Monday, May 7, 2018

Canada: A paragon of democratic national self-determination?

Madrid’s stubborn refusal to allow Catalans to vote on their independence prompted some commentators, paradoxically, to praise Canada’s support for Quebec self-determination.

“Quebec got off light,” wrote Louis Bernard,[1] a former top official in Parti québécois governments, referring to the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the Reference re Secession of Quebec. After the almost-victory for the OUI in the 1995 referendum, he recalled, the federal government asked the Court to declare that Quebec had no right in Canadian or international law to choose unilaterally to “become a sovereign country, separated from Canada.”

“If the Supreme Court had accepted Ottawa’s argument, Quebec would now find itself in exactly the same position as Catalonia,” said Bernard. “Fortunately... the Court held that democracy should prevail over strict legalism.” It said, in part, that a clear majority vote for secession, in response to a clear referendum question, would give secession a democratic legitimacy that “all the other participants in Confederation would be obliged to recognize.” And it would then be up to “the political actors to determine the content of the negotiations and the process to follow.” These were essentially political questions, beyond the purview of the courts.

Quebec had “undeniably won its right to self-determination,” said Bernard. René Lévesque and Jacques Parizeau had exercised that right in the referendums of 1980 and 1995, respectively. And now the Supreme Court of Canada had made it official.

But what about the Clarity Act the Liberal government had Parliament adopt in response to the Court’s ruling? Bernard dismissed it as a face-saving gesture to give the “illusion that Ottawa continued to have a right to monitor a future Quebec referendum that it could not prevent.”

However, the Clarity Act provides that the federal House of Commons will determine whether it accepts the legitimacy of a Quebec vote for secession based on its opinion as to the clarity of the question, the size of the majority, and “any other matters or circumstances it considers to be relevant.” In subsection 2(3), it lists a host of documents and views it would consider in making that determination. And section 3 states that “an amendment to the Constitution of Canada would be required for any province to secede from Canada, which in turn would require negotiations involving at least the governments of all of the provinces and the Government of Canada.”

What the Supreme Court really held

This was consistent with the Supreme Court judgment, which insisted that a clear popular vote for secession would not only necessitate negotiations involving “all parties to Confederation” (para. 88), but that these negotiations could not be limited to “the logistical details of secession.... We hold that Quebec could not purport to invoke a right to self-determination such as to dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties: that would not be a negotiation at all” (paras. 90-91).

And the Court adverted to the “wide range of issues, many of great import” that would have to be addressed in such negotiations.

“After 131 years of Confederation, there exists, inevitably, a high level of integration in economic, political and social institutions across Canada. The vision of those who brought about Confederation was to create a unified country, not a loose alliance of autonomous provinces. Accordingly, while there are regional economic interests, which sometimes coincide with provincial boundaries, there are also national interests and enterprises (both public and private) that would face potential dismemberment. There is a national economy and a national debt. Arguments were raised before us regarding boundary issues. There are linguistic and cultural minorities, including aboriginal peoples, unevenly distributed across the country who look to the Constitution of Canada for the protection of their rights. Of course, secession would give rise to many issues of great complexity and difficulty. These would have to be resolved within the overall framework of the rule of law, thereby assuring Canadians resident in Quebec and elsewhere a measure of stability in what would likely be a period of considerable upheaval and uncertainty. Nobody seriously suggests that our national existence, seamless in so many aspects, could be effortlessly separated along what are now the provincial boundaries of Quebec.” (para. 96).

Furthermore, the Court stated, “there would be no absolute legal entitlement” to secession and “no assumption that an agreement reconciling all relevant rights and obligations would actually be reached. It is foreseeable that even negotiations carried out in conformity with the underlying constitutional principles could reach an impasse” (para. 97). The Court refused “to speculate here as what would then transpire.”

After a lengthy survey of the international law on self-determination, the Court concluded that “a right to secession only arises... where ‘a people’ is governed as part of a colonial empire” or “subject to alien subjugation” and “possibly where ‘a people’ is denied any meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination within the state of which it forms a part.” [emphasis added] [2] The Québécois are not a colonial people or an oppressed people, it concluded, and therefore did not have an unfettered right to secession. (para. 154)

“Homage to Canada, from Catalonia”

What Louis Bernard overlooks, others highlight. The pre-eminent voice of Anglo-Canadian journalism, the Toronto Globe and Mail, offered Ottawa’s approach to Quebec secession as a proud antidote to Madrid’s treatment of Catalan independentists. “Somebody needs to enroll the entire Spanish government in a remedial course in Canadian constitutional history – pronto,” wrote the Globe editors.[3]

“The sight of Spanish police storming polling stations in Catalonia, and beating would-be voters to stop what the central government declared an ‘illegal’ independence referendum, has turned an old political dispute into a potentially fatal crisis for Spain. The outrage against Madrid's overreaction has radicalized people on both sides of the issue, polarized society, and given a huge and likely permanent boost to Catalonia's independence movement. Spain may not survive.

“If only Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government had a Canadian in the room. No country has more experience managing independence movements and referendums, legally and peacefully.”

Over the years, said the Globe, Ottawa has “sought to derail the indépendantistes by every means at its disposal – reason, passion, concessions, firmness, money, the law – except one. Ottawa never tried to crush it by force. It beat the sovereignty movement with patience, not truncheons.

“The Spanish government, in contrast, lost patience and turned a political argument into a police action.”

Canada’s alleged “patience” now has legal cover in the form of the Clarity Act, the Globe noted. In future, the federal government “would scrutinize the referendum question; it would not accept it as a given, as in the past.” If, in Ottawa’s view, the referendum was “conducted under unacceptable circumstances, or delivered an unclear result, Ottawa could simply ignore the result. Which is what Madrid should have done.”

And if Quebec, thinking it had won a clear mandate, then issued a declaration of independence — as the Catalan parlement had done — and, moreover, proceeded to implement it (which Catalonia did not do), how would Ottawa react? The Globe editors were silent on this.

The Globe and Mail did, however, draw attention to the key difference between Canada and the Spanish state in their respective approaches to internal national movements. Canada’s federalism, the editors said, incorporates a 150-year-old division of powers between the federal and provincial governments, creating a political culture that has been “bred into the country’s political bones.” Jurisdictional disputes “can go on and on, opening the door to negotiation, compromise, changed minds and cooled passions.”

“Spain's federalism, in contrast, is newer and weaker. The limited autonomy of regions like Catalonia is officially not even a type of federalism, in which sovereignty is divided among levels of government.”

Both the Supreme Court and the Clarity Act imply that Quebec secession would require unanimous consent of the provinces, not just the federal government. Not to mention that Ottawa has a wealth of powers. procedures and institutions at its disposal that could be deployed in any major confrontation over Quebec secession. Not least, its military and police. If Ottawa was prepared to occupy Quebec with the Canadian army in the October ’70 crisis, ignited by a couple of kidnappings by a handful of FLQ militants, we can hardly ignore its possible use in a much graver challenge to the authority of the central state.

The Canadian state is stronger, more resilient, and its ruling class (including the Quebec component) is supremely confident of its ability to counter centrifugal pressures, the main one in the last 50 years being the Quebec independence movement. There is no reason to think that a Quebec vote for secession will be readily accepted by the authorities and institutions of the Canadian state. Its likelihood of success will ultimately depend on the relation of class forces, the mobilizing capacity and determination of the Québécois and the degree of active solidarity they can arouse among the workers and progressive movements in the rest of Canada.

Quebec sovereigntists need to think about how these realities must shape their strategy in the years ahead. The general  approach so far has been to focus on developing a democratic process that can produce a convincing majority for sovereignty that will somehow dissuade Ottawa from preventing its achievement. History and the law indicate that a winning strategy will entail much more.

Quebec’s Law 99: “Completely constitutional”

The federal Clarity Act was countered by Quebec’s PQ government with the adoption of Law 99, the Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Quebec people and the Quebec State.[4] The Act provided that in any referendum under Quebec legislation “the winning option is the option that obtains a majority of the valid votes cast, namely 50% of the valid votes cast plus one.” (Section 4) And it declared that “No other parliament or government may reduce the powers, authority, sovereignty or legitimacy of the National Assembly, or impose constraint on the democratic will of the Québec people to determine its own future.” (Section 13).

A court challenge to the Act by the English-rights Equality Party finally resulted in a 93-page judgment handed down April 18 of this year by Quebec Superior Court Judge Claude Dallaire.[5] Following an exhaustive review of “the context,” including the Supreme Court secession judgment and the Clarity Act, she concluded that “all sections of Law 99 pass the test of judicial review and the Act complies with both the Constitution and the Canadian Charter [of Rights and Freedoms].” (para. 31) adding that “Law 99, including all the articles the applicant challenges, is completely constitutional.” That is, Quebec remains subject to both the Supreme Court judgment and the Clarity Act. In drafting the bill, the PQ government had implicitly acknowledged this.

In support, she cited (inter alia) the words of Joseph Facal, the minister sponsoring the bill in the National Assembly, that all the bill did was to combine the applicable long-held legal and political principles in Quebec within a single legislative text. (para. 548) The Quebec Attorney-General had defended Law 99 on the ground that it was never intended to allow a unilateral declaration of independence.

The Superior Court judgment was greeted by Quebec nationalists as “a victory for the Quebec people,”[6] possibly because the federal government had intervened in the case arguing that Law 99 was unconstitutional. Ottawa now says it will not appeal the judgment.

[1] Louis Bernard, “Comparativement à la Catalogne, le Québec l’a échappé belle,” Le Devoir, October 7, 2017.

[2] In a 2006 judgment, the Quebec Court of Appeal addressed the issue, dodged by the Supreme Court, of whether a breakdown of inter-governmental negotiations following a Quebec vote for secession would justify unilateral secession. “It is only if this negotiation is fruitless could the Quebec parliament choose to make a unilateral declaration of independence, valid under the Constitution and consequently binding on the political institutions of the rest of Canada.” (Alliance Québec v. Directeur général des élections du Québec, 2006 QCCA 651, para. 29.) Could this reasoning justify Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of independence?

[3] Print edition headline: “Homage to Canada, in Catalonia,” The Globe and Mail, October 7, 2017.

[4] S.Q. 2000, ch. 46.

[5] Henderson v. Procureure générale du Québec, 2018 QCCS 1586.

[6]Une victoire pour le peuple québécois,” editorial (signed by Robert Dutrisac), Le Devoir, April 21, 2018.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Catalan Spring: Which way forward for the independence movement?


‘Free the political prisoners!’ April 15 demonstration in Barcelona.


The Spanish state’s prosecution of Catalan independence leaders suffered a serious setback April 5 when a German court rejected Spain’s request that former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont be extradited to face a charge of “rebellion,” subject to a jail term of up to 30 years.

The Schleswig-Holstein regional court freed Puigdemont, saying it could find no evidence that he was guilty of “high treason,” the equivalent for rebellion in German law. And the judges asked Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena to provide more information on his further charge against Puigdemont of embezzlement for using public funds to finance the October 1 referendum on independence.

Here again, evidence is lacking. On April 19, in response to an order from Llarena, the Spanish treasury minister sent a senior official to the Congress to confirm that not one euro of public money was spent organizing the referendum. Many of the exiled and jailed Catalan political leaders face similar charges of rebellion and misuse of public funds.

“Puigdemont’s release,” writes Barcelona correspondent Dick Nichols in Green Left Weekly,

“has thrown into question at a European level the independence of the upper echelons of the Spanish judiciary, in particular Llarena. His rulings, the subject of caustic criticism by legal professionals within Spain, are now being exposed to scrutiny internationally....

“It is becoming increasingly hard to maintain the line, repeated ad nauseam by European Commission spokespeople, that Catalonia is an internal Spanish concern that will be solved within the framework of a European Union member state governed by the ‘rule of law’.”

The German court decision, says Nichols, “has buoyed the Catalan independence movement, including most Catalan parliament deputies.”

As noted in the article below, mass mobilizations in support of the political prisoners and exiles have revived in Catalonia. On April 15, at least 315,000 demonstrators (the police figure; organizers’ estimate was 750,000) overflowed the two-kilometre route they had been assigned.

The march was organized by the civil-society Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and the 400-plus grassroots Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDRs). The latter have now become a major target of the Rajoy government’s repression. On April 10, heavily armed Civil Guards arrested Tamara Carrasco, the alleged “ringleader” of the CDRs. She faces charges of “terrorism” and “rebellion.”

In the following article two militants from the Anticapitalists current, which is active in Podemos, analyze the strategic dilemmas now facing the Catalan movements. They call for “a change in paradigm” with a new emphasis on social, political and economic rights that could increase popular “support for a constituent project among those who are not pro-independence” with the prospect in the long term of winning solidarity with this progressive agenda in the rest of Spain.

My translation of the article as published in Viento Sur. The footnotes are mine.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Blockade or Return to Normality?

by Óscar Blanco and Laia Facet

An icy winter followed the Catalan October that had generated what is surely the greatest crisis of the state since the Transition. The harshest blow delivered by the state to the independence movement and the rest of the bloc looking for how to unfold the mandate of the October 1 referendum was not the repression, the imprisonments or the application of article 155. Those blows fueled the strike of November 8 when, for the first time, the Committees to Defend the Republic (CDR) took the lead over the ANC and Omnium. However, the main blow had less to do with that harsh treatment but was part of the article 155 package: the calling of the December 21 election. An election that the independence movement had no choice but to accept after timid resistance initially by some sectors. How was a movement that since 2012 had been saying the ballot boxes were the solution going to call for a boycott of the election? This signified a recognition of the failure of the Declaration of the Republic and the forcible imposition of the Spanish state. In what state are elections called by the government of the neighboring country?

Electoral interests prevailed, and determined even the mobilization agenda. The CDRs adopted campaign logic, calling for a vote for Junts per Catalunya, ERC and the CUP, which posed ratification of the republican mandate but without being able to put forward a new road map. As in 2015, the polarization between the Yes and No to independence left little space for grays, and the topic of what had happened on October 1 and 3[1] did not gain any traction. There have ensued months of give and take between the political forces, failed agreements on how to install a government and a certain retreat from the mobilization that had absorbed so many intense months.

With spring, the thaw has arrived. The street is heating up again in response to the repression under the baton of Judge Llarena in a sort of judicial Causa General.[2] An entire generation of Catalan pro-independence politicians is being hounded by jail or exile. The CDRs have taken center stage again. First, through confrontations with BRIMO and ARRO (anti-riot and support units of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police), that are once again displaying their most brutal face. Then by road blocks and slow marches and by an “operation return” on Holy Week, in which they opened toll barriers on various highways. Massive and decentralized civil disobedience actions like those launched previously, which (perhaps because they have affected the interests of a stock-exchange listed company such as Abertis) have unleashed a new criminalization campaign by the Prosecutor’s Office, the newspaper La Razón, and the jerifaltes past and present of the PSOE such as Ábalos or Solana.[3] The arrest of the activist Tamara Carrasco by the Audiencia Nacional[4] has proved that these spaces for popular self-organization are the target and the huge mobilization of April 15 was seen as the great milestone of this spring.

However, with the attempt to install Jordi Turull as Catalan President the countdown to new elections has begun.[5] A complicated tactical dilemma is superimposed: the second investiture, more complicated still without a clear strategic horizon and with the repression hanging like a Democles sword over the Catalan parliament and the new President. Recent weeks have forcefully revived the hypothesis of installing Puigdemont among such actors as the CUP or the ANC (after the latter’s renewal of its leadership) who are relying on the strategy of blockade. The legitimacy of the independence movement to propose the candidate that it considers as the bloc that won the December 21 elections should not be questioned under any pretext. However, the debate should be focused on whether this is an adequate tactic for advancing the struggle for self-determination. To where does the hypothetical institutional blockade lead? Who is really being worn down?

A new frontal clash with the state would now occur without resolving any of the weaknesses that were expressed in the post-October 1 period, which allowed the state to gain the upper hand: the need to broaden the social base in favour of the Republic and to overcome the lack of counter-powers capable of sustaining the conflict over time without leaving anyone behind. Accordingly, the tactic in the investiture debate should be linked to the need for sovereign power to reorganize and explore new ways to force the state to sit down and give concrete form to the rupture with the regime. The other main position in the investiture debate, fundamentally embodied by the ERC, which consists of installing an effective “governance,” suffers from the opposite risk because it seems to abandon the path of institutional disobedience and poses a certain return to normality.

The bulk of the independence and federalist movement up to 2010 had opted for constitutional paths. After the Constitutional Court’s ruling against the Catalan Status the challenge to the regime began to take root for some, but for others it was total disorientation. Paradoxically, the independentist challenge leaves the door to a (con)federalist solution more open than the attempts of most of the federalist forces in recent decades.

October 1 was a situation of bifurcation in which the rupture was on the table. However, Elisenda Paluzie herself (the new president of the ANC) said that the momentum had been wasted. After the defeat it is necessary to think within a medium and long term logic: to think out how to organize ourselves to take advantage of new openings in a better correlation of forces.

It is safe to say that the independence movement today does not have the strength to bring about an independent republic. But it may have the strength to keep open the challenge to the regime and to force negotiation that fights the outcome longed-for by the state — a regressive shutdown and isolation of Catalonia with the conflict festering within. In this context, regaining control of the Generalitat can be another tool in the democratic conflict but the solution does not go through the narrow margin of effective management of an autonomy already achieved prior to the implementation of article 155.

How to find a way that does not hang on the blockade or on a return to normality? What role does disobedience play in this? As the CDRs have been implementing, disobedience must be able to mount actions, campaigns and mobilizations that do not normalize this barbarism and that continue to involve grassroots activists, unlike the pre-October process. On the other hand, institutional disobedience must abandon the phase of symbolism and rhetorical declarations and develop a strategy that prepares the ground to lead in better conditions to another crisis situation.

One of the major challenges of Catalan politics is to think out a social and economic program capable of resolving simultaneously the obstacles and material weaknesses expressed in the post-October 1 period, and the precarious conditions and poverty afflicting the popular classes. That is to say, the pro-sovereignty movement has to stop promising an Ithaca of social rights[6] and put in place mechanisms to guarantee them in conflict with the state. To achieve this, it is essential to recover the spirit of October 1 and 3 when one could sense the possibility of a subject that went beyond the independentism of the last decade with the ability to create spaces of mass self-organization in defense of self-determination. However, a certain tactical rigidity has not helped to maintain that unity and give it a political embodiment with the possibility — who knows? — of reversing the situation.

The Catalan October pointed to a surmounting of the orthodox process: a change in paradigm in which the defense of social, political and economic rights could become the centre of the movement and not an appendix displacing any kind of identitarian considerations. This transformation would help to increase the support for a constituent project among those who are not pro-independence and could have a necessary contagious effect in the rest of the state that would weaken the regime’s positions and therefore its ability to use coercion and impose itself in Catalonia at virtually no political cost.

Óscar Blanco and Laia Facet are members of the Anticapitalists in the Spanish state

[1] The reference is to the massive public resistance to police attempts to bar voters from the ballot boxes on October 1, followed by the mass general strike on October 3 against repression of the voters and denial of Catalonia’s right to self-determination.

[2] The Causa General refers to the legal proceedings taken by Franco after the Fascist victory in the Civil War against “criminal offenses committed throughout the national territory during the Red domination.” See

[3]Jerifaltes past and present” is apparently a reference to Gerifaltes de antaño (1909), the third and last volume of a trio of novels by the Spanish playwright, poet and novelist Ramón Maria de Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) devoted to the 19th century Carlist Wars between contenders to the Spanish throne, in which the Carlists, defenders of traditionalism and Catholicism against liberalism and later republicanism, were victorious. (Today’s post-Franco Spanish royal family are their direct descendants.) The word “Gerifaltes,” from ancient Spanish literature, is now understood as a synonym for caciques (local despots), entendidos (the cognoscenti) and even ladrones (thieves), but above all jefes (bosses) by the aural similarity of both words. Ramón Maria del Valle-Inclán is generally considered one of the leading authors of 20th century Spanish literature.

José Luis Ábalos was appointed provisional spokesman in 2017 for the PSOE, the Spanish Social-Democratic party, in the Congress of Deputies. Javier Solana, also a PSOE leader, is a former secretary general of NATO.

[4] Tamara Carrasco is a CDR activist. The Audiencia Nacional is a special high court created in 1977 when the Public Order Tribunal (Tribunal de Orden Público), a Francoist institution, ceased to exist.

[5] Jordi Turull, a jailed PDeCat leader and Carles Puigdemont’s former chief of staff, was prevented by Judge Llarena from attending the Catalan investiture and now faces rebellion charges. See “Spanish court remands Catalan presidential candidate in custody.”

[6] The Greek island of Ithaca is generally identified with Homer’s Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is the plot of the classical Greek tale The Odyssey.

Monday, April 16, 2018

First Nations leaders pledge to block pipeline expansion as Kinder Morgan blackmail exposes Trudeau’s bluff on climate change strategy


Burnaby protest March 10 against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project.


At the 2015 Paris COP 21 climate conference Justin Trudeau pledged his newly-elected government would help “to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius as well as pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.”[1]

The centrepiece of the adopted strategy was a two-pronged approach, contradictory on its face: implementing gradual carbon price increases through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade mechanisms while building more pipeline capacity to boost exports of fossil-fuel resources, especially the products of Alberta’s tar sands.

As environmentalists noted, the approach was inherently futile. Carbon taxes — contingent on provincial government consent — assumed higher costs would induce businesses to introduce less climate-destroying technology and practices. And provincial consent was dependent on the federal commitment to pipeline development, which inevitably would promote further fossil fuel exploration and production.

From the outset, Ottawa has faced opposition to carbon taxes from some provinces, which fear such market-based mechanisms will discourage private business investment. And mass popular opposition accompanied by the global downturn in resource prices has already led to TransCanada’s cancellation of its $15.7 billion Energy East project and Ottawa’s nixing of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. Although Trump has now reversed Obama’s stop to Keystone XL, its future is still in doubt in the face of opposition from US environmental activists.

That leaves Kinder Morgan’s plan to duplicate its existing Trans Mountain pipeline. It entails a $7.4 billion duplication of an existing pipeline from Alberta, with a three-fold increase in capacity, that would carry tar sands bitumen to a terminal in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. From there tanker traffic to hoped-for Asian markets would increase from a current five boats per month to an estimated 34 threading their way through coastal tidal straits. The plan has become the linchpin of the Trudeau government’s hope to win support for its approach from an Alberta government eager to get its petroleum to tidewater, and which has hinged its carbon tax on completion of the Trans Mountain project.[2]

The economic outlook for the Kinder Morgan project is suspect, given the declining prospects globally for new fossil-fuel export markets.[3] More importantly, it is facing mounting protests from environmental and First Nations activists. In recent weeks, dozens of demonstrators at the Burnaby terminal have been arrested on trespassing charges. The newly-elected minority NDP government in British Columbia, dependent on support from the Green party, which opposes Kinder Morgan, has joined in legal challenges to the project. This has brought the B.C. government into conflict with Alberta’s, likewise held by the New Democratic Party.

However, both governments have been boosting fossil-fuel exports.

B.C. premier John Horgan says he will limit the province’s carbon tax rules applying to a $40 billion Shell Canada-led LNG project in Kitimat. He prepared the way for that project when he recently gave the go-ahead to completion of the $10.7 billion Site C dam in northern B.C., which the NDP had campaigned against prior to its election last year. The dam will provide electricity to the Kitimat project.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley has been negotiating with Ottawa to exempt tar-sands projects from federal climate reviews. B.C.’s support of the Kitimat LNG project while opposing Trans Mountain as environmentally unsafe is “hypocrisy,” she notes, because it will be processing shale gas extracted in Alberta.

Meanwhile, the OECD warned in December that “without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada's climate mitigation targets.” The report noted that Canada has the fourth largest greenhouse gas emissions of the OECD's 35 developed national economies. As for carbon taxes, it said, Canada’s regime “is far below that of other OECD member countries.”

Then, on April 8 Texas-based Kinder Morgan announced it was suspending “non-essential” spending on the Trans Mountain project and would cancel it altogether if by May 31 it was not “guaranteed” the project could proceed despite the B.C. opposition.

Trans Mountain pipeline route

The announcement produced a flurry of panic-stricken reaction from Canadian business elites, their media, and the Alberta and federal governments. Surely, it was exclaimed, Ottawa has the constitutional authority to override B.C.’s opposition — especially in a matter so eminently in the “national interest,” as Trudeau and Notley constantly reiterate. To ensure the project proceeds, both governments have even indicated interest in buying a stake in Kinder Morgan, if not the entire company, investing billions of taxpayer dollars in this climate-destroying enterprise.

However, their dilemma is that even federal “guarantees” of the project will not insulate it from popular protest. In fact, it will only generate more opposition. The fight over Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project is far from over.

And there are some huge stakes involved, much greater than the fate of governments and their supposed “climate change” strategies. The broader issues are eloquently set out in a powerful statement published in The Globe and Mail April 12 by two First Nations chiefs.[4] Their promise of militant direct action is redolent of the “blockadia” advocated by Naomi Klein in her best-selling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. And it echoes the Leap Manifesto, co-authored by Klein, which proclaims: This leap to “a country powered entirely by renewable energy... must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land,” the Indigenous communities that “have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity.”

Here is their statement.

Richard Fidler

* * *

If Ottawa rams through Trans Mountain, it could set up an Oka-like crisis

By Stewart Phillip and Serge Simon

Stewart Phillip is Grand Chief of Okanagan Nation and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Serge ‘Otsi’ Simon is Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

As the federal and Alberta governments continue to pull their hair out over the B.C. government’s stand against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and tanker project, it’s important to point out, as we’ve been doing for years, that the pipeline company doesn’t have the consent of all First Nations along the route. In fact, many of them are strongly opposed to the project.

Kinder Morgan’s recent announcement that it is stopping all but essential spending proves that its shareholders are starting to understand the degree and depth of the Indigenous-led opposition movement to this pipeline project.

The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion is made up of 150 Indigenous Nations in Canada and the United States, dozens of which are located along the Kinder Morgan pipeline route, with many of them having launched legal actions against the Kinder Morgan project.

Further, Indigenous Nations are supported by a quickly growing and broad-based network of support from allied Canadians who understand the existential threat that humanity faces from climate change and who are ready to stand up against the injustices still carried out today against Indigenous people.

More than 20,000 people have signed the Coast Protectors pledge to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline. Thousands took part in a March 10 solidarity rally at the Kinder Morgan gates on Burnaby mountain.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has a decision to make. It can cut its losses and realize it simply made a mistake in approving the project. Or the Trudeau government can double down on its current path. But Canadians should be very clear-eyed about what that represents. It represents more than a failure of climate leadership. It means going back to the Stephen Harper days when Canada’s reputation on the climate file was mud.

Importantly, it also means going back to colonial-era relations with Indigenous people. In fact, if the federal government tries to ram through this pipeline, it could mean going back to one of the darkest times in modern Canadian history: the Oka standoff with the Mohawk Nation.

We just witnessed the ugly and shameful crackdown in the United States on the peaceful anti-pipeline protests at Standing Rock.

We don’t believe that’s the Canada that most Canadians want to live in. It would be a cruel joke indeed if, in this era of “reconciliation,” Canada instead repeats the mistakes of the past.

This is a learning moment for Canada. For far too long, governments and industry thought they could ignore Indigenous people by paying lip service to consulting us all the while doing what they wanted to do anyway.

Canadians are starting to grasp that there are governments and jurisdictions on this great land besides the provinces and the federal government. Indigenous peoples possess the inherent right to govern our territories. Pursuant to that inherent right, you need our free, prior and informed consent to develop our lands, especially when we are talking about a high-risk project such as Kinder Morgan that poses a real risk to those lands and waters and climate.

This is something the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in the historic 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision and it is the foundation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the federal government has agreed to implement.

The other learning moment is that this beleaguered pipeline is forcing Canadians of all ages from all walks of life to begin to imagine a world that is not so reliant on oil. We should be racing as fast as we can to get off oil instead of producing even more of the dirtiest, most polluting kind from the Alberta oil sands.

This is not some typical debate with many sides to it — there’s really just two: right and wrong. Collective survival or collective suicide.

Finally, no one should see this as a constitutional crisis. On the contrary, this is our Constitution[5] working, at least in practice, with Indigenous people acting as real decision makers on their territory. At the same time, you’re seeing beautiful acts of real reconciliation with Canadians standing up for our rights and trying to make this country a more just place. And we are finally seeing the kind of climate action that Canada needs and that the Trudeau government refused to take when it approved this pipeline.

The real constitutional crisis will occur if Mr. Trudeau chooses to ignore our constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title and Rights and Treaty Rights, and tries to ram through the pipeline – putting a lie to all his promises of reconciliation and setting Canada up for another catastrophic crisis on the same level as Oka.

[1] “Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on successful conclusion of Paris Climate Conference,”

[2] Rachel Notley’s government has imposed a $30 per ton tax on carbon emissions, the revenue going mainly to consumer rebates and phasing out (not until 2030!) the province’s coal production, while its cap on tar-sands emissions would still allow a 47.5% increase above 2014 levels. See “What if the Trans Mountain pipeline is never built?

[3] See, for example, “Only Fantasies, Desperation and Wishful Thinking Keep Pipeline Plans Alive,” and “Forget Trans Mountain, here’s the sustainable way forward for Canada’s energy sector.”

[4] Stewart Phillip and Serge Simon, “If Ottawa rams through Trans Mountain it could set up an Oka-like crisis,”

[5] Implicitly, a reference to the militant campaign mounted by First Nations leaders and activists in the early 1980s to get some protection for indigenous rights included in Pierre Trudeau’s envisaged Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the last moment, Trudeau included “a new section in the charter of rights. It reads ‘The guarantee in this charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms... that pertain to the native peoples of Canada.’ [Constitutional scholar Edward] McWhinney writes later that the clause carried almost no weight in law; it merely says that there are whatever rights there are, without saying what they are.” That was left to the courts, and to a later constitutional conference that failed to reach a consensus on First Nations rights. See Robert Sheppard and Michael Valpy, The National Deal: The Fight for a Canadian Constitution (Fleet Books, Toronto, 1982), p. 161.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Madrid’s mounting repression against Catalan movement provokes new international interest and solidarity

International appeal from Catalonia


The Spanish state’s repression against Catalonia’s democratic rights gets worse every day. There are at this moment 10 leading politicians and activists in prison, without having been condemned of any crime. They are accused of violent rebellion, although they have never used violence. By mid April the two leaders of the main Catalanist organisations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, will have spent 6 months in prison.

And apart from the 10 political prisoners and 6 political leaders in exile, from 1 October until now there have been: 1,500 people injured while voting or demonstrating; 150 fascist attacks; 140 web sites closed; police attacks on journalists; censorship of rappers, writers and artists…

In protest at this situation, there will be a united demonstration in Barcelona on Sunday 15 April at 11 am, organised by a very broad platform of social movements, including the ANC, Òmnium Cultural, trade unions, the neighbours’ organisations, youth movements, cultural and sporting organisations, the federation of NGOs… It will be a massive call for solidarity with the political prisoners, and with all those suffering the current attacks in Catalonia and increasingly in other parts of the Spanish state.

We call on international solidarity movements to organise actions over the weekend of 14 and 15 April: demonstrations, rallies, public meetings, symbolic events…

If we allow repression to go unchallenged in Catalonia today, then fundamental rights can be repressed tomorrow in any part of the world.

Please mobilise on 14-15 April. Defend democracy and human rights.  In Catalonia and everywhere.



by Richard Fidler

The poster above portrays some of the major Catalan political leaders imprisoned without trial at this moment, while the text below it outlines the balance-sheet to date of police and legal attacks on Catalans trying to implement their right to self-determination.

The Spanish state’s repression is now a major issue in Germany, where former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont was arrested March 25, pursuant to a Spanish judge’s warrant while travelling by car from northern Europe to Belgium, where he was living in exile. His arrest provoked immediate mass protests in Catalonia.

German prosecutors are seeking to extradite Puigdemont to Spain where, along with other jailed and exiled Catalan nationalist leaders, he faces charges of “rebellion,” which carries a sentence of 30 years imprisonment.

The Spanish court has issued similar arrest warrants against other Catalan leaders now in exile in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland. Writing in the Catalan daily Ara April 3, legal expert Javier Pérez Royo noted that each of the extradition judges, irrespective of their country, “knows that the individual cases that they are expected to decide on are all linked by a common thread. And all of them realise that this affair has taken centre stage as far as Europe’s public opinion is concerned, as a browse through the papers will easily confirm.”

There is “a shared link” in all of these cases, Pérez Royo added: “what constitutes a crime of rebellion in a democratic European country well into the 21st century?”

In a manifesto concerning the Catalan prosecutions published in November in the Spanish on-line newspaper El Diario, more than 100 professors of criminal law from throughout Spain state that “it's seriously mistaken to consider the facts as constituting a crime of rebellion [as defined by] article 474 of the Penal Code” because... the “structural element of this crime, which is violence, is absent.” In fact, as many commentators point out, the violence in Catalonia in the events in question, in September and October, was exercised by the police in their widely publicized efforts to stop the Catalan people from voting in the referendum on independence.

Professor Pérez Royo argues that “all four judges know that their answer will establish a European common denominator on the subject of rebellion crimes. Even if they do it in their own individual way, together they will decide what a crime of rebellion is and what it is not; what sort of ‘violence’ is required for an event to be characterised as a crime of rebellion.”

And he finds a Canadian angle:

“There are times when a decision by one nation’s jurisdictional body becomes a reference for the others. The case of the Canadian Supreme Court’s opinion on Quebec springs to mind. Even though it was not a ruling — it was not prompted by a court case, but by a formal enquiry from the federal government — and, therefore, it did not set a trial precedent, this opinion has become the single most influential piece of doctrine on what the right to self-determination is — and what it is not — as well as on the conditions under which a secession referendum may be held within a democratic country.”

Pérez Royo is optimistic about the outcome of the extradition cases. All of the judges, he writes, “will seek the European common denominator, something that can be objectively and reasonably justified in front of Europe’s public opinion... On the subject of the crime of rebellion, all four judges will dismiss the arrest warrant. They will not allow the Catalan politicians to be tried for rebellion in Spain because it is impossible for the European judges to make that sort of collective decision. And they know that they cannot make contradictory decisions.”

However, the Catalan issue is a hot potato in Europe, where politics may well prevail over legal considerations. And no European government or state institution has expressed support for the Catalan right to self-determination; many of them face actual or potential challenges to their territorial integrity from oppressed national minorities. This points to the prime importance of developing a European-wide and international public campaign in defense of the Catalan people and their nationalist leaders, a goal the mid-April demonstrations should help to promote.

Already, there are some encouraging signs of growing sympathy in Europe for the Catalan defense, even in the German media. For example, in an editorial titled “Asylum for Puigdemont,” Jakob Augstein — an influential journalist and co-owner of Der Spiegel — calls for the Catalan leader to not be extradited. Augstein writes that “The detention of Puigdemont is an embarrassment. For Spain. For Europe. For Germany.”

And he also reminds readers about the arrest of another Catalan president, Lluís Companys:

“The Germans already handed over one Catalan politician to the Spanish. Lluís Companys declared independence in 1934. He was arrested and tried. After the victory of the leftist forces he was freed, fought against Franco, escaped to France, and was captured there by the Gestapo and sent back to Spain. He was executed on October 15, 1940.”

Germany must reject the Spanish demands, says Augstein. “A politician who uses peaceful means to fight for his objectives should not have to go to prison.”

In Scotland, Clara Ponsatí, education minister in the Catalan pro-independence government and the subject of a Spanish extradition demand, raised nearly £200,000 in less than a day through a crowdfunding appeal for her legal expenses. Ponsatí is currently teaching at St. Andrews University.


In Spain itself, the government and mass media are waging an intense battle to consolidate and win further public support for their campaign against Catalan self-determination and sovereignty. Catalan socialist Martí Caussa notes:

“The immediate objective ... is to reduce independence to a minority fraction of the Catalan population by resorting to temporary emergency measures. The fundamental objective is to consolidate the authoritarian evolution of the monarchical regime of 1978, and this requires convincing the population that — after the end of the Basque ETA struggle — new and dangerous internal enemies have appeared, against which we must defend ourselves by restricting democracy.

“Two conditions are necessary if this fundamental objective is to be met:

1. convince the majority of public opinion that there is a collective (a group) that ‘is not ours,’ to describe it in terms that make it appear as an enemy and discredit those who don’t agree with this narrative; and

2. justify the exceptional measures with the argument that will be limited to a particular territory and duration, but promoting legislation and a method of applying it that can be generalized throughout the state and without limits in the future.”

Although the first of these conditions, which is fundamental, has been achieved, this may be only a provisional success for the Spanish state, Caussa adds.

“At present, the solidarity in major sectors of the population is weak. But there are already some magnificent examples, like those we have included in the box ‘Solidarity with Catalonia’ on the Viento Sur website.... The growth of a sense of fraternity among all of us fighting against authoritarianism and for democracy is a necessity. Becoming a majority is what can save us.”

Republished below is the translation of an article by prominent Galician writer Suso de Toro [1], published in El Diario on March 28, that explains the background to the Catalan crisis and what the Spanish repression means for the future of the country’s politics. I have reproduced it from the live blog maintained by Dick Nichols, Barcelona-based correspondent of the Green Left Weekly, an indispensable source for day-by-day news and analysis of current events in relation to Catalonia’s quest for self-determination.

And I follow it with an article by Dick Nichols published in the current issue of Green Left Weekly. Dick addresses some key problems confronting the Catalan movement as it struggles to develop a unified line of struggle against the repression and in defense of Catalonia’s right of self-determination.


Puigdemont is our president too [2]

By Suso de Toro

[Footnotes follow the article]

In the middle of a Spanish National Radio (RNE) broadcast from Valladolid [3] in front of a live audience the presenter announces the news of President Puigdemont’s arrest by the German police at the request of the Spanish prosecutor, i.e., of the Spanish government.

Immediate reaction of the audience—applause. But surely not all the audience: some would have been people who instead of feeling jubilant would have been cringing at news announcing something deplorable, a politician pursued by the police on the orders of the corrupt government of M. Rajoy [4]. It may even have been that some people who instinctively joined in the applause later felt ashamed.

Surely so, but what a sinister reaction from that audience, which could have been any audience that follows the RNE in many other cities of Spain. A reaction typical of volunteer jailers: the hatred implanted by Spanish politics and media towards the rulers of Catalonia and the more than two million who voted for them has degraded people and social life to a degree not known for forty years. And that corresponds to the image the Kingdom of Spain has re-acquired, of a repressive country where political differences are solved with police and prisons, a country from which dissidents either flee or end up in jail.

These are the striking results of an implacable plan drawn up from the very moment M. Rajoy arrived at the Moncloa [5], transported there by all the bank-owned media of the monarchy. They immediately "took over" Spanish public television (TVE) and this was indicative of what they were going to do elsewhere. To apply their program of theft of social rights and looting of the state they needed to end freedom of expression--they already had the newspapers and television stations on side--and so they drafted the Gag Law [6].

Over the years since then they have been administering successive but regular doses of Francoism, doses so small that they have gone almost unnoticed, imperceptibly intoxicating us: as we swallowed they took away everything, the welfare state and freedom. We went along accepting what they did to others by identifying with the flag (the Borbon flag) and a hymn (the Borbon military march) and a "unity" that meant persecution (“Go, get ‘em!” [7]) of those who would not submit. We got a little more Francoist every day as we laughed at the Catalans who got bashed up for wanting freedom, made jokes about the prisoners [8], turning ourselves every day a little bit more into the jailers of the free. They have been vaccinating us against freedom to the point that we are scandalised that there are people who want to vote about whatever they want to vote about. Here freedom is something quite forgotten or unknown.

However, brainwashing and police repression were not enough: they also needed the judges and so carried out a reform of the legal system that not only withdrew legal protection and rights from individuals but also transformed the legal system as a separate power into a repressive instrument of the executive power. In addition to unblushingly placing openly Francoist judges into positions of power—thus controlling the National Court (Audiencia Nacional [9]) and the Supreme Court—in 2015 they adopted the law reforming the operation of the Constitutional Court. That reform implied reform of the entire state, the cancellation in practice of the legislative branch. On the pretext of carrying out an express reform to prosecute the then-president of the Catalan government, they transformed the Constitutional Court into a reactionary instrument with unfettered power to carry out its repressive function [10].

The People’s Party (PP) of M. Rajoy, after its Spain-wide campaign of collection of signatures against the Statute “of the Catalans”, filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court and maneuvered so that the composition of that court would accord with their interests. Thus the judges appointed by the PP challenged a colleague, Pablo Pérez Tremps [11]. And so a court in agreement with the PP issued a ruling that was far more important than the offense and the damage it inflicted on the Catalans. In fact, that ruling not only expelled Catalanism [12] from the consensus on which the Constitution had been built, but also represented, I believe, a real refounding of the judicial system born of the Transition [13].

A statute that had been drafted and approved by the Catalan parliament, trimmed back, given a brush [14], approved by the Spanish parliament and then approved in a referendum by the Catalan people was changed by the Constitutional Court. The Catalans are today governed by a legal text that is no such thing. The statute that the parliaments and they themselves approved was not accepted by the Constitutional Court, which replaced it with another text, the original reworked with cuts. I won’t go now into the fact that court took out its frustration by cutting out points recognised in other statutes [15]: once the cutting and polishing began it was back to zero. It’s not just a question of the suspension of the judicial framework in which the Catalans have been left since then, but also of the establishment of two principles: the Constitutional Court can interpret and modify any statutory text and it is not parliaments, the legislature, that establishes the law but the Constitutional Court, which stands above it. Thus, the Kingdom of Spain is no longer a full parliamentary system as commonly understood. But these things, so serious that they seem incredible, are much better known to Professor Javier Pérez Royo [16].

For years it has been hard for me to believe the things that I have been writing about here: we were just not prepared to imagine this Francoist degeneration of Spanish public life. However, as regards hatred of the Catalans, yes, I believe everything. Just as I believe that everything that has been happening for months now has been a plan executed implacably step by step: from the Constitutional Court sentence they have been cornering the Catalans, giving them no respite, no negotiation, no way out, taking them to where they now have them — against the wall in a prison state.

When President Tarradellas returned from exile [17], bringing back the Generalitat, the Catalan republican institution of self-government, he did it on the promise of Adolfo Suarez and the previous king [18] that it would get recognition and fit into the constitution that was about to be drafted. But Suarez was pushed aside by the King himself and the Army, Suárez's democratic cheque account was left without funds, and now the Generalitat and its legitimate president (since no other has yet been elected) is in exile detained by the German police at the request of the government of M. Rajoy.

Moreover, none of this could have happened without a PSOE [Socialist Workers Party of Spain, the Social-Democracy] committed to the state strategy carried out by M. Rajoy and Felipe VI.

I shall not go on, I only recall what we have been saying for some time, it is not a question of independent republic or a Spanish kingdom, but of democracy or not. And in Spain that “not” means Francoism. Puigdemont is the president of the Catalans, no matter how much it galls M. Rajoy and Felipe of Borbon, but he is a democrat and it is our duty to defend his freedom.


1. Galician writer Suso de Toro, a long-standing supporter of the Catalan right to self-determination, is the author of Another Idea of Spain and various novels. He won the National Prize for Narrative in 2013.

2. “Puigdemont, our president” is a chant that’s heard at any demonstration for Catalan rights against the repression of the Spanish state. Suso de Toro’s point is that he is the president of any Spanish democrat as well.

3. Capital of Valladolid province and seat of the regional government of Castilla y León.

4. “M. Rajoy” was how the name of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy appeared in the payments column of the PP accounts of former treasurer Luís Bárcenas, presently on trial for corruption.

5. Spanish prime minister’s residence and official seat of the Spanish government.

6. The Gag Law, whose official name is Law of Citizen Safety, has been in force since July 1, 2015. Its provisions cover 44 offences ranging from flashing laser beams at aircraft to organising unauthorised demonstrations.

7. “Go get ‘em” (a por ellos) was the chant of Spanish-centralist demonstrators gathered outside Civil Guard barracks to send off Civil Guards going to Catalonia to stop the October 1 referendum.

8. For example, members of the Spanish National Police were recorded making offensive remarks about Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras on his being sent into detention.

9. The National Court descends from the Franco-era Court of Public Order .

10. The Law governing the Constitutional Court was amended in October 2015 to give it powers to punish those judged to have disobeyed its rulings. The former president of the Catalan government mentioned is Artur Mas

11. Pablo Pérez Tremps, member of the “progressive sector” of the Spanish judiciary, is an expert in relations between the legal and constitutional branches of the Spanish justice system who was also a member of the Constitutional Court. During the appeal of the PP against the constitutionality of the Catalan Statute, his impartiality was questioned by lawyers for the PP case: their submission against his sitting on the case was carried six to five by at a full bench session of the Constitutional Court.

12. “Catalanism” is a broad concept that basically means recognition and affirmation of the value of Catalan society, language, culture and institutions. It can apply to supporters of independence as well as those seeking a different relation between Catalonia and the Spanish state.

13. That is, the transition from the Franco dictatorship.

14. The Statute as first adopted by the Catalan parliament was later “given a brush” (cepillado)—expression of PSOE leader and Spanish centralist Alfonso Guerra—by the Spanish parliament.

15. The Spanish solicitor-general identified 85 articles in the Catalan Statute challenged by the PP that were already contained in other Statutes. Articles finally ruled unconstitutional by the court were already in operation in Andalusia and the Valencian Country.

16. As outlined in his book The Impossible Constitutional Reform.

17. In 1977, Josep Tarradellas, president of the Catalan government (Generalitat) in exile, returned to Spain where he negotiated with Spanish prime minister Adolfo Suarez the re-establishment of the Generalitat as the legitimate government of Catalonia.

18. King Juan Carlos, father of the present incumbent.

* * *

Catalan movement struggles for united strategy against Spanish state

By Dick Nichols

Barcelona, April 2, 2018 – “General strike! General strike! General strike!”: in protests across Catalonia after the March 23 jailing of five MPs and the March 25 detention in Germany of president Carles Puigdemont, these words rang out loud and appeared on placards and banners everywhere.

A general strike! Well that would certainly make the Spanish government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy and the senior judges doing its bidding think twice about maintaining their persecution of Catalonia’s pro-independence MPs.

Except that a general strike, while desirable and important to raise as an objective, just won’t happen as an offensive weapon to help advance the Catalan Republic — not until there’s an earthquake in the Catalan trade union movement.

The reasons why point to the underlying causes of the Catalan independence movement’s difficulties in developing a stable and united strategy against the tightening legal siege of the Spanish state.

This siege reached its latest “high point” on March 23 when Spanish Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena confirmed charges ranging from rebellion to embezzlement and disobedience against 25 Catalan political and mass movement leaders.

Poles in a debate

The independence movement’s basic debate, crossing both parties and mass organisations, is about the conditions that need to be in place for disobedience towards Spain to have some chance of success.

At one pole are those, mainly but not only around the left-independentist People’s Unity List (CUP), who think that the conditions for success already exist: what’s more, that actions of disobedience will spark a virtuous circle of revolt as more people become convinced of the chances of success.

This position points to the victory of the October 1 referendum in the face of the baton charges of the Spanish police, the October 3 general stoppage and the vast demonstrations that accompanied it, along with the confirmation of a pro-independence majority at the December 21 elections.

On this basis, the CUP abstained on the investiture on March 22 of Together for Catalonia (JxCat) leader Jordi Turull as president of a JxCat-ERC government on grounds that this would simply be another Spanish regional administration and would not “unfold the Republic”. Without CUP support, the investiture failed.

The other pole, around the centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and with some support within JxCat, acknowledges these positives. But it holds that they alone are insufficient to give the movement the strength its needs to withstand a Spanish establishment intent on imposing a final solution to “separatist defiance.”

This is all the more so because on the same day the Catalan parliament declared independence, the Spanish government ended Catalan self-rule under article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, having already taken charge of the Catalan government’s finances.

Also, while winning a majority of seats, the independence bloc only managed to win 47.5% of the vote. The rabidly Spanish-centralist Citizens also emerged as the largest party (with 25.4% of the vote) on the back of a campaign that cynically exploited Spanish versus Catalan identity sentiment.

For the ERC, the priority is to recover Catalan self-government and implement a program that improves the life of all Catalans irrespective of origin. In this way, it seeks to show the lie in Citizens’ demagogic rant about the independence bloc sacrificing ordinary people’s lives to a “mad fantasy.”

Of particular concern is the possibility of the Spanish State taking advantage of any violence — real or manufactured — to declare a state of siege under article 116 of the Spanish constitution. Incidents of violence at the pickets called by the Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) on the evening of March 25 showed that this concern is not misplaced.

These incidents also confirmed who gains politically from any outbreaks of violence. The day after the protest, Spanish interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido questioned the independence movement’s commitment to peaceful methods. Citizens’ leader Albert Rivera was tweeting about how the violence represented Catalan nationalism’s true face of “hatred and confrontation.”

On March 29, José Luis Ábalos, the organisational secretary of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), said the CDRs were “the seed in Catalonia” of the Basque kale borrroka (“street struggle”), which engaged in violent action against the police. Ábalos also gave his listeners a history lesson: similar groups had been formed in the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan revolutions.

It has since emerged that a lot of the violence was due to balaclava-wearing people no-one could identify, leading to suspicions they were plants and calls for face-covering to be banned at demonstrations.

On March 30, [football team] Manchester City’s Catalan manager Pep Guardiola said that “those who compare us to the generators of violence commit a great injustice.”

Defensive and offensive alliances

Catalonia has experienced one general strike recently. This was the October 3 “civilian stoppage” in protest against Spanish state violence on October 1. It was convened by the two major unions — the Workers Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union Of Labour (UGT) — as part of a broader platform that contained social movement, business and religious organisations.

It was also supported by the minority trade union confederations, the pro-independence Intersindical-CSC and the anarcho-syndicalist General Confederation of Labour. These were to later call a general strike of their own (on November 8), but despite achieving road and rail line blockades, they could not repeat the success of October 3 without the involvement of the major confederations.

The relative weakness of the pro-independence Intersindical-CSC in Catalonia contrasts with the situation of trade unionism in the Basque Country (Euskadi), where the main two nationalist confederations enjoy majority coverage.

In Catalonia, pro-independence trade unionism has so far been weak because the major confederations recruited workers originating from other parts of Spain on the basis of Catalonia being “a single people.” As a result, the majority confederations, reflecting the attitude of a lot of their members, are prepared to carry out defensive industrial action — such as against the police violence of October 1 — but the divisions in the Catalan working class at large mean that UGT and CCOO action in support of the independence goal and the declared Catalan Republic is unthinkable.

On the other hand, as October 3 showed, the majority confederations support defence of Catalan institutions and Catalan self-government. After meeting on March 26 with parliament speaker Roger Torrent, their leaders expressed support for action to lift the article 155 intervention, restore Catalan self-rule and achieve the release of the political prisoners.

At the same time, they made it clear they would have nothing to do with CUP or CDR plans for unilaterally “unfolding the Republic.”

On March 27, the UGT and CCOO were part of the launching of a “Space for Democracy and Social Harmony.” This included the two main pro-independence associations Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly — and small and medium business organisations. This alliance, which repeats previous broad coalitions in defence of Catalonia’s national rights and self-rule, has called a mass demonstration in Barcelona for April 15.

On March 26, JxCat, the ERC and the CUP announced that they would move a motion to parliament asserting the inviolability of all elected MPs, their right to stand for any position and demanding the release from jail and return from exile of those who have been charged by the Spanish courts.

On March 28, this resolution was adopted, as was a second resolution moved by Catalonia Together—Podemos (supporters of a Catalan right to decide but not independence), which affirmed the need to implement Catalonia’s national rights on the basis of broad social majorities.

However, unity still remains to be achieved on the question of forming government. The arrest of Carles Puigdemont has convinced JxCat and the CUP to re-propose Puigdemont as president, if only to increase the political price Spain and its allies will have to pay for putting him in jail. The ERC remains sceptical about the usefulness of this exercise, which would violate a Constitutional Court order that candidates for president have to be physically present at the investiture session.

By March 30, however, with pressure for the Spanish state to negotiate with an elected Catalan government rising across Europe in the wake of Puigdemont’s arrest, the ERC seemed more inclined to risk supporting an “illegal” investiture of Puigdemont so as to further pressure the increasingly exposed Spanish legal system.

To disobey now, or avoid conflict until more certain of having a broader base of support? This remains the dilemma for the independence movement. If it is not solved within two months, Catalonia will go to new elections.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Three central issues facing the Catalan independence movement

March 11 demo for Republic Now in Barcelona

The March 11 demonstration for “Republic Now,” called by the Catalan National Assembly, drew 45,000 (municipal police figure) to Barcelona’s portside Passeig de Colom.


Although parties supporting Catalonia’s independence from the Spanish monarchy won a majority of deputies in the autonomous community’s December 21 election, they have been unable to elect a Generalitat, or government, due in part to internal disagreements but primarily to blockages by the Spanish government and its courts.

A major obstacle is the fact that prominent leaders of the pro-independence forces are either imprisoned — four, including ANC leader Jordi Sànchez and ERC leader Oriol Junqueras, facing their 150th night in jail — or in European exile: former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and four of his former ministers, as well as former CUP leader Anna Gabriel.

In the following article Martí Caussa, a Catalan editor of Viento Sur, a leading Marxist publication in the Spanish state, discusses the strategic dilemmas faced by the independentists and offers some important proposals as to how these difficulties can be overcome. My translation from the Spanish version of his article as published in Viento Sur.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Political differences bog down the investiture of the Catalan government

By Martí Caussa

Original article in Catalan

In Catalonia, the two most important news items of the first week of March have been (1) Carles Puigdemont’s withdrawal of his nomination for President of the autonomous region’s government in order to propose Jordi Sànchez as a candidate for the presidency of the Generalitat and (2) the refusal of the CUP to support Sànchez.[1] The investiture therefore remains bogged down.

Puigdemont’s step back is a factual recognition that the relationship of forces is lacking to make him president and establish the Republic. And the alternative solution proposed by JuntsxCat and ERC[2] was to combine an autonomous government headed by Sànchez with a Council of the Republic situated in Brussels.

This solution needed at least two votes in favor from the CUP if Sànchez was to be elected in the second round (assuming that the Constitutional Court did not prevent it).[3] But the anti-capitalists are only willing to abstain, because they do not want to support an autonomous government. They want the Republic proclaimed on October 27 to become effective and the transitional laws to be implemented.

The position of the CUP is not an absolute impediment to Sànchez’s investiture — because it is still possible to negotiate and because Puigdemont and Comín[4] could renounce their oath as deputies and make way for two substitutes — but it is an indicator of the differences within the independentist movement. These differences are not limited to the parties, as the ANC has decided to call a demonstration on March 11[5] to demand the new government “obey the mandate of October 1 and implement the Transitional Act and institutions of the Republic.”

This is not a discussion about individuals, therefore, but about basic political orientations. Vicent Partal has summed it up[6] as a “great background debate that is masked by the negotiations: do we need to move straight to building the republic or if it is necessary to first look to build whatever can be managed in the framework of regional government, accepting, therefore, the rules imposed by the coup d’état” of the central government in Madrid.

I too think the substantive debate is being concealed and that to make it visible, three central issues should be addressed: what has failed, where we really are now and what strategic direction is needed to advance towards the Republic. If this debate were to be held, I believe that the dilemma posed by Partal would be revealed as simplistic.

Three necessary debates

In my opinion we must begin by analyzing what really happened on October 1 and in the days that followed.

We have known for a long time that the fundamental factor in the success of the October 1 referendum vote was the people who wanted to have a referendum, whatever the outcome, and that not all of these people were pro-independence. We also know that the government did not plan either the occupation or the defense of the polling stations. And we have also seen confirmed (by new statements before Judge Llarena) that the government planned to stop the October 1 vote at noon, but we still do not know who was favorable and who, fortunately, resisted.

We also know that the government celebrated the outcome of the referendum, but had doubts about what to do with the victory; the general strike of October 3 was not a government initiative either, although it favored it. A week later, the combination of indecision, divergences and the fear of being overwhelmed by the movement led the government to tighten the brakes so as not to lose control.

In a long and interesting interview in RAC-1, Puigdemont said he made a mistake on October 10 when he proclaimed the Republic and left it suspended a few seconds later because he relied on promises of state dialogue. Now he believes that the Republic could have been proclaimed and “the position defended.” This seems to me the beginning of an interesting reflection, but it is incomplete because you have to go a step further and say how you could have defended the position. This is a fundamental point if you do not want to repeat the same mistake in the future.

Taking into account what everyone now knows about the reaction of the Spanish State (and that could be foreseen prior to October 1), it is clear that a declaration of independence and the implementation of the transitional legislation would not have sufficed, because these are only words and papers. Nor would it have been enough to ask the Mossos [the Catalan police] to protect the government and the Parliament because, in the (uncertain) assumption that they would have obeyed massively, they were too small a force against which the State could mobilize (without using the army).

What was needed to effectively defend the Republic was not only more votes in favor, but a peaceful and massive uprising of the population, beyond the more than two million people who voted October 1, and in the Spanish state a movement of solidarity against the repression of the peoples. But it never occurred to the government to prepare something like that and, if it had been improvised at the last moment, it is not clear that it would have succeeded because its entire policy before October 1 did not facilitate but hindered a democratic uprising of this scope — both because of its economic policy contrary to the interests of the popular classes (for example, the most recent budgets), as well as its lack of democratic radicalism (for example, breaking the promise to start the participatory phase of the constituent process prior to the referendum).

In the days before and after the October 1 referendum, many people believed that a democratic revolution was beginning, but it seems clear that it was not the intention of the government to do anything like that. It sought only a demonstration of controlled force that would allow it to negotiate with the State. with the support of the European institutions. The King, Rajoy and the State apparatus had a better assessment of the situation, acting more quickly and more forcefully: with the implementation of article 155, the Spanish mobilizations and the police and judicial force.

In the aforementioned interview with RAC-1, Puigdemont acknowledges that on October 27 the relation of forces did not exist to make the Republic effective. Now we can suspect with foundation that there was never that intention. The one who has said it most clearly has been [former Catalan president] Artur Mas in statements before Judge Llarena: according to him all the deputies who voted the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) — presumably this refers to the deputies of JuntsxCat and ERC, because the deputy of the CUP Mireia Boya has said explicitly otherwise — “knew that there was no real means [to implement it].”

And as proof that it was a purely symbolic “parliamentary action,” the former president stressed to the judge of the Supreme Court that after this UDI the government of the Generalitat did not meet to make any decision. “In the world of politics there is a symbolic and aesthetic component. Often an argument is exaggerated or inflated in order to make a good impression on the public. Is this a deception or an exaggeration? It can be.” We also know now that the dispersion of the government was not the result of any previously designed and agreed plan.

Why are all the shortcomings and mistakes not analyzed courageously? Wouldn’t that be the best guarantee that they would not be repeated?

Nor is there a desire that the situation created on October 27 be acknowledged clearly . When the RAC-1 interviewers ask Puigdemont if the Republic is real, he answers with a riddle: it is in the minds of many Catalans; it is from an institutional point of view because it was declared in Parliament and has been validated in two elections; but there are no Republic structures.

The reality is that we only have a symbolic declaration of a Republic and that the abandonment of the government and of the institutions in the face of article 155 decreed by the adversary signified an important defeat. The dignity of non-surrender, defended both from prison and from Brussels, does not eliminate this defeat. The electoral victory of December 21, however much it once again demonstrates the will of the majority of the people of Catalonia and the undemocratic character of the State, is not enough to compensate for the defeat of October 27. This can only be overcome with a massive mobilization that forces the freeing of the prisoners, the return of the exiles and the elimination of all the consequences of article 155, and that is situated in a framework of struggle for more democracy and more social rights for the whole of the people of Catalonia, whether independentist or not, in the struggle for the Republic, without renouncing disobedience and unilateral measures when necessary to secure these demands.

Neither autonomism nor direct implementation of the Republic

Neither JuntsxCat nor ERC are promoting such an orientation. Their proposal places the fight for the freedom of the prisoners, the return of the exiles and the withdrawal of 155 in the framework of the normalization of an autonomous government combined with international pressure from the [exiled] Council of the Republic, hoping that in the future the conditions will improve for negotiating with the State (Puigdemont recognizes that his exile can last for years). This is not a realistic path for achieving the Catalan Republic, because none of the deficiencies that were revealed before and after October 1 are being corrected.

But this criticism does not mean that we can “move straight to building the republic” as claimed by Vicent Partal in the article I quoted, and by the CUP or the leadership of the ANC. In order to move forward, we must realistically acknowledge what the current situation is, and what is the point of departure. We must accept that this point is not the activation of the laws of transition, nor even the restitution of the legitimate president and government.

We must open the discussion on a path to the Republic that avoids the false starts of autonomism and proceeding directly to a republic — admitting that we have a problem and that there are disagreements, but avoiding condemnations. Ideas have already begun to emerge in this regard and it is appropriate to think about them, even if one does not agree with them. I will mention two.

Roger Palà has written: “The independence movement is at a crossroads: either continue feeding the theories of wishful thinking, or make some decisions based on pragmatism. There is no indication that the Republic proclaimed in October can be implemented imminently, that it exists beyond the legitimate longings of hundreds of thousands of people. ... From a rational point of view, recovering self-government — even if it is under the interventionist pressure of an unbridled PP [Spanish premier Rajoy’s People’s Party] — can be the necessary starting point to recover forces and rearm with ideas.”

The other quote, more controversial, is Joan Tardà’s: “However, the independence movement will only succeed if it understands that it must accumulate forces (‘we are not enough,’ we have repeated many times) ... republicanism must converge with the political forces that also defend the binding referendum, led by Xavier Domènech,[7] and must open channels of frank dialogue ... with the Catalan socialism of the PSC,[8] of a Miquel Iceta who has to decide whether to stick to or lend credence to the regression in rights and freedoms.”

I do not believe that it is possible to open avenues of dialogue with the leaders of the PSC while they continue to defend article 155, although dialogue is possible with the PSC base. But it is evident that “we are not enough” and that means convergence in action with the Commons is essential in the fight against article 155, the defense of democracy and social demands, or the promotion of the debate on the constituent assembly (as Jaume López recently recalled).

In my opinion, it can be accepted that the effective government that can be had immediately is of an autonomous nature, provided that, at the same time, the struggle to defend the economic, social, democratic and cultural needs of the population with the aim of winning the Republic is set in motion. What is decisive, in my view, is to promote a plan of struggle of the movements and social entities, not to await what the government will say but to put demands on it, to promote disobedience and unilateralism when necessary, to aim for a mobilization that is more massive, autonomous and self-organized than October 1, with a national, democratic and social content, and that actively works as of now to win active solidarity from the peoples of the Spanish State (on the basis of opposition to the monarchical regime and the defense of the republic) and from Europe. It seems difficult and certainly it is, but we have already found that sometimes things that are presented as easy — like the passage to independence as “from one law to another” — are the most unreal.

March 6, 2018

[1] CUP, the Popular Unity Candidacy, an anticapitalist party. At least two of its four deputies in the Catalan parliament must vote with the two larger pro-independence parties to maintain a pro-Republic majority. Sànchez is the main leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), the largest pro-independence social movement, and was elected to the parliament on December 21 on the Junts per Catalunya ticket although he is not a member of the PDeCAT, the party behind the JuntsxCat.

[2] ERC, the Republican Left of Catalonia, the oldest pro-independence party in Catalonia.

[3] On March 9, Supreme Court justice Pablo Llarena turned down Jordi Sànchez’s request to attend the Catalan parliament’s plenary session, where he was to be elected president.

[4] Antoni Comín, former Health minister in the Generalitat, now in exile in Belgium.

[5] The March 11 demonstration was the first in years not called jointly with Òmnium Cultural, the other large pro-independence social movement, though Òmnium vice-president Marcel Mauri was prominent in the front row.

[6]Que s’acabe aquest trist espectacle de la investidura”. An English translation, “Stop this sad investiture spectacle,” can be found here.

[7] Podemos leader in Catalonia and leader of the CatECP in the Catalan parliament, aka “the Commons.”

[8] PSC, Socialists’ party of Catalonia, led by Miquel Iceta.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Prominent intellectuals, activists speak out in opposition to U.S., Canadian sanctions against Venezuela

The statement below, signed by more than 150 US and Canadian organizations and individuals, was released on March 9. It is being delivered to US Senators and Congress Members as well as Canadian Parliamentarians.

For further information on the Trudeau government’s sanctions, see the web site of Global Affairs Canada, and this article by Yves Engler, “Who is in the right in the Canada-Venezuela Diplomatic Dispute?”

The statement’s reference to mediation talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition parties is a bit dated. Although the talks came close to agreement in early February, following two years of dialogue, the opposition parties refused at the last minute to sign the draft text. President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic, whose government had hosted the talks, said they were now in a state of “indefinite recess.”

Since then, the opposition has divided; Henri Falcón, a former supporter of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, has announced he will enter the presidential elections, now scheduled to be held (along with municipal and state legislative elections) on May 20. President Nicolás Maduro will be running for re-election.


Open Letter in Support of Mediation in Venezuela, Not Sanctions

We urge the United States and Canadian governments to immediately remove their illegal* sanctions against Venezuela and to support efforts at mediation between the government of Venezuela and the nonviolent segments of the political opposition.

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals in the US and Canada, support hemispheric relations based on respect for the sovereignty of all peoples of the Americas. We are deeply concerned by the use of illegal sanctions, whose effect falls most heavily on the poorest and most marginal sectors of society, to coerce political and economic change in a sister democracy.

Polls in Venezuela show that the large majority of Venezuelans oppose sanctions, regardless of their opinion of the Maduro government. Sanctions merely complicate efforts by the Vatican, Dominican Republic, and other international actors to mediate a resolution to the deep polarization in Venezuela. Moreover, sanctions undermine efforts of the democratically elected government and Constituent Assembly to address critical economic issues and determine their own political destiny.

Despite the high-minded rhetoric of officials in Washington and Ottawa, it is not a genuine concern for democracy, human rights, and social justice that drives the belligerent interventionist posture towards Caracas. From President Obama’s admittedly untrue presidential decree that Venezuela represents a national security threat to the United States, to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s declaration that Venezuela is “an increasingly violent narco-state” that threatens the world, the use of hyperbole in diplomatic situations seldom contributes to peaceful solutions on the world stage.

It is no secret that Venezuela, unlike Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, is targeted for regime change by the US precisely because of Venezuela’s leadership in resisting US hegemony and the imposition of the neoliberal model in Latin America. And of course, Venezuela holds the largest oil reserves in the world, attracting more unwanted attention from Washington.

The US and Canada tried and failed to use the Organization of American States (OAS) to build a bloc to hypocritically evoke the Democratic Charter against Venezuela. Recently, Luis Almagro, the rogue Secretary General of the OAS, went so far as to publicly support the swearing in of a parallel Supreme Court unconstitutionally appointed by opposition legislators and allowed them to use the OAS headquarters in Washington DC for their ceremony – without the approval of any OAS member state. Almagro has thereby delegitimized the OAS, emboldened the most extreme and violent elements of the Venezuelan opposition, and side-lined efforts at mediation.

The US-Canadian sanctions represent a cynical use of coercive economic power to attack a nation that is already dealing with hyperinflation and shortages of basic commodities. While said to be in the name of advancing democracy and freedom, the sanctions violate the Venezuelan peoples’ basic human right to sovereignty, as outlined in the UN and OAS Charters.

We call on the political leaders of the United States and Canada to reject overheated rhetoric and to contribute to the search for real solutions to Venezuela’s political and economic problems. We urge the US and Canadian governments to rescind their sanctions and support the mediation efforts pursued by the Chancellor of the Dominican Republic Miguel Vargas, the President of Dominican Republic Danilo Medina, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Vatican, and supported by a growing number of Latin American nations.

For the list of signers, see the statement as published here.