations of human rights” under Garcia’s command. “General Garcia presided over the worst period of repression in modern Salvadoran history,” Karl wrote. “At least 75 percent of reported violence in El Salvador occurred during General Garcia’s tenure as Defense Minister.”
These developments mirror a similar push for justice underway in the region more broadly. Most prominently, a series of actions have been taken against military officers in Guatemala accused of human rights violations in that country’s civil war. While the trial of former strongman Efrain Rios Montt has been subject to a lengthening series of delays, prosecutions of other alleged war criminals appear to be advancing successfully. And on the same day that El Salvador agreed to take action against those involved in the UCA massacre, Guatemala arrested 18 of its own retired soldiers for war crimes.
Even as Guatemala appears poised to make steady advances to ensure transitional justice, El Salvador faces many obstacles in following suit. Foreign courts were responsible for kickstarting these latest proceedings against Salvadoran war criminals while, to date, domestic courts themselves have not taken up the mantle of pursuing cases related to crimes committed during the war. Indeed, while government officials have promised to extradite the seventeen officers to Spain, none have yet been brought into custody. Nor is it clear what legal fate awaits Garcia following his deportation from the United States.
And there are still serious concerns about the selective nature of accountability in the country. The constitutional court’s recent ruling on “terror,” for example, came back into focus recently when Chief Inspector Joaquin Hernandez demanded that El Diario de Hoy be investigated for instigating “fear and terror” in its coverage of the gangs. Repugnant as El Diario’s politics may be, claims that the paper is abetting terror raise alarming questions about press freedom in El Salvador, and could set an ugly precedent in the government’s war against the gangs, and political opposition.
Nevertheless, the fact that government officials appear ready to play their part in the apprehension and prosecution of those charged with war crimes suggests an important shift has taken place in El Salvador. The ruling establishment has historically been wary of broaching issues of transitional justice leftover from the war. To his credit, former president Mauricio Funes took courageous steps by acknowledging the state’s role in wartime atrocities, but nothing came of it. Over the past several weeks, however, official reluctance to redress past wrongs seems to be dissipating.
Whatever the cause—domestic or international pressure, successful internal maneuvering by brave judges and lawyers within the country’s judicial system, or something else—an opportunity to begin striking down the impunity haunting El Salvador for decades has presented itself. Will the government shy away due to the very real political risks involved in dredging up the past? Hopefully not. Will it honestly reckon with the country’s recent history, and those responsible for its bloodiest episodes, to ensure that justice for those victimized by a ruthless war is no longer denied, even after all these years?
Better late than never.
Spain’s United Left party has adopted the call for the global boycott of Israel (BDS), with the support of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, as members of the Castrillon City Council in the Asturias province voted in favour of the campaign.
Having reviewed the reasons for adopting the BDS campaign, the general coordinator of the Unified Left, Jose Luis Garrido, called on other Spanish cities to take the same action and to boycott Israel at all levels until it withdraws from the occupied territories and respects international law and the rights of the Palestinian people to independence and freedom.
In his speech before members of the municipal council he highlighted international laws and United Nations resolutions that Israel has not implemented. He also mentioned the illegality of the settlements and the Separation Wall, in addition to the issue of refugees, Israel’s racist policies and the suffering of the residents of the Gaza Strip.
This move comes in light of similar decisions to boycott Israeli which were made by other Spanish institutions, the most recent being the University of Barcelona.
The deanship at the Central University of Barcelona (UAB) announced the official boycott of Israel, with the cut of all kinds of communication and relations with the Israeli universities and institutions which are related directly or indirectly to the occupation.
The university agreed to be a part of the global initiative “places without racism”, which includes hundreds of municipalities, institutions, universities and organizations around the world.
This achievement, according to Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency, comes in the context of the achievements derived by the Boycott movement network (BDS), operating in dozens of European countries and the Americas, Africa and Australia, which has become a real worry for Israel.
In Spain, the BDS movement was formed in 2007, and promotes many activities with regard to the facilitation of solidarity and awareness. The movement acts effectively against Israeli lobbying through business, cultural and academic sanctions, and has many achievements in these areas.
The Canary Islands adopted the boycott of Israel two weeks ago, during a visit by Ambassador of the State of Palestine in Spain, Kefah Odeh, in celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Seville and dozens of other Spanish cities have adopted the boycott movement in support of the Palestinian cause, and the BDS activities.
A group of lawyers and journalists are taking Spain to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the country’s controversial “gag law,” which activists say is an attack on freedom of speech and information rights.
The coalition of activists, known as ‘Defender a quien defiende’ (DqD) launched a triple lawsuit with the ECHR, calling for the immediate repeal of the law.
The highly controversial Citizen Security Law, dubbed the ‘gag law’ by critics, was passed by the governing Popular Party (PP) earlier this year and came into action in July, despite widespread protests and demonstrations.
DqD has labeled the law “authoritarian,” with critics arguing that it restricts the right to legitimate protest and allows authorities to harshly crack down on any form of anti-government demonstration.
Under the law, the vague description of “disrespecting a police officer” can attract a fine of US$662 (€600), while those guilty of staging an “unauthorized protest” can be hit with financial penalties as high as US$662,000 (€600,000).
Many photojournalists have taken aim at the law, which also makes it illegal to photograph a police officer, with many arguing that it severely affects their ability to do their job.
DqD argues that such provisions “violate” basic freedoms, expressions and the right to protest, in turn restricting journalists and photojournalists from subsequently sharing certain pieces of information with the public.
“They are particularly affected since the law jeopardizes their main function: to report on events of public relevance,” the lawsuit states.
Photojournalists are “obliged by police to stop filming or photographing police actions for fear of being penalized,” the lawsuit says, amid fears that it may allow instances of police misconduct to go undocumented and unreported.
The law has already attracted controversy since it came into effect in July after a man was fined US$662 (€600) for calling police “slackers” on social media.
In another controversial instance a woman was fined US$883 (€800) for taking a photo of a police car parked illegally in a disabled zone, however the fine was later scrapped.
The timing of the ECHR lawsuit, which is to be officially launched with a press conference on Tuesday, comes at a critical time for the ruling controversial Popular Party (PP) ahead of the country’s December 20 election.
All three major opposition parties have vowed to scrap the highly unpopular law if they win power, with some analysts saying the controversy around the matter could influence swing voters who remain undecided on who to vote for in the national election.
A group of victims of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco called Friday for the creation of a truth commission that would investigate the crimes of the dictatorship that ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975.
Spain, which never fully investigated the era of dictatorship, is set to have legislative elections on December 20 and the Platform for Truth Commission, which brings together various victims groups, is asking for all political parties to support the creation of a truth commission during the next legislative period.
Jordi Gordon, spokesperson for the coalition, told AFP that the goal was to “establish a parliamentary commission of truth, to recognize victims of the Franco regime as such and establish the facts.”
“We are talking about 150,000 missing, at least. Then there are the 2,381 mass graves that have been located that have not yet been opened.”
Gordon said that this makes Spain the country with the most disappeared after Cambodia.
“The Franco regime wanted to get rid of the bodies, the documents and even remembrance,” he told the French news agency.
Franco consolidated his power when his forces of General Francisco Franco declared victory over Republican forces in the Spanish civil war in 1939.
In 2007 the government of then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero approved the Law of Historic Memory that was meant to create an office for victims of the dictatorship but that office was gutted with the arrival of the People’s Party to power in 2011. The People’s Party is considered a descendent of the dictatorship.
The victims group is also calling for the Valle de los Caidos, a mausoleum built partially through the forced labor of Franco’s opponents, to be repurposed into a center to remember the era of the dictatorship instead of serving as a monument to Franco, who is buried there.
The head of the regional government in Catalonia has been indicted for unconstitutionally calling a referendum on independence from Spain last year. This comes just two days after his party and other secessionist forces won a regional election.
Recently, Artur Mas has promised his fellow Catalans that if pro-independence parties secured the majority in the regional parliament, independence from Spain would be a done deal. And so, on Sunday, the foundation of that promise was attained: absolute majority was secured, although, the parties only won 48 percent of the vote.
Despite the gains, Mas now has been summoned by Catalonia’s Supreme Court (TSJC) for pushing through a non-binding referendum last November, even after Spain’s Constitutional Court explicitly forbade him doing so.
He faces preliminary charges of disobedience, abuse of authority and usurping authority and will have to appear in court in October.
As it becomes more evident that Catalonia wants independence, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has once again repeated that he will not discuss “the unity of Spain.” With a general election coming up in December, he has ruled out any possibility of a referendum on the issue.
Meanwhile, Rajoy’s own People’s Party is getting historically low numbers in the Catalan election – the lowest in 20 years. Experts believe this to be directly related to the continued blocking of Barcelona’s independence referendum.
The Catalan Government said in a statement that it hasn’t “done anything illegal,” according to the Catalan News Agency. It further labeled the court’s decision to indict Mas as “a democratic anomaly” and “a political judgment.”
The left-wing leader Oriol Junqueras called Madrid’s tactics “the best example” of why Catalonia must secede. “As long as we belong to the Spanish State, normal things such as asking the citizens’ opinion will turn into lawsuits and summonses,” he said in a radio interview.
Various Catalan institutions and departments joined in the criticism against Madrid, although some in the region, such as the Conservatives, are diametrically opposed to Mas, believing that Catalonia can’t have a leader who is summoned for disobedience.
Left wing party coalition leaders have been sworn in as mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, assuming control of the Spain’s two largest cities. This is yet another case of parts of Spain showing their opposition to the country’s conservative rule.
In the Spanish capital, a 71-year-old former judge, Manuela Carmena has put an end to the 24 years of conservative mayorship. She defeated her rival, 63-year-old Esperanza Aguirre from the People’s Party, in what proved to be a very close race.
The new mayor managed to claim 20 seats in the city chamber during the May 24 vote against Aguirre’s 21. However, Carmena managed to forge an alliance with the main opposition Socialist Party to secure victory. She was officially elected mayor by 29 of the 57 council representatives on Saturday morning.
Carmena, a former communist and rights activist, promised to improve the living conditions for the poor, who have been struggling since the 2008 financial crisis. She also echoed the calls of the massive Indignados (Outraged) protest movement that was formed in 2011 to fight corruption, government spending cuts and evictions.
“We are at the service of the citizens of Madrid. We want to govern by listening. We want them to call us by our first names,” Carmena said after being voted in.
Among her chief promises to the electorate are the development of public transport and increased support for poor families. She has promised to slash her salary by more than half to €45,000 ($51,000).
In Barcelona, 41-year old Ada Colau, an active protest leader, has become the city’s first female mayor. She rose to publicity after helping to organize the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) movement, in Barcelona in 2009, to defend citizens against evictions caused by the collapse of the Spanish property market.
“Thank you for making possible something that had seemed impossible,” said Colau, representing the Barcelona en Comu party, after being elected mayor.
Her administration will now draft a list of 30 measures aimed at creating jobs and fighting corruption. Along with her colleague in Madrid, Colau announced that she will slash her salary from €140,000, down to €35,000.
Both Carmena and Colau secured victory during the May 24 local elections with the support of Pomedos, a new pro-worker and anti-establishment party that emerged last year.
Parties born out of the Indignado protest movement now rule five major Spanish cities: Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Cadiz, and Barcelona.
The latest success of anti-establishment candidates in the two largest Spanish cities shows a major shift in the country’s politics, and erosion of the bipartisan system. The Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party together won just over half of the vote on May 24. The rest of the seats at the local elections went to candidates representing smaller populist parties who are demanding change.
By William Hawes | Global Research | June 4, 2015
The captivating rise of Spain’s new left-leaning party Podemos has captured the world’s attention by emphasizing participative democracy. The formerly fractured Spanish left, in the past marred by petty infighting in Spain, coalesced from grassroots protests over austerity measures and gained steam in 2011. Working with the Anti-Capitalist Left activist base, Podemos began in 2014 by starting local public meetings, called citizen circles, to organize; using the web to organize, poll, and debate issues; and heavily promoting anti-austerity measures and poverty reduction. Young adults especially have been swept up in the Podemos’ rise, as unemployment for youths stands at anywhere from 30-50% by region.
Last month, anti-poverty activist Ada Colau gained the most seats to become Barcelona’s mayor with backing from Podemos. Podemos-backed Manuela Carmena came in a strong second in Madrid’s mayoral election as well. A coalition with Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) may secure both ladies’ spots. Now all eyes turn to the general election slated for December. At center stage as leader of Podemos is Pablo Iglesias, former college professor and TV host.
The ideology of Podemos was incubated during the May 2011 protests in Madrid centered on the skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures employed by the Zapatero-led government. Spain’s protests erupted nationwide and were centered in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, led by social networks and citizen assemblies. Protesters were dubbed Indignados (“the outraged”, or “the angry ones”), for their rejection of Spain’s increasingly corrupt two-party system and the “austericide” measures strangling the economy and vitality of the nation. Spreading throughout the country, it is estimated that about 6.5-8 million participated. Protests have continued under the Rajoy regime. (1)
After the protests, Podemos formed from a coterie of radical professors from Madrid’s Complutense University. The most notable are Iglesias, political theorist and the face of the movement; Jesús Montero, former communist and political organizer, and Iñigo Errejón, university lecturer and campaign strategist. Beginning to channel citizens’ hopes, despair, and anger over poor economic conditions, Iglesias’ TV programs, La Tuerka and also Fort Apache, became hits and launched him into the national spotlight.
Debating conservatives on national broadcasts pushed Iglesias into the stratosphere in Spain, with bona-fide rock-star status, which he backs up: Iglesias accepts only quarter of his salary as a member of the European parliament. He flies coach on all his trips. He routinely rips Rajoy and his cadre of corrupt officials. He lives in a graffitied neighborhood in Madrid, has credentials as a respected academic, and visits with famous theorist Chantal Mouffe.
Iglesias and Podemos certainly have their critics and detractors, however. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has blasted the party recently, calling them “incompetent populists”. Some have questioned Iglesias’ decision to run Fort Apache, as it was produced by an Iranian state-run TV company. Others frown upon members’ past consulting work with the Venezuelan government. And co-founding member Juan Carlos Monedero has recently quit the party, commenting that Podemos needs to “go back to its origins”. (2)
Despite the backlash, there is no doubt that Podemos represents the best hope for the future in Spain. Monedero still claims they are “the most decent force in Spanish politics”. Iglesias has shown citizens who the ruling People’s Party (PP) and the rival Socialists’ Workers Party (PSOE) really are: la casta (the caste), the establishment, corrupt leaders and officials who do nothing as nearly 6 million people are out of work and 2 million households have no net income. (3) The party is also aware of their limitations in an integrated EU economy: this is why they have called on the help of friends like Greece’s Syriza to fight the EU technocracy, ECB, and IMF. No doubt, Podemos would be wise to send feelers to Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi and Ireland’s Sinn Fein party to ally the periphery, mainly southern Europe, against the unjust policies of Brussels.
Iglesias has shown moderation and fairness in nearly every aspect of Podemos’ agenda. He supports Spain’s membership in the EU, but only under fair laws and loan agreements. He wants benefits and social programs expanded, but he is not calling for nationalization of entire industries. Podemos supports sharing more power with the autonomous regions of the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, and even states that the party would allow a Catalonian referendum, which the PP and PSOE oppose. (4)
Podemos is more than a vehicle to bring to life the hopes and dreams of Spaniards alone. As political theorists, leaders of Podemos cannot be accused of intellectual laziness. By employing a narrative of anti-elite rhetoric within a framework of social justice, they have created a message appealing to citizens of the whole nation. By linking digital democracy, through social media, with participative elements, such as meetings to combat poverty, lobby for public health initiatives, the arts, and more, Podemos has provided a contemporary deliberative democratic blueprint for the world.
The party has helped lay ground for democracy with revolutionary potential, but not within a traditional, left/right framework. Though favoring a moderate social democracy, Iglesias and the leadership deny that they are partisans. Iglesias explained the left/right divide succinctly at a rally in Barcelona: “Power doesn’t fear the left, only the people”. (5) At its core, Podemos is attempting to challenge the power structure, and deliver democracy to the masses, even if it means deviating from its anti-capitalist, leftist origins.
By moving towards the center, and consolidating power mostly between Iglesias and Errejón, Podemos risked alienating its activist base. These are undoubtedly the reasons for Monedero’s resignation from the party. Charisma and charm will only take you so far, and pandering towards the middle will only work up to a point. Besides, the populist, new center-right party Ciudadanos is also mining the center for votes with this strategy.
Podemos should continue to act as a movement led by activists, and evade the traps of capitulation and compromise that mainstream parties fall into. Breaking the two-party stranglehold of the PP and PSOE has been impressive. By concentrating on poverty reduction, debt restructuring, ending austerity, and listening to its citizen circles, Podemos and Iglesias can win wider support, unity, and solidarity. If focus can be kept on their grassroots campaigns, Spain will begin to see what a true, albeit messy, participative democracy looks like.
William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. You can reach him at email@example.com.