The season finale of the Catalonia Spain drama seems to be drawing to an end. Supposedly, “law and order” has been restored in the region with arrests being made and warrants issued for those who have fled the country with Carles Puidgemont, the ousted Catalonian president. One can’t fault a casual reader for getting the idea that Spain takes its law and order seriously. However, for those more familiar with the country, this is an example of the Spanish government’s cynical hypocrisy. By amplifying a political problem into a full blown constitutional crisis, PM Mariano Rajoy and the Partido Popular (PP) are deflecting attention from the core issues facing Spain, namely their corruption.
“The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war. All foreigners are alike appalled by their inefficiency, above all their maddening unpunctuality. The one word that no foreigner can avoid learning is mañana.” So said George Orwell in “Homage to Catalonia”. The use of “mañana” holds true today. So why is it that the Spanish judicial system operated in a New York minute. It took just four days for them to charge, fine and/or arrest the Catalonia separatist “rebels”.
The Catalonian ministers, including Vice President Oriol Junqueras and five others were treated like they had WMDs (aka ballot boxes). The accused became the equivalent of terrorists or drug dealers and the Spanish National Police and the Guardia Civil treated them as such. Their lawyer, Alonso Cuevillas, said during an interview with Lliure which airs on Rac1, that his clients were unnecessarily humiliated. They didn’t simply do a perp walk, but were hooded with sacks, put in a van with their hands handcuffed behind their backs for a four hour drive without seat belts. For good measure during their trip, they were taunted by the police who forced them to listen to the Spanish national anthem repeatedly. Once at the detention centre, they were strip searched. One of the ex justice ministers, Carles Mundo, had injures from handcuffs that were purposefully too tight.
As for those pesky Catalans ministers that are in a self imposed exile in Belgium, well Spain issued a EU and international arrest warrant for them. We’re yet to see if the Belgian courts will extradite Carles Puidgemont, the former Catalonian President, and his ministers. Puidgemont refuses to return to Spain until he can be guaranteed a fair trial. The charges against him and his ministers are “rebellion, “secession” and “embezzling” public funds for illegal activities. No matter what you think of Puigdemont’s ducking out to Brussels or his quick declaration of independence based on a 40% turn out of an unlawful referendum, his fear of ill treatment and facing a kangaroo court aren’t wholly unwarranted. A recording of three police officers has surfaced in which they are joking that the former vice president, Oriol Junqueras, would be raped in jail.
What were the costs for their PR train wreck of reining in the unlawful voters during the referendum? Well, Juan Ignacio the interior minister estimated it is approximately €220 million for 6,000 police officers plus supplies and other things. You would think a government in the midst of austerity measures would have tried dialogue first and stopped tax payers from footing such a steep bill.
Setting aside politicians and voters, they have extended their crack down to include anyone that would do the unthinkable – laugh at their authority. Guillermo Martinez-Vela director of the humour magazine El Jueves (the equivalent of France’s Charlie Hebdo) was fined for publishing a joke article titled, “The continued presence of anti-riot police in Catalonia has exhausted the region’s cocaine supply.” The satirical article joked about the Guardia Civil being high on cocaine while beating on Catalonian voters. The piece sparked anger from police unions and charges followed soon after.
In another strange case of reality being eerily similar to art, in the small village of Isla Mayor in Andalusia, half of the Guardia Civil’s narcotics unit was suspended for their involvement in a narcotics trafficking ring. Perhaps El Jueves hit closer to home than they would care to admit.
It’s just not politicians, voters and magazines either. Rajoy and his harbingers of justice decided to challenge the Balearic Islands for banning the use of sharp objects during a bullfight that can injure and/or kill a bull. Rajoy’s government is currently trying to overturn the region’s ban, as Inigo Mendez de Vigo said, “the autonomous community does not have in its mandate to protect animal rights.” Shall I also mention that the Balearic Islands is one of the Catalan Countries (Països Catalans)?
With all of this crossing t’s and dotting i’s, one would think there can be no exceptions to the law. Unless it happens to be them (“them” being the ruling Partido Popular). A prime example is the Gürtel corruption case that has so far taken 8 years to investigate (remember the lighting fast four days it took to charge and arrest the Calatan members of government?).
The implications of the case are staggering for the PP and particularly for Mr. law and order himself – Mariano Rajoy. At the centre of the case is ‘Account B’ that was used by the PP to receive undeclared money and illegal funds from businesses in exchange for government contracts, this money was then used by the party to fund their campaigns. Basically, a slush fund (good old fashioned bribery).
A recorded conversation from 2008 has been made public which sheds light on the process. Former Director General of Canal Isabel II, Ildefonso de Miguel explained to the former President of Grupo Degremont, Rafael Palencia, how the corruption scheme worked. Ildefonso de Miguel admits that he had periodically paid the PP €35,000 in cash. In exchange for these payments, his company received lucrative government contracts. The punchline? In 2012, the PP outlawed the use of cash for any transaction over €2000.
The Gürtel investigation itself isn’t free from strange occurrences. Take the case of Luis Barcenas’s, the former Treasurer of the PP and a key suspect. His wife and son were attacked, tied up and held hostage in their home by a man disguised as a priest who demanded that they hand over the USB flash drive, “that could take down Spain’s government.”
Then there is the odd string of deaths like Miguel Blessa former VP of Caja Madrid who apparently shot himself in the chest and at least ten others who died from accidents, heart attacks or jumping out of hotel windows. Interestingly, one of the key witnesses that could have testified about his in depth knowledge of the PP’s Swiss bank accounts, Francisco Yañez, died four days after being indicted. In the end, 800 people are implicated in the case.
Last week Manuel Morocho, chief inspector of Spain’s Unit of Economic and Financial Crimes (UDEF), claims the People’s Party (PP) acted as a “criminal organisation” in accepting payments from a slush fund. When a Podemos representative Carolina Bescana, asked Morocho if the “M. Rajoy” signature on the account belonged to the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, his answer was a resounding yes. An interesting twist since this past July PM Rajoy testified that he had no knowledge of who M. Rajoy was. From what we know so far, PM Rajoy has benefited from the account to the tune of €373,000 in undeclared illegal money for his campaigns.
The inspector also said, “An organisation that has operated for a long time, which has penetrated to very deep levels in public administrations until it has become parasitic and absorbed the capacity of a political leader to allocate and manage public funds…that is the concept of corruption in the purest form.”
Morocho also stated that the PP had tried to interfere in his investigation and were falsely accused of being “political police”. The PP filed seven complaints to Morocho’s superiors.
Just recently the Catalonian crisis brought the Gürtel case to public attention. Gabriel Rufian, a young pro-independence politician from the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), spoke in Madrid’s parliament. While holding up a pair of handcuffs he said, “Minister, look, do you know what this is? It’s your politics, your electoral program, the kind of dialogue you applied to our colleagues, the legitimate Catalan government. This is what was put on their wrists before putting them in a police van, parading them through Madrid, insulting them then imprisoning them in Estremera and Alcalá Meco.” He went on to say, “You’ve made your prisons our nightmare, we’ll make our ballot boxes yours,” referring to the upcoming regional elections in Catalonia on December 21st. He punctuated his dramatic statement by eluding to the PP corruption investigation – “Hopefully one day we’ll see (PM) M. Rajoy in a pair of these.” . He makes a good point. Will we see Mariano Rajoy and his merry PP crew do a perp walk with their heads hooded in sacks, and be taken on a four hour drive while handcuffed without seat belts, all while being taunted by the police? Probably not.
The December 21st election will either be the show’s finale or the cliffhanger for season two. Rajoy has stated that he has no plans to interfere, even if one of the independence parties wins, as long as they adhere to the law.
If the crisis is resolved, will the nation’s attention finally focus on the eight year old Gürtel corruption case?
Tune in for season two!