Don Quijones: Spain Cranks Up Political Repression

Yves here. In contrast with the way that political repression is gradually becoming the new normal in America, Don Quijones chronicles how rapidly it is being put in place in Spain to curb protests against austerity and bank-favoring policies. The extreme form of shredding democracy to protect commercial interests was Chile, where as a writer put it, “People died so markets could be free.”

By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain, and editor at Wolf Street, where this article was originally published

As the European Dream continues its slow descent into dystopic nightmare, leaving millions of economically disenfranchised Europeans languishing in the gutter of misery, public anger is growing. Nowhere is this more evident than in austerity-ridden Spain, where political protests have been a constant thorn in the side of the country’s knee-jerk authoritarian government.

Yesterday that government hit back with a declaration that evoked chilling echoes of Spain’s not-so-distant past. In response to a query by a member of parliament, the Ministry of Interior announced that during a public demonstration the police can confiscate any filming device if officers have reason to believe that it could be used to “commit an illegal act.”

That illegal act, one assumes, is the filming of the police as they “execute” their duties. That’s right: Spain could soon become the first supposedly democratic nation to outlaw the filming of police officers. It is one of a raft of new offenses included in the decidedly Orwellian-termed “Citizens’ Security” law, more popularly known as the “Gag Law” (Ley Mordaza). The new law proposes fines of up to €30,000 for using slogans against the country, the King or State, and up to €600,000 for organizing unauthorized street protests.

The original draft of the law covers a vast terrain, including:

• Fines of up to €30,000 for participating in the disruption of citizens’ security while using hoods or “any other article of clothing or object that covers the face” or for “disrupting citizens’ security at gatherings in front of the Congress of Deputies, the Senate, and regional legislative assemblies, even when these are not in session.”
• Fines of up to €1,000 for hampering pedestrian traffic, losing one’s identity document more than three times in five years, and circulating images of members of state security forces that might infringe upon their “right to honor.” Disobedience of the forces of law and order, whether passive or active, is also considered a crime.

The law is justified on the grounds of combating, in the words of Interior Minister Fernández, “radical and violent elements” within the protest movements. However, as Reuters reported in November last year, the crackdown on unauthorized protest belies the peaceful record of the anti-austerity protests of recent years,” which have remained relatively devoid of violence “despite unemployment of 26 percent, rising poverty, and changes in labor laws that make firing easier”.

Indeed, if anyone can be accused of using violence, it is Spain’s riot police – and hence the new law to scare people out of filming their actions. The victims of police violence have included non-violent protestors who have lost an eye to one of its rubber bullets, manhandled pensioners and demonstrators in wheelchairs, and even journalists.

Which Citizens? Whose Security?
Even in this age of Orwellian logic, the Citizens’ Security Law is about as duplicitous a term as could be concocted to describe a law that provides absolutely no security to the vast majority of Spaniards. The only “citizens” it seeks to protect are banks and large corporations and their representatives in government.

If passed, it will prevent pensioners from protesting outside the banks that robbed their savings in the Preferentes scam. It will also prohibit members of the organization Plataforma de Afectados por La Hipoteca, (PAH, or Mortgage Holders Platform) from protecting residents from eviction by agents of the state, which as the Associated Press reports, reached a peak in 2012 of 500 per day.

The PAH is a grassroots movement that has blossomed into one of the largest and most effective self-organizing citizen movements to have emerged in the post-crisis period. In 2013 it was awarded the European Parliament’s European Citizen’s Prize. Its greatest achievement came in July this year when the European Court of Justice ruled that the eviction law passed 14 months ago infringes the fundamental rights of Spanish citizens.

Unlike in most other Western nations, Spanish homeowners borrow under a draconian law whereby the bank, after the eviction, saddles ex-homeowners with the debt for life. To make matters worse, Spanish homeowners, unlike the banks, have no right of appeal against a court decision. What’s more, they cannot stop the eviction process while they fight contentious clauses in their mortgage contracts. As the BBC reports:

If they win a court case, they may seek compensation but will not necessarily recover their homes. Some contracts contain clauses allowing for a sharp increase in interest if a borrower falls behind on payments and Spanish law also gives the lender the right to start accelerated proceedings to evict the borrower if a single payment is missed.

For the moment the Spanish government is merely paying lip-service to the European Court of Justice’s ruling. It knows that any reform aimed at protecting home owners would jeopardize the banks’ already precarious position, since the banks’ flimsy facade of health depends on the exclusion of many foreclosed homes from their non-performing loans.

As the Wall Street Journal warned in July, non-performing assets – a more accurate measure of banks’ health since it captures foreclosed homes as well as repeatedly refinanced loans to property developers or other businesses that are unlikely to be paid – are equivalent to €433 billion, or 40% of the Spanish economy.

As such, the banks’ well-being may be jeopardized by the European Court of Justice’s ruling. However, the Rajoy government clearly knows on which side its bread is buttered, and will do whatever it takes to protect them from the ire of a betrayed citizenry, including threatening to outlaw the PAH as a “terrorist organization.”

The government is also fully aware that it needs to protect itself, as well as most other mainstream politicians, from the public’s blossoming rage. In Spain’s mad rush to develop in the post-Franco years, trillions of pesetas and later euros were poured into the country. As recent scandals have revealed, much of that money was siphoned off by Spain’s political middle men (and women). No one knows exactly how much was lost, but in Catalonia one family alone – the long-ruling Pujol family – is alleged to have amassed as much as €1 billion through political extortion (equivalent to around 2% of the region’s total debt).

Now that the scale of the betrayal is out in the open, Spain’s government is reverting to type. It has only one means of protecting itself and its core constituency from the anger of those it sacrificed on the altar of financial expediency – and that is to crank up political repression.

Through crude use of statistics, the Spanish government makes a mockery out of tragedy. Read…. How Government Masks the Plight of Spain’s Lost Generation

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  1. The Dork of Cork

    The real reason for Spanish Austerity.
    The UK wants its food & wine

    Spanish trade surplus with the UK increasing

    Sterling (millions)

    Y2011 : -2,077

    Y2012 : -3,119

    Y2013 ; -3,555

    A loss of Russian markets means the UK can buy its stuff at a lower price.

    Spain is not a pre 1959 Autarky – its structured so as to give its surplus to deficit nations – in particular the UK and France.

  2. The Dork of Cork

    The fruit and veg train.

    Wine grows all around them yet “there is no wine”
    Euro countries face continued restructure as their young people flock to the financial centers for jobs of any sort.
    Yet the true cost to supply them increases.
    The objective remains to destroy all local commerce and society.
    We are dealing with very deep political objectives (building a second US of A) rather then rational trade and economics.

    1. Skeptic

      “The objective remains to destroy all local commerce and society.”

      The above is the overriding 1% objective. The hope is that people will build their own local economies. I live in Canada and frequently visit a food wholesaler. The place is always very active with people filling up carts of both food and other restaurant supply material. They pay in cash. This is a lot of retail money outside the 1% wholesale system. In Quebec, a few years back, I remember a report saying 50% of the home reno market was off the books. Here is a Quebec Judge doing off the books home reno:

      As the 1% screw everyone down, they will seek alternatives and substitutions. The camel can only bear so much straw.

      (When I was in Ireland for the first time a few years back, I got a quick lesson in Europia. The new tram service running through Dublin, LUAS, was a Spanish company. The corporate players sit at the Brussels Table and divide Europe!)

  3. The Dork of Cork

    CH Douglas speaking in 1942.
    Exchange or Distribution
    Question.—Is the correct object of the monetary system to facilitate the interchange of goods and
    Answer.—The modern productive system does not primarily involve interchange of goods and
    services. The fundamental factor in production is power-driven machinery, and you cannot
    exchange services between power-driven machinery. That is why it is incorrect to say that money
    is, primarily, a medium of exchange. Money is primarily a demand system, so that the individual
    can demand from the productive system those things which he does himself contribute to it.
    The Object of Industry
    Question.—Would Social Credit increase employment at first?
    Answer.—Yes—although of course, it is not our objective to provide employment—I think that
    for a short time probably there would be increased employment.
    What certainly would happen quickly would be a complete difference of emphasis on what is
    produced. Without going into technicalities, I want to stress this point. We are often told that it is
    obviously absurd to say that the financial system does not distribute sufficient purchasing power
    to buy the goods that are for sale. We never said it! What we do say is that, under the present
    monetary system, in order to have sufficient purchasing power to distribute goods for
    consumption, it is necessary to make a disproportionate amount of capital goods and goods for
    Sweden is held up as a wonderful example of how well the monetary system can work. Sweden
    is producing about three times as much as she is actually consuming, but owing to vagaries of
    exchange she is able to export the remaining two-thirds. She has to take three times as much
    trouble as is really necessary in order to make the monetary system work.”

    Dork :Sweden was supplying much of nazi Germanys Iron ore at this time.
    Sweden was paying for German Tiger tank production.

    The UK economy is really a sort of neo liberal war economy.
    It requires a vast amount of real surplus goods (or indeed tourist destinations where its people burn other peoples resources) from the euro commonwealth .
    The cost of this absurd long distance trade is then socialized onto the Spanish and other misfortunate euro robote.
    If it takes a police state to do this then so be it.

    1. Bertrand Russell

      Dork Of Cork.

      Dork – What you say about the UK is also happening in Ireland is it not?

      Ireland also sucks in produce and migrants from the EU hinterland in order to function as a consumption sink ?

      How can the same forces be creating the same scenario in both the UK and Ireland.?

  4. Bertrand Russell

    Dork Of Cork.

    Dork – What you say about the UK is also happening in Ireland is it not?

    Ireland also sucks in produce and migrants from the EU hinterland in order to function as a consumption sink ?

    How can the same forces be creating the same scenario in both the UK and Ireland.?

  5. trish

    since Spain is advancing a blitzkrieg assault on dissent, we americans can point to them and feel comfort knowing we’re still exceptional! when it comes to Democracy! and Freedom!

    I can’t decide which is scarier. our powers’ quieter (thanks in part to the MSM) erosion of civil liberties or Spain’s high-speed de-rail. In terms of public awareness, response, cementing in of the repression…

    every little crisis, real or manufactured, every big press-gorge event (plane crashes, ebola, terrorist attack), an opportunity to slip in some odious legislation…

    1. Uahsenaa

      However, the exceptional point of repression referred to in this article, making filming/photographing illegal, is going on right now in Ferguson. Sure, the law says something entirely different, that anything/one in a public place or in performance of a public service can lawfully be filmed, but the police there, who are responsible for enforcing those laws, have so far shown a casual disregard for them, even going so far as to take journalists and an alderman into custody on the thinnest of pretexts. They are later released with no charges, no bond, no paperwork whatsoever, as if, poof, it never happened.

      We’re more there in terms of political repression than most people realize, simply because the actual laws no longer mean squat. For when the police make it up as they go along, who is there left to keep them honest?

      1. OIFVet

        Filming of police officers is illegal in Chicago too, so it’s not like the phenomenon doesn’t exist in “democratic” nations, that’s for sure.

          1. OIFVet

            Thank you Vatch, I knew there was a case pending but I missed the ruling apparently. Good thing. Now, if we could only ensure the police complies with the law for a change, we might have a real progress.

    1. ambrit

      Dear diptherio;
      It’s already all around us, alrighty then!
      (I’m waiting for someone to start selling ad space on the sides of police cars and armoured cars.)

      1. Massinissa

        I would be ok with that if its advertisements for lawyers I can hire to effectively sue the police with.

        Or I would in theory, but unfortunately, law (and lawyers) are on the side of law enforcement (and the gummint), not we the people, so even if they did that, it would just be a scam to take more of our money before we are incarcerated.

  6. RWood

    Big paintbrushs and shiny objects have masked this trickle-down effect through the generations.
    from Medea Benjamin (who didn’t frame this as above):
    “The US government refuses to even obey its own laws”

  7. Jake Mudrosti

    Given Lambert’s recent efforts at a grand unified theory of psychopathic leadership, the following journal article is a must-read — originally delivered in 1998 at the 17th Meeting of the Federación de Asociaciones para la Defensa de la Sanidad Pública, Valladolid, Spain, November 28, I998.
    Yes, 1998, although it reads as though it could have been written today.

    Free access from any library with a subscription, or after free registration for a MyJSTOR account:
    “The Neoliberal Triad of Anti-Health Reforms: Government Budget Cutting, Deregulation, and Privatization”
    Milton Terris
    Journal of Public Health Policy
    Vol. 20, No. 2 (1999), pp. 149-167

    Some representative quotes:
    “…World Bank published in I987 its Financing Health Services in Developing Countries: An Agenda for Reform, which proposed ‘an agenda for reform that in virtually all countries ought to be carefully considered.’ … In other words, cut public budgets and privatize services. This is the strategy which is being applied worldwide, in the industrial as well as the developing countries.”

    “For a long time I could not understand why my Latin American colleagues used the term “neoliberal” to describe the policies of cutting governmental health budgets and privatizing health services… I did not understand that the liberalism referred to is that of the 18th and 19th centuries, the liberalism of the rapidly-growing new class of merchants and industrialists”

    “The corporations are determined to cut back on government services by reducing the budgets, not only of the above-mentioned programs, but of public schools and universities, public housing, public hospitals and clinics, government health insurance programs, and government contributions to social security funds, in order to reduce corporate taxes and thereby increase profits. Further, government-operated industries such as transportation and communication services are being sold off to private corporations at bargain prices. The key word today is privatization; the market is king, and profit is the overriding goal.”

    Cases of crapification in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Spain are discussed within the global patterns of privatization. The subsection on p161 of the article is titled “Epidemiological Strategies: Documenting the Damage Caused by the Anti-Health Reforms.” On p165, he deals with 1980’s Mexico: “Indeed, the I980s decentralization was ultimately not designed for decentralization, but rather as a vehicle to obfuscate drastic reductions — in the order of 50-60% of spending — for public services. This was achieved by passing responsibility to states for health without financing this responsibility.”

    The final paragraph, delivered in 1998, is tough to read: “I look forward to your future success, when the people of Spain will have turned sharply against the neoliberal privatizers, and will have given a decisive rebuff to the anti-health reforms.”

  8. John

    I just dropped in on Portugal to get a feel on what is happening here. News sources talk of recovery but real GDP says they are a long way off from getting back to pre-crises levels. Infrastructure could use some attention too.

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    This sounds like an application calling for drone cameras. [Need to design entry/exit for those deploying and retrieving the drones.]

    When peaceful protests are met with violence, that violence will be met. I dread this time and the stupidity of our elite. Did they forget why they decided to tolerate and work with unions? Have workers forgotten what a wild-cat is or failed to learn how to lose a shoe from time to time? I don’t encourage such actions but they seem a natural counterpoint the the repression I’m seeing in the news. Thanks to just-in-time and extremely narrow supply chains American business and probably European business as well (?) is wide open for attacks with rapid and far reaching effects. Do they really believe that they can protect their supply chains better than they’re able to protect their networks from attack?

  10. Nathanael

    Seriously dumb. The violent thuggery of the government merely creates more opposition to it. They don’t have racism to lean on for support (like government thugs do in the US), and the social dynamics which supported Franco have been gone for decades.

    You cannot maintain power through brutality alone. Doesn’t work. I don’t know why they even try. Because they’re stupid as well as evil, I guess…

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