The anti-maskers, racists and outright fascists strutting around under the Irish Tricolour or the “Irish Republic” flag habitually claim not only to be patriots but to be more patriotic than anyone else – in fact the only true patriots. They refer to Ireland’s past struggles against the British colonialists (up to 19211, not after!) and to Irish patriotic martyrs, totally ignoring or even denying the kind of democratic and inclusive Republic for which those people fought. As all that were not bad enough, they display no interest in the Six Counties nor in what is going on there and that was demonstrated again during the past week when there was hardly a word of comment on their social media about events there.
BELFAST RIOTS: REASONS, FAKE AND REAL
Riots broke out in Belfast last week and have been ongoing, firstly by Loyalists against the colonial police, then by ‘Nationalists’ against the police and Loyalists trying to attack their area. Since Brexit, Unionists have been unhappy with the decision of their masters in England to pull out of the EU and complain that they are being left with obstructions to trade as a result. Whatever their own wishes, they are bound by the decisions taken at Westminster and they have been complaining of those. Of course the whole situation has exposed the unnatural existence of the colony, the Six Counties, since most of Ireland continues to be a member of the EU.
Next, Sinn Féin carried out a massive public funeral in Belfast for a prominent Republican veteran, Bobby Storey, in which large crowds of mourners and viewers could be seen flouting the pandemic restrictions and Michelle O’Neill, Vice-President of SF and Deputy Prime Minister of the colony’s government, was present. This was apparently intended in part as a demonstration of the strength of the party’s hegemony of ‘Nationalist’2 voters in Belfast.
Although unrelated to the Unionists’ problems with their over the sea masters and Brexit, the Unionists pounced on this violation of pandemic regulations to attack SF. When it emerged that the colonial police had held some discussions with SF prior to the funeral and that no-one had been arrested, the Loyalists, the more extreme wing of the Unionists3, jumped on the issue.
Coincidentally, the colonial police had very recently seized yet another consignment of drugs bound for a Loyalist gang, the South East Antrim UDA4 who then got youth to riot against the police pretending it was about the latter’s alleged deal with SF around the funeral event. Unionist politicians opportunistically stoked the whole event up as a distraction from their own helplessness over Brexit and possibly as an attempt to pressurise the British Government (to give them what it has no power to do, to effectively remain inside the EU market).
Loyalists would also be aware of the recent hyping of the question of a “Border Poll” and the possibility of a united Ireland in the near future – “hyping” because there seems little likelihood of such a poll, not to speak of a such a result, anytime soon. Such talk would increase their paranoia and anxiety and the usual result of that would be riots and attacks on Catholics.
Whenever the Loyalists feel unhappy with how they perceive themselves treated by the British or Unionist leaders, not long afterwards they will attack the “Taigues” or “Fenians”, i.e the large ‘Catholic’ or ‘Nationalist’ minority and at the weekend that is what happened. Loyalists stole a car and rammed it against a gate in a wall separating the two communities in Belfast and also gathered at the Springfield Road interface with the ‘Nationalist’ area of the Falls Road.
The youth and some older residents of the ‘Nationalist’ area naturally assembled at the Springfield Road junction to defend their area and naturally also the colonial police, the PSNI, appeared too. But these were not facing the invading Loyalists or trying to drive them back – instead, in riot gear, they faced the defending residents. The latter, having long experience with the sectarian and brutal colonial police saw this as a provocation and responded forcefully and so there was now a ‘nationalist’ riot against the colonial police who through the rest of the week had been attacked by the Loyalists, the latter now cheering on the police attacking the ‘Nationalist’ youth.
FAKE PATRIOTS AND THE SIX COUNTIES
All of this was a prominent issue in the news in Ireland (though the drugs find issue quickly faded to be replaced by a solely sectarian narrative), clearly of relevance to the nation but somehow escaped any degree of discussion among the fake patriots who make up the ranks of organised fascists, racists, and anti-maskers.
Of course, if this Far-Right rag-bag were to evince an interest in the Six Counties, what could they say? They could not ally with Republicans, whom they sometimes call “terrorists” and who they know are antifascist. One might think the Far-Right would support the ‘Catholic’ minority, since most of those Far-Rightists are militant Catholics of one kind or another and all the fascist parties say they want a Catholic state. However, supporting ‘nationalist’ resistance rather than their usual nonsense about opposing masks and vaccinations could bring them up against both states in a real way. But it’s even worse than that, because fascists Rowan Croft (aka Gran Torino) and Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party are recorded on a video sharing a platform in friendly discussion with Loyalist and British Fascist (formerly BNP and Britain First parties) Jim Dowson (who also posted a comment congratulating the National Party on their armed attack on unarmed counter-protestors in August last year in Dublin).
A patriot is a person who loves their country and its people and the Irish far-Right are constantly telling us how patriotic they are. But their patriotism, fake though it is for the rest of Ireland, stops completely at the British Border. Only the fascist Irish Freedom Party (under the cover of Irish Yellow Vests) has tried to set up in the Six Counties, where it has been resolutely opposed by Irish Republicans, after which it enlisted the help of the colonial police for protection.
The fake patriots will not be found supporting Republican prisoners nor protesting about the prisoners’ treatment under administrations both sides of the British Border, nor confronting the colonial police to oppose harassment on the streets nor their raids on the homes of Irish Republicans. The Irish fascists who hide among the anti-maskers, anti-lockdown protesters and flaunt their alleged “patriotism” represent nothing but a more repressive and vicious version of more of the same: capitalist neo-colonialism in the 26 Counties and capitalist British colonialism in the Six Counties. And should they get into power we’d hear a lot less about “freedom of speech and of movement” and a lot more about the need for “strong government” and “law and and order”.
1i.e the point at which the British divided Ireland; those subsequently fighting for Irish freedom were being hunted down by the new Irish State and, in the Six Counties, by the colonial authorities.
2Alternatively described as ‘Catholic’ or ‘Nationalist, the large minority within the British colony has been subjected to sectarian discrimination, cultural oppression and physical repression since the inception of the colony and before. The majority faith was Catholic and the majority political aspirations for a united and independent Ireland but it is not fundamentally a religious issue, nor is every resident in those areas a Catholic in religious faith or even necessarily a nationalist.
3The Loyalists as a sector tend to be working or lower middle-class while the Unionists tend to be upper middle-class or top of the pile and to manage the system, using the generally right-wing and virulently sectarian Loyalists in a similar way to that in which the racist Southern USA authorities used the Klan in the past – to repress the minority in ways which would look bad for the Unionists were they to do so. However, there are ups and downs and the Democratic Unionist Party, currently in power representing the Unionists, is a former Loyalist party that, under the leadership of Ian Paisley, overtook the Official Unionist Party decades ago.
4A “dissident” group within the Loyalist ‘family’; the Ulster Defence Association is a sectarian paramilitary association with connections to State’s repressive forces and controls the drugs traffic in Belfast; Antrim is the county in the NE of Ireland in which Belfast is located.
Dear Michelle O’Neill, Deputy Prime Minister of the British Colony in Ireland, I write to tell you that you are a disgrace. In many ways and for many reasons but on this occasion in particular for your message to the Chief of the Royal Parasites, Monarch of the Occupying Power and Commander in Chief of the Colonial & Imperial Armed Forces by which power her State currently occupies six counties of our land.
“I wish to extend my sincere condolences to Queen Elizabeth and her family on the death of her husband Prince Phillip. “Over the past two decades there have been significant interventions by the British Royal family to assist in the building of relationships between Britain and Ireland. “It is appropriate that this contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation is rightly recognised. “To all those of a unionist tradition and of British identity – those who value and cherish the Royal family – I wish to acknowledge the sense of loss felt.”
Had you confined yourself to a note expressing sympathy for the sorrow of another human being, even that one, that might have been forgivable. But you went further and made it political. “The building of relationships between Britain and Ireland” indeed! We’ve been having a relationship with the rulers of Britain for more than eight and a half centuries — a relationship of conquest, oppression and repression on their side and resistance on ours.
“Contribution to peace and reconciliation” indeed! The best contribution they could make to that — and probably the only one of any significance — would be to pull their forces and administration out of our country.
As for “those of …. British identity”, outside of the unionist sector in our country, most them had no great love for this racist and arrogant parasite whose exposure in the British media on a number of occasions has caused him to be given strong advice within the imperial administration to keep his mouth shut unless he is speaking off a script.
What does it matter what I think about the message you have sent? Not much to anyone except myself, one would assume. But Michelle, most self-respecting socialists, republicans or democrats will be thinking along similar lines. There must be hundreds of close supporters of your own party who are squirming in shame right now, trying to ignore your words or fumbling for rationalisations.
I am not a supporter of your party and I do not approve, of course, of your participation in the administration of the occupiers’ colony, so I shouldn’t care perhaps. It’s strange though because in some way I feel you have tainted and diminished me.
Are these words going to make any difference? Not at all — except to make me feel a little better. To endure injury without protest is perhaps a worse option.
I would cry “for shame!” if it were not clear for some time now that you are completely shameless.
A debate is currently taking place about whether armed struggle is appropriate in the context of achieving national liberation in Ireland. The debate is hardly new — traditionally some sections of the polity have opposed it and some have advocated, even embraced it. However tiresome it may be for some, revolutionaries need to address questions as they emerge and re-emerge but there is another reason to enter this debate, which is that in my opinion bothsections in the main are basing themselves on a false premise.
The composition of the sections opposed to or in favour of armed struggle has varied but in general and hardly surprisingly, the social democratic and liberal sections have opposed its use, while the revolutionary Republicans have defended it. But sections of the Republican movement at various times have also moved out of the armed struggle camp and into the ‘constitutionalist’ quarter. As to the revolutionary Left (or that claiming to be revolutionary), the main parties1 have opposed it not only in terms of Irish national liberation (with which they hardly concern themselves as a rule2) but also in the class struggle, while smaller parties and groups have at different times endorsed it as a legitimate or even necessary mode of struggle.
Before going deeper into this question it would be as well to look at the current situation in general and also to review the usual relevant scientific rules, which is to say those tested in the laboratory of Irish and world history.
OVERVIEW OF IRISH ANTI-COLONIAL HISTORY
Ireland is a small country in size and population but historically has had an effect on the history of large parts of the world out of all proportion to its size. Currently this is not the case which is perhaps not surprising since it is partitioned with one-sixth of its land mass under British colonial rule and the rest ruled by a neo-colonial capitalist class that came from under direct colonial domination a little over a century ago. The process of that colonial domination began eight and a half centuries ago3 and the decades and centuries since that time have seen Ireland colonised, most of its land appropriated, cultural, economic and political domination, famines and mass emigration, all of which the Irish have resisted and against which they and sections of the settler population have risen time and time again. The resistance has taken many forms but in general has always included armed struggle: sword, pike or gun.
The phase of the national liberation struggle in the early decades of the last century resulted in the granting of nominal independence to five-sixths of the country and the retention of the remaining portion as a direct British colony, formally part of the United Kingdom but with a number of administrative and legislative elements peculiar to itself4. This was followed almost immediately by a civil war in which the Republican movement was defeated and all governments of the Irish state since then, regardless of their political party composition, have been of the “Gombeen” neo-colonialist class.
Elements of the Irish Republican movement have never reconciled themselves to this situation and surges of armed struggle took place in the 1930s and 1940s, after that usually restricted to the Six County colony in the mid 1950s to early 1960s and again from the beginning of the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, since when there have been what could best be described as sporadic armed incidents.
During the course of those years sections of the Irish Republican movement have abandoned armed struggle for national liberation, denouncing their erstwhile comrades and even participating in repression against them, whilst those who continue to support armed struggle accuse those who have left the fold of treason.
The history of Irish resistance to colonial domination and expropriation has been replete with armed instances which should surprise no-one, since that colonial domination was achieved in the first place by force of arms, a force employed again and again in repression also. Whenever other means of repressing Irish resistance were employed, e.g by legislation or cultural imposition, the arms of the conqueror were never far from view. “Dieu et mon droit” is the historical motto of the English monarch5, meaning “God and my right”; however “my right” in English at least has the other meaning of “my right hand”, which can also be understood as the hand used to strike a blow, whether as a fist or holding a weapon. And neither monarchs, feudal or capitalist classes of England have been historically reticent in employing force, including armed violence, in pursuit of their “right” to rule – their own country or others’.
Indeed, it took an armed rising in 1916 followed by three years of guerrilla war (1919-1921) to convince the rulers of Britain that they should grant even limited autonomy to Ireland, albeit with partition as part of the deal. The intervening peaceful gain of 73 out a total of 105 Irish seats in the 1918 British General Election, every seat won on a public commitment to Irish independence and a rejection of the British Parliament, did not at all sway the British ruling class.
Furthermore, around the world the history of nations that have liberated themselves from colonial occupation or incorporation has been, almost without exception, that of armed repression overcome eventually by armed resistance.
AGAINST ARMED STRUGGLE IN IRELAND
Those who oppose the right and indeed necessity to resist armed occupation with armed resistance are opposing a law of history. Granted that in theory, Ireland may be an exception or that the historical rule may no longer apply in this historical period and if that is the claim, then it is incumbent on those who oppose armed struggle to explain why they believe one of those to be the case.
In general, they do not even try to do so but rely instead on emotional appeal and moral argument. These are irrelevant in this context: yes, people get killed and otherwise suffer in armed struggle but the deaths and suffering imposed by imperialism and colonialism world-wide are hundreds of times greater. If we want to apply emotional and moral rules to the question then logically we should support the most widescale and energetic struggle everywhere to overthrow imperialism in the shortest possible time.
Those who argue that the current historical situation provides an exception to the general rule of history usually rely on two issues:
1) The gaining of the most seats in the parliament of the Irish state by the Sinn Féin political party in the 2020 General Election6 and 2) the discussion current in society about the holding of a “Border poll” at some point in the near future.
Neither of these is valid for positing that Ireland is currently — or about to enter – a historical phase that will nullify the general historical rule.
1) The Sinn Féin political party has done much more than abandon armed struggle – it has accepted the partition of the country and joined the administration of the British colony, accepting its legal system and repressive apparatus, in particular its police force. Its party within the Irish state is striving to become the dominant party of the Gombeen capitalist class, as first step towards which it seeks to join a coalition government of one or more of the parties of that class, manoeuvering to appeal to the Gombeen class while at the same time keeping its popular base. Nor is this the first time this has happened in Ireland, for what became the foremost party of the Gombeen class, Fianna Fáil, followed that trajectory after splitting from Sinn Féin in 1926.
2) The question of a “Border poll” does not change the historical rule because it is not the expression of the desire of the colonised that governs the decisions of the coloniser, as evidenced from 1918 to 1921 in Ireland for example. Indeed, even during the most recent war in Ireland, opinion polls repeatedly showed a majority of the British population wishing to have their governments pull out of the colony, those wishes never acted upon or even tested in referendum. On a purely legalistic level, even if (and it is by no means certain) a majority of the population of the colony should favour formal unification with the rest of Ireland, the question of how large that majority should be remains uncertain, as does whether – despite the words of some politicians of the British State – the wishes of such a majority would find a majority in the British Parliament and, in the final analysis, the endorsement of the British monarch.
Nor is there any guarantee that such a poll would even be held. And in the final analysis the right to self-determination of a nation in its entirety is not to be decided by a minority made into an artificial majority by colonialism and backed up by its repressive apparatus.
THOSE IN FAVOUR OF ARMED STRUGGLE
The section of our polity supporting the right to armed struggle therefore has a well-established international historical rule and the nation’s historical experience to vindicate its position. But neither factor necessarily dictates the form or the timing for such struggle. And our history has had many occasions when armed struggle was not the most appropriate form of resistance, either because the subjective or objective conditions did not favour it or because we had suffered a recent crushing defeat in arms.
Taking up the option of armed struggle usually occurs in a revolutionary situation but can also be in others, for example against a fascist takeover or other repression, or in defence of some gains (both were present in the case of the Popular Front Government of Spain in 1936 and the second in the case of the Civil War in Ireland). It does not seem to me that any of the periods of armed struggle in Ireland since 1922 fit into any of those categories except perhaps in the recent war in the Six Counties which in part might be categorised as defensive armed struggle against repression.
To wage war against a superior armed and experienced enemy is a serious undertaking. To do so with the struggle largely confined to one-sixth of one’s country and in a part in which almost two-thirds of the population is ideologically opposed to one’s forces has to be considered madness. Extremely courageous but madness nevertheless. How could those leading that armed struggle ever expect to win? Only by basing themselves on a flawed analysis or a reformist one – never on a revolutionary one.
The flawed analysis was that the British ruling class had no great interest in holding on to the colony and could therefore be encouraged to leave if only they could be made to suffer enough. The theory that the British ruling class places no great importance in maintaining its grip on the Six Counties has been amply debunked by its actions since 1921 and even more so since 1968. Of course, that does not prevent liberals, social democrats, unionists and other defenders of British imperialism from peddling that theory but revolutionaries at the very least should be able to see through it.
The reformist analysis was that if only the struggle became serious enough then sections of the Irish capitalist class would oppose British colonial rule in Ireland and move towards the reunification of the country. This analysis is deeply mistaken in that it fails to take account of the nature of the native Irish capitalist class, which is weak and foreign-dependent and has never been anything else. The last time the Irish capitalist class or a substantial section of it was revolutionary was in the time of the United Irishmen and they were led and in some areas largely constituted by descendants of planters and settlers. The development of the native Irish capitalist class under British colonialism was hampered by Penal anti-Catholic laws, destruction of native industry and the influence of a large section of its intelligencia, viz. the conservative Catholic Church hierarchy and much of the priesthood. In 1921, this native capitalist class, raised in huckstering, clientism and corruption, preferred to murder and jail its own national fighters than to carry the struggle for independence through to the end. Since then it has largely allowed foreign capitalists to exploit its labour force and other natural resources on land and sea, along with large parts of its infrastructure. It was never going to take a serious stand for independence and national reunification.
If both those analyses are mistaken, what other rational basis can there be for waging an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties? And if there be no such rational basis, how can the sacrificing of idealistic and courageous young people to years of prison and negligible employment prospects be justified, to say nothing of loss of life and serious injury?
IN CONCLUSION: THE URGENT TASKS OF REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE
If an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties is unwinnable, it does not follow that the time is therefore right for armed struggle across the whole of Ireland.
The task for revolutionaries in Ireland, i.e people who are determined to work for a revolution, is to analyse objective and subjective conditions and work in accordance with them in order to advance the struggle to the point of insurrection, at which point there will be no choice but to take up arms, since foreign imperialism and native capitalism will both send their armed forces against us. While it is true that an effective resistance to armed attack requires certain preparations in advance of that crisis, concentration on armed struggle at this stage will not bring us to that point. The mass of the population, including our potential mass base, does not require armed struggle at this point and therefore would not support it. In these conditions and at this time, different forms of struggle are called for.
Nevertheless there are many struggles which working people undertake now and will do in future and revolutionaries need to participate in them and also to use them to help the working people to see their potential. If people must go to jail — and historical experience tells us that they must — would it not be better for them and even more so for the overall struggle, if they did so for taking part in a social or economic struggle of wide sympathy, for example around housing, rather than for “membership of an illegal organisation” or possession of firearms? This would be so even if the immediate objective were the reformist one of forcing the Irish Government to release funds to the local authorities for a construction program of public housing for rent.7
While at times we fight for reforms, we should not advocate any faith in a reform of the system, nor in organisations or leaders who advocate such faith but we rather use the struggles to educate the working people in struggle, showing their strengths and of what they are capable but also the need to go further, to take power into their own hands. It also means that we have to organise against oppression and repression in all their forms – political, economic, religious/cultural, sexual, intellectual ….. And that we have to find ways to participate in all those struggles, putting forward a revolutionary analysis.
This approach calls for both temporary and long-term alliances, both of which have to be managed with care and never by surrendering our revolutionary direction.
We need to build fighting organisations and revolutionary media. We lack broad fighting organisations of any size on any one of the fronts on which we have to fight, including (crucially) fighting trade unions or grassroots trade union organisations. We do not even have a mass revolutionary weekly newspaper.8 Nor a wide political education program. Without those things, it does not seem a realistic proposition to overthrow the ruling classes in Ireland. Towards the building of those elements is where the energies of revolutionaries in Ireland should be directed, whether they be Irish Republicans, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists (or any combination of the above).
In the face of such tasks, does it really matter much why at this time this or that individual speaks out for or against armed actions by relatively small organisations?
1These are two, both of Trotskyist ideology: the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (both now part of the Anti-Austerity Alliance — People Before Profit parliamentary coalition).
2While usually supporting it in areas of the underdeveloped world.
3The British occupation of Ireland is normally dated from 1169.
4These included permanent emergency repressive powers and a number of blatantly sectarian discriminatory provisions.
5It is also displayed on the coat of arms above and behind judges in British courts, which should alert people to the nature of the justice dispensed there.
6However they fell short of the absolute majority required to form a government and would have needed others to form a coalition government which instead, was formed by parties (of previous governments) that had won less support: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
7The housing crisis within the territory of the Irish State is acute but no local authority is building housing for rent — they do not have the funds to do so. Successive governments are starving local authorities of that funding in order to benefit the property speculators and private landlords, which in turn the State funds through a number of measures including social welfare payment for the homeless converted to rent. Funding construction of public housing could also be used to expand public employment and training in construction, thereby pulling away from neo-liberal domination of the capitalist economy and strengthening workers’ rights. Meanwhile some fascists are using the housing need to push their “house the Irish first” propaganda against migrants and asylum-seekers.
8Ireland has two ruling classes: the native Irish neo-colonial one and the colonial unionist class ruling in the colony.
The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.
Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?
Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.
Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.
Cumann na mBan (“Women’s Association”), a female military auxiliary and counterpart to the Irish Volunteers, was founded on this day in 1914, one hundred and seven years ago. Its members took part in the 1916 Rising and perhaps even more importantly in keeping up the momentum of the militant movement for independence during martial law after the defeat of the Rising and for years afterwards. They were part of the War of Independence and the Civil War in military and political activities. Many were jailed. The Easter Lily emblem, which many will wear to commemorate the Rising, is their invention. The role of Cumann na mBan, along with that of other women in Irish history, is to this day still not sufficiently highlighted or valued.
Cumann na mBan was formed as a female counterpart and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers, which had been formed the previous year (as had, separately, the Irish Citizen Army). The inaugural public meeting was held in Wynn’s Hotel, Thursday, 2 April 1914. It was presided over by Agnes O’Farrelly, who was elected President. The provisional executive unveiled at the meeting included Jennie Wyse Power, Nancy O’Rahilly, Agnes MacNeill, Margaret Dobbs, Mary Colum, Nurse McCoy, Louise Gavan Duffy and Elizabeth Bloxham. A constitution was adopted which stated that Cumann na mBan aimed: 1. To advance the cause of Irish liberty 2. To organise Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object 3. To assist in arming and equipping a body of Irishmen for the defence of Ireland 4. To form a fund for these purposes to be called the ‘Defence of Ireland Fund’.
It was not the first organisation of women to stand for Irish independence that century – Inghinidhe na hÉireann had been formed in 1900 as a cultural organisation and had developed a militant Irish independentist political outlook along with a suffragettist one. Inghinidhe formally dissolved itself and joined Cumann na mBan in 1914 but in effect formed one of its branches and continued to represent a trend for greater activism and female independence within Cumann.
Unlike the Volunteers, membership of the socialist Irish Citizen Army, founded in 1913, was open to both genders and the women who joined that tended to disdain the membership of Cumann na mBan because not only did they not have a social program but were, at that time, under the overall authority of the all-male Irish Volunteers.
Prior to 1916, Cumann na mBan took part in agitation and publicity actions, a number of which they organised themselves. Their marching in the procession to the grave of O’Donavan Rosa’s grave in 1915 was apparently what most impressed other women, in particular young women; they had never witnessed a self-organised women’s organisation on the streets before and the Cumann’s membership swelled thereafter. When Redmond promised Irish men to the rulers of Britain to fight in WW1 the minority part of the movement but the most active split in order to fight for independence from the UK. Cumann na mBan split also but in their case, the majority went for fighting against Britain.
In preparation for the 1916 Rising all members of the main female organisation learned First Aid and prepared field dressings for wounds, which perhaps brought them to face the physical dangers of insurrection more than did the training schedules of the Volunteers. They also engaged in anti-British Army recruitment activities which, after Britain declared War in 1914, increasingly meant being assaulted and arrested by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many also transported secret messages and weapons, often storing the latter. In an informal way, they also provided intelligence they were able to gather. Through their cultural and social activities they provided diversion for male activists as well as a cover for clandestine meetings and other activities. During the Rising, Cumann na mBan members helped deliver arms, ammunition and equipment, construct barricades, set up field hospitals, provided food and water/ tea to combatants, acted as messengers. ICA women did most of that but a number of them were snipers also and one of those, Vol. Margaret Skinnider was gunshot-wounded three times while sniping and in other military activity in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison area. Most of the Dublin garrisons had Cumann na mBan in them and those in the GPO garrison were asked to leave with some wounded when the building was in danger of collapse. Three women refused to leave with them and were there at the final surrender in Moore Street: Vols. Elizabeth O’Farrell, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan.
Around 300 women are known to have taken part in the Rising and from the relative numbers of women in CnmB and the ICA, most of those had to be Cumann members; only 157 womens’ names appear on the Roll of Honour for the Rising.
Cumann na mBan was the first organisation of its kind in the world, a point that is often lost sight of: an insurrectionary female military organisation with its own uniform and officers.
The greater role of the women in general and in particular of members of Cumann na mBan however was after the Rising when, even under martial law, they organised fund-raising for relief for families who had lost a breadwinner to death or prison; organised also public commemorations, defying arrest to keep the flame and memories alive, helping to create the sea-change in attitude to the Rising and giving a fertile ground for them to plant the seeds of resistance, along with the male and female prisoners released under amnesty.
In 1918 members of the Cumann worked to help the landslide victory for Sinn Féin in the British General Election in Ireland and then helped in the War of Independence, this time greatly organised into intelligence work but also as before as couriers, carrying and hiding weapons, caring for the wounded, running safe houses and other actions, as well as in public demonstrations and pickets, for example outside prisons. They were assaulted on occasion and jailed, sometimes replying with a hunger strike. They could not easily go “on the run” and were subjected by British Army and colonial Police to invasions of their homes and ill-treatment which included shearing their hair.
In 1921, Cumann na mBan again split over the Treaty but once more with the majority against it and in 1922 took the Republican side in the Civil War, for which they suffered repression, home invasions and imprisonment anew, this time by the forces of the Free State.
In 1926 Cumann na mBan invented the Easter Lily emblem in order to raise funds for the dependents of prisoners and killed in action fighters, in addition to those officially and unofficially executed, abducted an murdered. It is purely as a result of their efforts at this time that the emblem is so widely worn and appreciated in the wide Irish Republican movement, especially around this time of year.
Cumann na mBan ceased to exist soon after the split between the “Officials” and “Provisionals” in 1969 but women continued to be active in the political organisations and also to be recruited into the various military ones.
(note the omission of the Moore Street battlefield at the end, with a Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan noted as staying on in the GPO but omitting to mention where they went soon afterwards, or Farrell’s important roles thereafter): https://www.richmondbarracks.ie/women-1916/cumann-na-mban/
There is a blind eye being turned to oppression in Ireland – and I use the expression in its usual meaning of “deliberately not seeing”. And it is not the Irish ruling circles I am accusing of that deliberate act, for one could hardly expect anything else of them. No, it is the Irish socialist and liberal sectors I am accusing, along with a section of the Republican movement.
All of these are in Ireland; each of these sectors either knows of this oppression or has chosen not to know. In that respect, in so far as they cry out about injustice or inequality in other areas, they are being hypocritical. And in how much hypocritical activity can one indulge and how long, before one is really and totally a hypocrite, not to be trusted on anything they say they believe?
For years, before the Good Friday Agreement, wide areas in the Six Counties suffered oppression from the colonial statelet, its police force and the imperial armed forces. Those were the working and lower middle-class “nationalist/ Catholic” areas. Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, sections of the Irish Left and liberal consensus were actively ignoring this oppression and in that respect, nothing has changed. But what has happened since is that while smaller areas, neighbourhoods, are continuing to be oppressed, sections of the Republican movement have joined in that blindness and resultant silence.
HOUSE RAIDS, HUMILIATION, HOSPITALISATION & DEATH THREATS
From Republic Media: A statement released by the Republican party Saoradh quoted Cliodhna McCool, daughter of Kieran McCool who was arrested last week in Derry following a heavy house raid, reading a statement on behalf of the McCool family. Describing the ongoing and escalated harassment she said:
“As a family who hold strong traditional Republican views we have become accustomed to many forms of harassment and intimidation, in fact we have almost come to expect it. However, in recent months the occupiers have escalated this harassment by constantly following every member of our family during almost every aspect of our lives. Something that is somewhat creepy and very distressing is the fact they seem to have prior knowledge of where we are going to or coming from and will be there to mete out their harassment. “
Detailing incidents over the last year she continued: “In the last year alone we have been attacked resulting in my mother, father and younger brother being hospitalised and we have received death threats from British soldiers dressed in Crown Force uniforms.”
Describing the events of last week she said: “Once my father was removed from the house, what can only be described as a nightmare for our family began. My family were shouted at aggressively, verbally abused and threatened with arrest by masked gunmen.”
“My younger brother Fionn, who is autistic, was again manhandled and removed from his bed, searched and evicted from his home; as was my mother and other brother.”
Giving the public details of some of the more grim details of what a search entails for Republicans she explained: “While they were forced to leave our house they were refused access to a toilet, food or water. My mother was also denied her medication. My entire family was searched in an intimate manner of which I prefer not to go into detail; I will let you use your own imagination“
Concluding the family statement she said: “No matter what you think of our family’s politics, no family should ever be treated like this. If it was wrong in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s then it’s wrong now. Our family have feelings too and refuse to be treated as lesser human beings because politicians say it’s acceptable. It’s not!”
Cliodhna McCool’s statement was read out at a protest press conference of which the purpose was, according to Saoradh “to highlight the continued profiling and targeting of Creggan residents, community activists and those who hold traditional Republican beliefs.”
“THUGS IN UNIFORM CLIMBING OVER EACH OTHER TO GET TO ME”
Pete Cavanagh, who suffered injuries during the raid, spoke next, describing sectarian jibes and threats handed out to residents. “It was here they began to trade in sectarian and snide remarks, calling Creggan and the people in it ‘dirty and unwashed.’ Some of them began mentioning personal details of individuals gathered there. Some raised and showed off their weapons in an attempt to intimidate us. Many of the cops gathered there were very shaky and nervous. “
Describing his attack by armed police he explained:
“After trying to push us further down the street, these thugs in uniform drew their batons and launched what can only be described as a frenzied attack. It is here I was beat between two cars with my head busted open by a British baton. So reckless was this attack that these thugs in uniform were fighting with each other to get at me. They were climbing over each other to get at me again as I lay on the ground busted open. The cop who hit me called me a “Fenian prick.”
Pete also told how the police lied about how he received the injuries: “When I was in the back of an armoured car I seen and heard the inspector who attacked me tell his superior that I had fell and busted by head. But when asked at the hospital the doctor said there is no way I could have sustained this injury by either falling backwards or forwards given the severity and location of the strike. I received eight stitches.”
Despite Pete being on the receiving end of the physical attacks from Crown forces, he and another member of Saoradh were detained overnight and given bail with restrictive and oppressive measures.
A local resident Clare Friel also gave testimony at the conference:
“The actions and behaviour of the PSNI witnessed on Thursday 18th March were reminiscent of our past. These attacks, as described by our neighbours and community activists, were supposed to be of a bygone era, again that is not the case.
“What happened to the McCool family, residents of Ballymagowan and the wider Creggan community along with political and community activists has only served in raising further tensions between our young people, residents and the police.
“Our young people are sick and tired of being targeted by police; they are sick and tired of watching community and political activist being stopped and searched; they are sick and tired of seeing their school friends being stopped and searched while attempting to get an education; they are sick and tired of the fake community policing being rolled out in Creggan as the PSNI cycle around streets with armoured jeeps on every entry and exit of the estate. This behaviour can’t continue without our youth saying enough is enough! Is it any wonder they react!”
Saoradh National executive member Stephen Murney wrapped up proceedings by giving Saoradh’s analysis of recent events and in reference to other world events he said:
“Whilst this raid was taking place two women were forced to the ground outside and knelt on by several members of the British Forces. This bears all the hallmarks of George Floyd and the recent disturbing images in England. Are all members of the British Forces trained in how to attack women?
Criticising P Sinn Féin’s false promises, Murney pointed out that after such incidents the party regularly promises to complain to the authorities and have the attacks stopped which, however, continue and that the SF party’s support for “the oppressing force” is “unwavering”1.
Continuing, Murney asserted:
“On the other hand the Republican position is clear as day. These raids and attacks are the outworking of British occupation, they were wrong and unjust in previous years and decades and are wrong today. The Crown forces responsible are not welcome or wanted in Creggan, or indeed in any Republican community in the Six Counties.”
Murney called on people to support those being subjected to this harassment and violence and pledged his party to do so too.
HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF COMMUNITIES AFTER THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
This harassment of activists and oppression of neighbourhoods has been ongoing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but has intensified in recent years. The colonial statelet wishes to normalise its situation, which means gaining acceptance of the population. But colonial status is not a natural or even desirable state of affairs and human history, in particular perhaps its Irish component, demonstrates that it will always be resisted. When that is so, the State moves in to harass, provoke, disrupt and intimidate the sectors that continue to resist.
Those who expect the resistance to die down and wish for acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement are being unrealistic and flying in the face of human and in particular Irish history. Whatever their wishes, when they turn a blind eye to the continuing oppression of sections of the Irish nation, they are helping it to continue. And when, instead, they support the oppressors or condemn those who continue to resist, they are in active collusion with the oppressor, the colonial invader and occupier. From a different but similar historical experience, history has given a name for such collaborators: Quisling.
One needs to ask what can account for this willful ‘blindness’ and resultant silence? Since those afflicted with the condition do not usually explain it, one must speculate and it seems to me that the following are the likely reasons:
For the socialists:
they do not wish to even seem to be endorsing armed resistance to the statelet
they wish to give no assistance to what is their biggest competition in the opposition to the status quo, along with the one with the largest working class base: the Republican movement,
For a section of the Republicans:
They do not wish to give any support to their competition inside the Republican movement
The Left and Liberals never had any difficulty in supporting the ANC despite the fact that had an armed wing, membership of which was the main charge of which Mandela was convicted. Or if they did, they kept quiet about them. They kept quiet too about the horrific practice of “Pirelli-necklacing”, when alleged informers or spies had tyres doused in petrol placed around their necks which were then set on fire.
And in a sense, that was mostly right, because the main target had to be the South African racist white minority regime and its foreign imperialist backers. Similar positions were taken with regard to the Vietnamese liberation forces and to the Palestinian resistance.
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A REPUBLICAN TO KNOW THAT THIS IS WRONG”
But even if one did not agree with the objectives of the ANC, the NLF in southern Vietnam and NVA, the PLO etc, that should not prevent one from speaking out against oppression of the people. Pastor Niedermeyer put it well in his famous quotation about the oppression of different groups under the Nazis. Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland put it well too when their post stated:
“Last week following a violent attack by a British Police force on women in London there was international media coverage, justified anger and protests in a number of countries including Ireland, as people rightly expressed their outrage at such disgraceful events.
“This week, as Britain’s Colonial militia in Ireland once again attacks women in Derry, some of those same Irish voices so loudly speaking out against police violence in London have said absolutely nothing. These voices remain silent because to speak out would be to raise and condemn Britain’s ongoing illegal occupation of Ireland, something they are ideologically opposed to doing. Are the women of the Creggan to be left fighting alone?
“Police violence is wrong against women in London and it is wrong in Derry. The RUC/PSNI are attempting to provoke the community in Creggan and are invading homes and attacking women and children with impunity.
“It is not acceptable for so called Socialist and progressive forces to stay silent on this. It’s not acceptable to look the other way. You don’t have to be a Republican to know that this is wrong.
“Anyone who is really an advocate for women’s liberation would be calling British Imperialism out for the violence its imperialist militia regularly perpetuates against Republican women in occupied Ireland.
“Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan.”
The point about provocation is well made. It was during one such raid in Creggan on 18th April in advance of a planned Republican commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising that a Republican youth fired at the colonial police, a bullet of which tragically killed Lyra McKee, a journalist who was standing near an armoured police Land Rover2.
Those who are afflicted with the blind eye need to turn the other eye on the situation in the Six Counties and speak out. Or give up forever any credibility when speaking about injustice towards anyone.
1The Sinn Féin leadership has formerly accepted the colonial police force in the Six Counties, doing so publicly a number of times.
2Numerous politicians, State figures and mass and social media at the time called her killing “murder”, a clearly inaccurate statement and prejudicial to the trial outcome of anyone who might be charged as a result of her killing.
DESPITE LOW TURNOUT DUE TO PANDEMIC FEARS, THE THREE CATALAN INDEPENDENTIST PARTIES TOGETHER HAVE A COMFORTABLE ABSOLUTE MAJORITY
Despite the Covid19 pandemic and bad weather causing a low turnout for the elections to the Government (Govern) of the Catalan Autonomous Region, elected representatives of political parties for Catalan independence won a comfortable absolute majority of their Parlament and, for the first time in recent history, won more than 50% of the total votes cast.
It is worth noting that although most of the Spanish and much of the European media (including shamefully the Irish) is referring to the victors in this election as “separatists” this is not the correct term and implies or at least leaves open to interpretation that there is some basis for their campaign other than a historic nation seeking independence. The Irish over centuries were not “separatists” with regard to England and the United Kingdom, they were independentists. And those Irish parties that wanted to remain with the UK were — and are – unionists, with a parallel too in the elections in Catalonia.
In a Parlament of 135 seats (absolute majority 68 minimum), the results are:
Total seats: 74
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, traditional left-republican party of various trends)
33 seats (up one) 21.4% votes cast
JxCat (Junsts per Catalunya, independentist party consisting of various trends with origins in alliance with right-wing Catalan nationalist party PdeCat but split from them last year)
32 seats (up 12) 20.0% votes cast
CUP (Convergencia Unida Popular, a confederation of left-wing groups mostly active on a community and municipal level)
9 seats (up 5) 6.67% votes cast
Total seats: 53
PSC (Catalan branch of the Partido Socialista Obrero de Espana, social-democratic main government party in the Spanish State)
33seats (up 16) 13.9 % of votes cast
PP (Partido Popular, formed by Franco supporters after the Dictator’s death, main government party in the Spanish State after PSOE)
3 seats (down one) 3.8 % of votes cast
Cs (Ciutadans, Spanish unionist party formed by split from the PP)
6 seats (down 30) 5.6 % of votes cast
Vox (Spanish fascist and unionist party formed by split from PP and Ciutadans)
11 seats, 7.7 % of votes cast
Total seats: 8 seats (no change) 6.87 % of votes cast
ECP (En Comú Podem [“Communs”], coalition of Podemos, Izquierda Unida etc, left-social democrats and trotskyists, in theory supporting the right to independence but in practice rarely supporting the independentists).
Most of Catalonia is currently part of the Spanish state, with a small part around Pau, in the southern French state. Catalonia has its own political history and national language, Catalan but its autonomy was ended in conquest by the Bourbons of the Spanish Kingdom in 1741 and its language discriminated against. In 1936 the workers of Barcelona, the capital city, rose and defeated the forces of the Spanish military-fascist coup against the elected Popular Front Government of Spain. But after the victory of the military-fascist forces in 1939 in the Spanish Antifascist War, Catalonia, which had sided with the Government on a promise of autonomy, suffered repression, its leaders and supporters executed and language banned.
Catalonia is also considered by many to be part of the Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries), which include the regions such of Valencia and the Balearic islands, where dialects of Catalan are spoken.
Although a small part of the Spanish State in terms of land and population, Catalonia is one of the most economically successful regions of the Spanish State. A wish for national independence gained renewed political support during the recent decade, growing apace when the Spanish State greatly reduced Catalan autonomy in a reinterpretation of the Statute of Autonomy in respect of Catalonia. Grassroots movements in favour of independence grew hugely, in particular the ANC and Omnium; they organised a referendum on independence to take place on 1st October 2017. The Spanish State sent its militarised police to seize ballot boxes and attack voters and protesters. Subsequently the Spanish State jailed the leaders of the Independentist party ERC, the grassroots organisations ANC and Omnium, along with politicians. It issued arrest warrants for a number of others, including the President of the Government and leader of JuntsXCat party and a leading activist of CUP, all of whom are currently in exile. 700 Town Mayors are under investigation for their role in the referendum and activists are in jail or on trial for their activities in protests and one-day general strikes (of which there have been three since 2017).
ELECTION TIMING AND RESULTS
Quim Torra, Puigdemont’s replacement, who had been stripped of his position as President of the Catalan Parliament by a Spanish Court for displaying a banner in support of the political prisoners on a Government building during Catalan municipal elections, had threatened to call snap regional elections; these were expected around October last year but the Covid19 pandemic prevented that plan going ahead.
However, when the Catalan Govern because of the pandemic decided to postpone their elections until this summer,, it was forced by a Spanish State court (at the behest of unionists) to call them for 14th February. That of course led to a low turnout, which usually favours the Right and Unionists, thus making the results even more remarkable.
With the independentist parties achieving more than 50% of the vote for the first time and an overall majority in the Parlament, Catalans favouring independence regard the election results as positive overall. But their pleasure is tempered by the unwelcome gains of the Spanish social democrats of the PSC and the ten seats won for the first time in Catalonia by the fascist Vox party.
The PSC is the Catalan branch of the PSOE, the Spanish social-democratic party currently in government in coalition with Podemos-Izquierda Unida, the latter a kind of trotskyist coalition (of which the Catalan version is “En Comú Podems”) and both parties are essentially Spanish unionist, the PSOE bluntly so and the junior partner in practice.
Although the PSC were no doubt aided by having as a candidate Salvador Illa, the former Minister for Health of the current Government of the Spanish State, it seems that some of the votes to elect the PSC came from pro-Spanish unionist Catalans on the Right, deserting their more natural allegiances in order to achieve a strong unionist and Spanish government presence in the Catalan Parlament. The Catalan traditional unionist Right wing took a hammering, losing 31 seats as the PP went down from four to three seats and their upcoming replacement Ciutadants from 36 to just six. But newcomers and more clearly fascist Vox gained eleven seats. In terms of seats alone, as a crude measure, the PSC and Vox gained seats totalled 44, while PP and Cs together lost 31. Looked at that way, it seems clear that the increase of seats for the social-democratic PSC and the fascist Vox came from right-wing unionists, with a gain of another 13 seats unexplained.
The PSC and Vox successes have been of concern to many Catalan independentists. However those parties reflect existing realities in Catalonia with which the independentist republicans will need to grapple. The vote for Vox illustrates quite starkly that much of the base of the allegedly democratic right-wing conservative Ciutadans was in fact fascist, as suspected by more than a few and it is as well to be aware of it and to have that exposed.
The support for the PSC is a wider problem and, while some of it will remain irreconcilably Spanish Unionist for the foreseeable future, there are probably elements among its voters that are capable of being won over to the independentist position.
As noted earlier, the three republican independentist parties have won a comfortable overall majority, in that they have 74 seats between them, six more than the 68 needed for an absolute majority in the 135-seat Parlament. Even if all the Spanish unionist parties vote together, social democrats voting with Right and Far-Right, they can only outvote the Catalan independentists, in the normal course of events, should one of the latter parties join their vote or abstain, which is hard to imagine occurring.
In the last Parlament, the CUP became a left-opposition to the coalition Govern of ERC and JxCat but never joined the unionist parties in voting against the Govern.
Immediately following the announcement of the results, the Communs leader in effect admitted she would try and split the independentist alliance by asking ERC to join with them and with PSC to form “a left-wing government” which is a shameful use of words since the independentist alliance has put forward more proposals of a socialist nature for Catalonia than have been presented by the PSOE in the state, most of them blocked by the Spanish Constitutional Court and the PSOE is in fact now about to renege on the rent controls it had agreed with its coalition partner. However neither its supporters nor the electorate would be likely to forgive ERC’s leadership should they take such a step and whether tempted or not, they will not go there.
Of course, the Spanish State could reduce the Independentist majority by finding some pretext to jail some of their elected members and such a scenario is far from inconceivable, given the nature of the Spanish State and its recent history in Catalunya. But that would be a very high-risk avenue, even for the Spanish State.
The very likely development is for ERC and JxCat to join in a coalition government, with or without CUP (who might choose to remain in opposition but in “confidence and supply” with the Govern, meaning that they would vote for them if necessary to defeat a vote of the unionist opposition). ERC and JxCat are quite deeply divided on how to proceed in relation to the Spanish State. Although ERC has a longer history of Republican opposition and even some armed struggle through the Terra Lliure resistance, and thinks of itself as “Left”, it is JxCat that has been most resolute in its attitude to the Spanish State. ERC wanted to sit down for talks with Sanchez, Prime Minister and leader of the PSOE, even though Sanchez has stated categorically that independence is not up for negotiation; JvCat ridiculed the very idea. When Sanchez needed other party votes to get his Government’s budget through the Cortes (the Spanish Parliament), ERC gave their votes along with the PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party. And now ERC has asked the Spanish Government to authorise a referendum on Catalan independence which, on past performance, can only be denied. In the absence of getting something substantial in return, JxCat refused to give their votes to support the Spanish Government’s budget (as did the Basque independentist members).
Going into the mid-term future, not only will Catalan independence be forbidden by the Spanish ruling class through its State but many of the measures the Catalan Government has agreed to take around social justice, for equality, against bullfighting and so on, will be frustrated by the Spanish State through its upper courts, as before.
There seems no way forward for the Catalan independentists other than at the very least a sustained campaign of civil disobedience to make Catalonia ungovernable by the Spanish State. In such a situation, it is difficult to imagine the Spanish State not sending its military to occupy the nation and repress the resistance. With whatever response that would arouse among Catalans.
The jailing by the Spanish State of Catalan revolutionary socialist poet-rapper Pablo Hasél on 16th February has led to demonstrations and rioting in Barcelona in which both the Guardia Civil of the Spanish State and the Catalunya police, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been engaged. The Spanish police have fired rubber bullets which are banned in Catalunya while the Mossos have baton-charged ferociously and, firing foam projectiles, took the eye of a 19-year-old woman. The protests are ongoing.
Over 400 visual artists, also of words and music, have signed a demand for the release of Hasél whose jailing has also been condemned by Amnesty International. Pickets in his support have been organised across the southern Basque Country and Navarran regional police, the Forales, fired rubber bullets at a march in Hasél’s support in Iruna (Pamplona). Other places including Madrid have also seen demonstrations protesting the jailing of the rapper.
(Translated from the article in Castillian by Alejandro Torrús [Publico 01/24/2021] by Diarmuid Breatnach)
(Reading time text: 7 mins.)
The descendants of Alexandre Bóveda join the ‘Argentine complaint’ together with the grandchildren of Amancio Caamaño, president of the Pontevedra County Council; and Ramiro Paz, editor. The three were murdered in 1936 in Galicia by Franco’s forces. Around 5,000 Galicians were shot by the Franco regime.
– Provided by the family
They say that after the body of Alexandre Bóveda fell to the ground, shot by firing squad, one of his friends approached and placed a small Galician flag in his jacket pocket, near a heart that no longer beat. Thus was the last will fulfilled of the man that Castelao himself had described as the engine of Galicianism. It was August 17, 1936 and Bóveda was murdered after a farce of a trial that sentenced him to die for treason. Just a few hours later, at dawn on August 18, 1936, at the other end of the peninsula, the poet García Lorca was also murdered by the Francoists. In just a few hours, in two of the most remote territories of the country, two elevated minds of the country were murdered. Point blank. One after a sham called a trial. Another, after being arrested as a criminal. Two elevated brains, two unique sensibilities, and two ways of fighting, fighting for a freer, more democratic and more plural country fell by force of arms. The country was entering the long Francoist night.
The figure of Alexandre Bóveda is so spectacular that it is difficult to summarize in just a few paragraphs. He was one of the drafters of the Statute of Galicia of the Second Republic (which would never come into force due to the Civil War); he was the soul and “motor” of the Galician Party; and, furthermore, he had participated in the founding of the first savings bank in Galicia. The list, in a telephone conversation with his grandson, Valentín García Bóveda, is practically endless. To the political successes must be added a good number of professional successes, which led him to participate in the founding of Campsa, the Hacienda de Pontevedra or to expand the funds of the Pontevedra Council using only the existing law. He was only 33 years old.
The focus of his political struggle, however, was Galicia. He was convinced that the economic and social backwardness of the country was due to the centralism of a State that squeezed every last drop of sweat from the workers of the periphery. His love for the land, in fact, was taken to its ultimate consequences and in front of the same court that sentenced him to death he declared: “My natural homeland is Galicia. I love it fervently, I would never betray it. If the court believes that for this love the heavy death penalty must be applied to mey, I will receive it as one more sacrifice for her. “
So it was. Bóveda stood in the February 1936 elections to Parliament in the Ourense constituency, competing against Calvo Sotelo, who would be finally elected. Months later, Calvo Sotelo would be murdered in Madrid, while, just a few weeks later, Bóveda would be murdered in Galicia. He face it tied to a pine tree, in the mount of A Caeira, in Pontevedra, some bark of which is still kept by the family.
His grandson says that he could have escaped, that he was warned on several occasions of the danger he was running, but that Bóveda answered all those warnings with the words he recited in front of the court. “I wanted to do good, I worked for Pontevedra, for Galicia and for the Republic and the confused judgment of men (which I forgive and all of you must forgive) condemns me,” he wrote in a letter to his brother hours before being shot.
“My grandfather was a marvel of the economy and aa elevated brain. Everything he achieved within only 33 years is impressive, which was at the age at which he was killed. I have always wondered what would have happened to this country if people so important such as Bóveda, like Lorca and like so many others who were shot or had to go into exile by Francoism could have lived another 30 years … Surely now we would live in a different country”, explains Valentín García Bóveda, grandson of the political victim and Vice-President of the foundation that bears his name.
Now, almost 85 years after this murder, Valentín takes over the family struggle to reestablish the memory of Alexandre Bóveda and has filed a complaint with the Argentine Judicial system. In doing so, he joins the nearly 1,000 legal actions that the victims of the Franco regime have presented in the last ten years before Judge María Servini de Cubria in Federal Court No.1 of Argentina.
“I go to the Department of Justice of Argentina with several objectives. On the one hand, to reestablish the memory of my grandfather. I do it for him, but also for my grandmother, who had to die seeing how, legally, her husband was listed as being shot for treason to the homeland. I want that sentence to be judicially annulled. On the other hand, I also go to Argentina to fight against this amnesiac democracy that was based on the foundations of oblivion and injustice,” explains García Bóveda, who hopes that Argentina can declare the crimes of the Franco regime to be crimes against humanity.
The case of Alexandre Bóveda is not the only one to reach the Servini court recently. The descendants of the Republican doctor and politician, president of the Pontevedra County Council in May 1931, Amancio Caamaño, and of the printer and political leader Ramiro Paz, have also filed a complaint. Begoña Caamaño, Amancio’s granddaughter, explained to Público that her grandfather was arrested a week after the Francoist coup and shot on November 12, 1936.
“I could never agree with the Amnesty Law or with the Historical Memory Law. In this country the wounds were never closed even though others accuse us of wanting to open them. The Francoist hierarchy passed to democracy without being held accountable. The Police that were torturing was the new democratic police. And for this reason neither my family nor I have been able to sue in Spain about the execution of my grandfather and we have decided to go to Argentina. All I am looking for is justice and for the sentence against my grandfather to be annulled “, Begoña Caamaño explains.
That fateful November 12, 1936, the Francoist forces executed Caamano and Paz in A Caeria, but also doctors Telmo Bernárdez Santomé and Luis Poza Pastrana; the teachers Paulo Novás Souto, Germán Adrio Mañá and Benigno Rey Pavón; the lawyer José Adrio Barreiro; journalist Víctor Casas Rey; and Captain Juan Rico González. Their murders, however, were only a few more drops of pain in the midst of the slaughter that Franco’s forces were carrying out. The repression ended in just a few years with the lives of 4,699 Galician citizens. Seven out of ten (3,233) were executed in the so-called Francoist “strolls”1. The rest, 1,466, were killed by the carrying out of a death sentence, according to data from the Nomes e Voces (Names and Voices) project. A veritable extermination in an area where the war lasted no more than a few days. In the first months of the Civil War alone, the four civil Governors, the Mayors of five of the seven Galician cities and of the 26 most important towns and the highest Galician military authorities who opposed the coup were all murdered in Galicia.
However, selective or indiscriminate murder was not the only means of repression. With the aim of destroying a civil, plural and organized society, 1,597 citizens were sentenced to life imprisonment and 1,981 were sentenced to various shorter prison terms. In total, 28,234 Galician victims suffered some type of judicial persecution by the new military authorities.
The lawsuits of Bóveda, Caamaño and Paz are not the only ones that have reached Argentina for Francoist crimes perpetrated in Galicia. The “Argentine complaint” was born, in fact, after the complaint filed by a Galician citizen, Darío Rivas, for the murder of his father, Severino, Republican mayor of Castro de Rei and the first of the executed exhumed in Galicia.
Likewise, in 2014, Público reported on a good number of complaints filed about crimes committed in Galicia. Among them was the case of the murders of Manuel Díaz González, a doctor from O Incio (Lugo) and the first Mayor of the Republic in that town, and his brother José Díaz, elected in the last elections as the new Mayor of the municipality. His granddaughter Esther García then explained how her grandfather had been dragged for several kilometers tied by the tail of a horse to the municipality to be murdered where he had been Mayor.
The repression in Galicia also led to a long exile to Latin American countries. In 1942 Galician exiles in Argentina established August 17, the day of the assassination of Alexandre Bóveda, as ‘Día da Galiza Mártir’ (Galician Martyr Day) to commemorate a unique generation that was wiped out by the weapons of Francoism.
The dictator and leader of the coup General Franco was himself a Gallego, a Galician. So was Manuel Fraga Ibibarne (despite the Basque second surname), Minister of propaganda during the Franco Dictatorship and director of repression during the Transition years after Franco’s death (“The streets are mine” — yet claimed by some as steering the ‘democratic transition”) and founder of the Alianza Popular/ Partido Popular party. The claim of fascists to uphold and defend nationalism was exposed as a lie in so many examples in history but very starkly indeed in the Celtic nation of Galicia. The foremost national intelligentsia of Galicia, political, cultural and law-making – those that did not flee — was wiped out by the Franco military and the fascist Falange.
The supporters of the military-fascist coup against the democratically-elected Popular Front Government of the Spanish State called themselves “Nationalists” and the media in much of the rest of the world did them the favour of referring to them likewise.
But it was the Spanish imperialist “nationalism” that was upheld by the coupists, one which denied the social aspirations of the population of the central “Spain” and denied the cultural, social and political aspirations of the Basque, Catalan, Galician and Asturian nations within the State and those of its colonies outside, for example the people of Western Sahara.
Today that false nationalism remains in power in the Spanish State, whether the social-democratic PSOE or the right-wing conservative PP are in government. It is supported in effect by sections of the Left as represented by the (old) CPE/ Izquierda Unida/ Podemos and by the extreme right-wing of Ciudadanos and Vox. The struggle between progressive national independentism and that centralist-imperialist bloc continues.
1Translator: Many of those murdered by the Francoist repression were not as a result of firing squad ordered by military tribunal but, in particular by the fascist Falange, by unofficial execution which the perpetrators called “paseos” (strolls). They would collect the victims from places of detention or their homes, telling them that “We are going for a walk”.
On 2nd September 2020, a Paraguayan military operation took place in the north of the country which resulted in the deaths of two Argentinian girls of 11 years of age. Later three men were killed and the aunt of those girls was captured by Paraguayan military and is currently in jail. Those are the only elements upon which everyone is agreed; the rest is a matter of hot dispute, not only between the Paraguayan authorities and relatives of the dead girls and the detained woman, but also between those authorities and human rights organisations in Argentina, a feminist collective in Paraguay (currently subject to repression) and the appropriate organisation of the United Nations. There is also the question of a missing 14-year old girl.
Some of the human rights organisations, such as the Gremial de Abogados de Argentina (Association of Argentinian Lawyers) and feminist collectives in Paraguay itself have said the girls were captured alive and subsequently murdered. Some others, such as Human Rights Watch have cast heavy doubts on the version (actually, a number of different versions) of the Paraguayan authorities, also pointing out a number of actions taken which raise suspicions of murder and of attempts to cover up the events.
ACCORDING TO THE FAMILY AND SUPPORTERS
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – sister of Carmen Villalba, one of the former top leaders of the EPP guerrilla organisation who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled from Argentina to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives. According to some sources, to visit their fathers, whom they had never met in person, having been born in Argentina to where their mothers had fled and been brought up there.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and they were ambushed on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. The belief is that they took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with others. Or executed the girls after the others had successfully got away – after interrogating them.
A relentless hunt pursued the fugitives and on 20th November 2020, while passing through the forest the three men who accompanied them were executed in cold blood: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello. Their executioners fired infrared targeted shots at a distance of 500 meters.
Alone and without knowing the area, the girl and woman fled the hunt into the forest but got lost and separated and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested. The girl is still missing, while Laura is prisoner in a military camp and, according to her family and supporters, probably being tortured.
ACCORDING TO THE PARAGUAYAN AUTHORITIES
The “raid on an EEP camp” was hailed by the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez himself as a great victory against the EEP and mentioned that some young women guerrilleras had been killed. When giving more detail, the military said that the young women were around 14 or 15 and supplied photographs of their bodies in military-style fatigues/ uniform.
The authorities reported that the bodies had been found with weapons, that a paraffin test on one of them established that she had fired a weapon, that both had ammunition in their pockets, their clothes had been burned (“due to Covid19 precautions”) and both had been buried without autopsy.
Ferreira, a Government official who arrived at the site of the incident after it had occurred, said that he recorded bullet wounds which he said had been at a distance of between 10 and 20 metres and that the girls had been shot while running away.
After enquiries from anxious relatives, the Paraguayan authorities requested the Argentinian state to send copies of the birth certificates of the girls which, when supplied, confirmed that the girls had been 11 years of age. The Director of Forensic Science of the Paraguayan Prosecutor’s office then had the bodies exhumed and, carrying out tests on them, confirmed their ages at around 11 years of age. After that examination of the remains, the Forensic Science Director, Pablo Lemir said one girl was shot seven times – from the front, the back, and the side – while the other girl was shot twice, from the front and the side.
The Paraguayan State and its supporting media then began to talk of a “training camp for child soldiers” and accusing Laura Villalba Ayala of having accompanied them into Paraguay for that purpose.
DOUBTS AND SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Numerous sources including Human Rights Watch, commenting on the available information, cast doubts or outright challenged the Paraguayan state account, pointing out the following:
no autopsy was carried out on the bodies prior to burial as is required in particular by the Minnesota Protocol in cases of death caused by government agents (the international standard for conducting autopsies and other forensic analysis in the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions).
neither family, Argentinian Consul or independent observers were permitted to attend the eventual autopsy
the clothes of the deceased, material of great forensic importance were not only not preserved but burned
the reason given for that burning, defence against Covid19 contagion, is not recommended in any of the Covid19 procedures and was not carried out with regard to other material in the camp (bedding, food sacks etc) and in any case makes no sense since the bodies were immediately buried, according to the military
despite videoing by Government forces of previous such operations, there was none of this one
there were no interviews of the military personnel to establish what weapons they had or who had fired or their account of the incident
the photos seen showed the uniforms clean and without bullet holes while the girls were by military admission killed by a number of bullets and relatives shown the photos contrasted the clean state of the uniforms with the girls’ faces and hands, which suggested to them that they had been dressed in the uniforms after torture and execution
Beyond 1.5 metres, it is not possible to determine the distance of firing since the entry wound will look the same at vastly different distances, according to two IFEG forensic analysts (Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) giving Human Rights Watch their expert opinions in this case.
The paraffin test is not considered conclusive of having fired a gun, according to the IFEG experts, since there is a wide range of other substances that can give the same result.
According to Pablo Lemir, Director of Forensic Science of Paraguay’s Prosecutor’s Office, the failure to carry out an autopsy and burning of clothes violated standard procedures for such cases.
The Government expended some effort originally to claim that the girls were years older than their actual age. Now it is refusing to allow an experienced Argentinian team to exhume the girls and carry out a forensic examination.
REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE IN PARAGUAY ARISING FROM THIS CASE
A feminist collective responded spontaneously to the news of the killing with around 70 demonstrating with a samba band at the national building of the Pantheon of Heroes, carrying placards stating that the victims were only girls (“eran niñas” — which also became a hashtag about the case). The Pantheon building had been sprayed earlier with graffiti quoting from Paraguay’s child protection legislation and there was an attempt to burn a flag of the state’s colours.
The Attorney General’s Office immediately issued arrest warrants for three women on charges of “damage to national heritage”, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Paloma Chaparro, who had been recorded carrying out the acts, later surrendered herself to authorities, while Marian Abdala and Giselle Ferrer fled to Argentina despite continued border closures due to Covid-19. Subsequently summonses were issued for at least six of the organisers of the protest to answer charges of violation of Covid19 regulations and extradition requests were made of Argentina for the two who fled the country.
Paraguayan politicians, who have nothing to say about the killing of 11-year-old girls by their military, have vied to express disgust and horror at the crimes on the national monument, with patriotic associations even laying floral tributes of thousands of dollars at the monument. The Paraguayan media, all very aligned with the regime, has made great issue of this “crime” (at worst mild vandalism) with the effect of drawing a veil over the case of executions of two 11-year-old girls and three adults, the continuing disappearance of a 14-year-old girl and the continuing detention of their adult relative in a male-only military compound.
Both women who fled to Argentina gave numerous death and rape threats as their reason, along with lack of faith in fair treatment by Paraguay’s judicial system.
Paloma Chaparro spent two weeks in jail before being bailed at $14,300 to house arrest.
During a press conference on Monday 11th, a member of the lawyers’ delegation who had entered the conflict zone in an effort to find and rescue Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and also to investigate the incident, said they were accompanied throughout by five military vans and that the intimidation of the local people was such that they were unable to talk to any of them. However, some who separatedly had managed to speak to local people confirmed that the girls had been arrested alive during the raid.
Later the Paraguayan authorities claimed that one of the lawyers is the new leader of the EPP! Commenting on the accusation during the press conference a representative of the organisation clearly found it amusing but then became serious, pointing out that such accusations could put their lives in danger.
On 11 September 2020 the Paraguayan government stated that former Vice President Óscar Denis and one of his employees were kidnapped by members of the EPP not far from the site of the guerrilla camp assaulted by the army on 2nd September. The pick-up vehicle in which the two men were riding was found abandoned with propaganda leaflets scattered around, the statement said. The EPP appears to have made no statement in that regard.
Both men are reported still missing.
The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) is a very small guerrilla army of communist ideology, which sees itself as a liberation organisation but which the regime classifies as a terrorist organisation. Estimates of its numbers vary from 50-100 and it operates mostly in the Concepción department (administrative area) in northern Paraguay and also in the neighbouring departments of Caníndeyu and San Pedro.
Wikipedia and other websites describing such organisations regularly list the alleged killings, kidnappings etc by the guerrilla organisations without listing the corresponding arrests, killings and other actions by the police and army forces or other arms of the State or proxy forces. In those circumstances quoting statistics of armed actions by the guerrilla organisation can amount to propaganda in favour of the state in question.
The origins of the organisation are in the taking apart of the Partido Patria Libre (Free Homeland Party) by Paraguayan police in 2005.
Whatever others may say about them it does appear that the guerrilleros are well-regarded in the EPP operational area and the chairperson of the press conference in Argentina on Monday commented in passing that the funerals of the three fighters executed by the Paraguayan military were attended by large crowds of local people paying their respects.
A coalition of Argentinian human rights organisations have written an Open Letter (see Appendix 2) to Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, calling on him to suspend commercial relations with Paraguay until the regime responds satisfactorily to the following
“Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
“Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
“Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
“Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, which is constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.”
Supporters of the family and human rights organisations in Argentina are asking for details of the case to be widely disseminated and for people internationally to add their voices to the campaign (should you wish to add your name or organisation in support of the letter, please notify email@example.com and name which category you come under from the list on the open letter).
At an on-line press conference on Monday last week it seemed that the only media present from outside Latin America were from the Italian and Spanish states. A member of the family, Myrian, thanked all for their efforts and vowed to continue the campaign while an elderly Nor Cortiñas, a member of the famous Mothers of May Square, who in the 1970s and 80s demonstrated in Buenos Aire’s city centre demanding justice regarding those “disappeared” by the military dictatorship then, spoke words of encouragement and said “Venceremos!” (“We shall win`!”) with upraised clenched fist.
Both the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have demanded an investigation into the killings.
Under a feeling of some urgency I have done best I have been able to assist in a small way the application of international pressure upon firstly the Paraguayan state to admit a proper investigation, along with the return to Argentina of Laura Villalbaand the currently disappeared 14-year-oldCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and, in the second place, that the Argentinian Government take all action possible to achieve those aims. It was just a few days ago that I received the first knowledge I had of this case through a comrade abroad forwarding me the press release of the Argentinian Lawyers’ Association, since when I have tried to find more details and also some press coverage (see Sources). It is possible therefore that I have omitted some relevant matters or erred in some detail and if so, I can only apologise and hope that will not be the cause of anyone failing to disseminate information about this atrocity and the present and continuing danger to a woman in jail and a 14 year-old girl missing in Paraguay.
APPENDED DOCUMENTS (total 2)
THE ARGENTINIAN LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION REPORTS THE ARRIVAL OF A DELEGATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS IN THE CONFLICT ZONE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF CARMEN ELIZABETH OVIEDO VILLALBA (English translation from original by DB)
It was public knowledge in the past that more than ten years ago several members of the Villalba family, mostly boys and girls, had to settle in our country (Argentina) fleeing the persecution unleashed by the Paraguayan Government against the families of the combatants of the EPP (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo- Paraguayan People’s Army), who are not part of the organization.
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – Carmen Villalba’s sister, one of the top leaders of the EPP who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and the persecution against them was unleashed immediately, managing to ambush them on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. They took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with the others.
From there, the chase after them was relentless. In this context, on 20th November 2020, the three people who accompanied them: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello were executed in cold blood while passing through the forest. The executioners fired shots at 500 meters distance with weapons equipped with caloric and infrared mechanisms that detect human heat and direct the shot.
Alone and without knowing the area, they went into the forest trying to flee the persecution. They got lost and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested.
From the testimonies of local people collected by Laura before her arrest, some said that the army had captured Carmen Elizabeth and others said that a group of civilians captured her.
Throughout these days the Government of Paraguay has launched an intense campaign against the EPP, in particular against the Villalba family. To justify the executions of the girls and now the disappearance of Carmen Elizabeth “Lichita”, they are spreading false news about the recruitment of minors in the EPP, obscenely conducting a cover-up for their crimes and their need to use the persecution of girls as spoils of war in their fight against the EPP.
For that reason, several colleagues offered to organize a search group with the participation of our colleague Gustavo Franquet, along with the lawyer Daysi Irala from Paraguay, the lawyer Sabrina Diniz Bittencourt Nepomuceno from Brazil and the comrade Germán from Aníbal Verón’s CTD, who also volunteered to accompany and assist.
On the 4th of January 2021 this delegation arrived at Yby Yaú, North of Paraguay after 6 hours by the bus. From there, they will have to walk into the conflict zone, in an area with a lot of forest to try to reach the area where aboriginal communities have reported that they saw Lichita alive.
They will try to confirm the information gathered so far and look for more information about the 14-year-old girl (twin) daughter of Carmen Villalba.
We publicise the presence of our colleagues in the area, aware of the danger that the delegation has assumed when entering the conflict zone.
The Government and the Paraguayan military forces are informed of the entry into the area of a non-belligerent foreign group of which none carry any weapons.
We hold the Government and the Joint Task Forces of Paraguay responsible for the physical integrity, life, and liberty of our comrades, since the official Paraguayan organizations and the Argentine consul in Asunción have been formally notified of their presence.
Finally, and with all our heart, we want to show our immense gratitude to so many colleagues, as well as to very diverse organizations of different political positions that assisted with money (in some cases a lot of money, which was unexpected by us) to pay for the trip, tickets and the huge expenses that this mission entails for us.
Know that we will never ever forget such a gesture and that without this assistance this trip would have been impossible.
We will continue to provide all the information that we receive.
Open letter to President Alberto Fernández: You cannot do “business” with an infanticidal state.
We the undersigned, social organizations, intellectuals, academics, trade unionists, activists, defenders of human rights, feminists, professionals, members of civil society, political organizations, ask the Argentina Government presided over by Alberto Fernández to suspend commercial relations with the Paraguayan State until the clarification of the crime perpetrated by the Joint Task Forces (FTC) against the Argentinian girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba, who were only 11 years old, in Yby Yaú, Concepción, Paraguay, on September 2, 2020, and thatCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, 14 years old, disappeared since November 30, appears alive.
Along the same lines, the immediate cessation of the persecution of the Villalba family is required, which currently has Laura Villalba, mother of one of the massacred girls, illegally detained in the Viñas Cué military prison. Both Carmen Elizabeth and Laura witnessed the capture of the girls at Yby Yau on September 2nd. Therefore, the arrest of one and the disappearance of the other are intimately related to the intention of the terrorist state of Paraguay,faced with a fact that is internationally known, to erase the evidence and viciously punish the next of kin.
Laura, María Carmen, Lilian Mariana and Carmen Elizabeth resided in the missionary town of Puerto Rico (Argentina) and were stranded in Paraguay by the COVID 19 pandemic. The Paraguayan State had a duty to protect them and return them in good health. On the contrary, the repressive forces of that country violated their lives, with the operation celebrated as a success by the President of the country himself, Mario Abdo Benítez.
The bodies of the girls were not subjected to an autopsy and were quickly buried, with false information from official sources about the age and condition of the girls at the time of being killed. The alleged clothes that the girls were wearing were cremated as a preventive operation against COVID 19, a fact that lacks substance and reason. The second autopsy that was carried out under pressure from civil society determined the age of the girls and added more confusion to the way in which they were executed, so we understand that an impartial investigation is still necessary to determine what happened and to allow progress in a process of reparation and justice.
Although the Paraguayan Government has supposedly responded affirmatively to the request for an investigation made by the Argentinian State, it has done nothing in that direction and, on the contrary, has withdrawn its support for the UN in the face of its pronouncement in this case; it has persecuted the protesters who demand justice, has criminalized children, adolescents and indigenous communities in the region, has held the families of the victims responsible as well as relatives who suffer persistent persecution, has fostered wild hypotheses about Argentina, as some kind of “guerrilla nursery” place, has wished to prohibit the dissemination of information about the murdered girls, thereby trying to hide the fact that they were girls and push the case into oblivion, has continued with its policy of militarization of the northern region of the country. As if all this were not enough, we also observe an intention – reinforced by the hegemonic media and social networks – to deny the Argentinian nationality of the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana, to remove relevance of the incident from the Argentinian State, which worries us doubly: first, because it is intended to strip us of the tool of international law; second, because in this way the Paraguayan State demonstrates that it assumes the power to murder girls if it so wishes.
The Paraguayan State has a history of abuses that are recorded with six judgments of the IACHR, of which it has only partially complied with one of them, so we are talking about a serial violator of human rights. Under no point of view can we entrust the clarification of the massacre of our girls to whoever murdered them. Such is the impunity that no person is charged, investigated or detained for such an outrage, unlike the case of the people who participated in the protests demanding justice for the girls, for which there are summons, detentions and requests for international arrest. These recent verified events reveal not only disproportionate cruelty but also the direction taken by the Paraguayan judiciary.
If the Argentinian State is committed to the defense of human rights, in no way can it ignore such an outrage that physically assaults the bodies of girls, women and social activists. That is why through this letter we urge the Argentinian government to:
Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.
We are convinced that you cannot do business with the infanticidal state led by Mario Abdo Benítez, direct heir to the Stroessner dictatorship.
Without further ado and awaiting a favorable response, sincerely:
HUMAN RIGHT ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 10)
TRADE UNIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 7)
POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL MOVEMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 119)
INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ORGANISATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS (original endorsements but many more since then: 200+)
As we in the SE London, Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group began to plan our Easter Rising commemoration locally in 2000, we could not have imagined the drama it would bring. It resulted in calls for the event’s cancellation, for the Lewisham Irish Community Centre to revoke our hire of the hall and even for the withdrawal of the Centre’s meagre funding from the local authority. And shortly afterwards an attempt was made to burn down the Centre.
Even in the general atmosphere of anti-Irish racism in Britain and context of the 30 Years’ War in Ireland, we could not have expected these developments. The Lewisham Branch of the IBRG, founded towards the end of 19861, had been hosting this annual event locally long before the Irish Centre had opened in 1992 and in fact the branch was instrumental in getting the disused building, which had belonged to the Cooperative Society, handed over to the Irish community and refurbished by the local authority. Furthermore, the 1916 Rising had been commemorated at the Lewisham Irish Centre by the local IBRG branch for a number of years running without any fuss.
As usual, whenever the event was to take place we naturally hoped others would promote it. In the days before Facebook and Twitter etc, email would would reach some contacts, a poster in the centre would be seen by users, some illegal street postering might be done and the Irish Post or Irish World might publicise the event. The rest would be by word of mouth.
It happened that in the week preceding the 1998 event, an activist of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in London was in touch with the branch and he posted the event on the 32CSM site, intending it as a supportive advertisement. However, someone who hated that organisation took it to be an event of the 32 CSM themselves.
Victor Barker’s son James had been killed in the Omagh car bombing of 15th August 1998, carried out by the “Real IRA”, a group opposed to the Provisional IRA’s signup to the Good Friday Agreement and to the British colonial occupation of Ireland. Although the organisation responsible has always stated that it intended to kill no civilians2, with 29 fatalities the bombing took the highest death toll of a single incident (but not of a single day, which was the British intelligence bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974) during the 30 Years War.
Understandably Victor Barker had pursued a vendetta against the Real IRA since and, less understandably perhaps, against anything connected with it, including the 32CSM and even, in this case, the right of an unrelated Irish community organisation to commemorate its national history.
Barker contacted the Lewisham Irish Centre and expressed his outrage, demanding the event be cancelled. A nonplussed Brendan O’Rourke, Manager of the Centre, explained that the event was an annual one and booked by a local comunity organisation and affiliate of the Centre. Not in the least mollified, Barker then got to the local authority, an official of which rang Brendan, he repeated the explanation and the official seemed satisfied.
But Brendan was getting a bit worried and phoned me at work – I had been Chair of the Management Committee since the Centre opened and was at the same time Secretary of the local IBRG branch. We discussed the matter and agreed to cary on but his next phone call was to alert me that the matter was now national or at least London-wide news, with a report in an early edition of the Evening Standard headlining that we were running a “London fundraiser for the Omagh bombers”3. Furthermore, the cowardly local authority official was now saying – and quoted — that while they had no power to cancel the booking, they would be looking at the Irish Centre’s funding.
I hurried home to Lewisham as fast as I could – the SE London borough is about 90 minutes’ journey by underground line and overground train from King’s Cross, where I worked. With no time for a meal, I got some things ready and got down to the Centre, about 15 minutes’ walk from my flat.
By virtue of being Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s management committee, I had a key, opened the door, turned off the burglar alarm and locked the door again, then began to get things ready. The part-time Caretaker would lay out tables and chairs for events but I generally liked to change it to a less formal arrangement for our events and so I set to that. There was also “decoration” to be done: some posters and portraits of 1916 martyrs to put up in places, flags to hang etc.
In the lobby I placed a chair by a table there and also some hidden short stout lengths of wood. This was a provision inherited from earlier days when Irish or British left-wing meetings might be attacked by fascists of the National Front or the British Movement but we hadn’t felt the need at the Irish Centre for some years now. However, with the current hysteria being whipped up by Barker and the Evening Standard and assisted by the wriggling of the Council officer, fascists might well decide the conditions favoured an attack.
Another possibility was a police raid. The “Prevention of Terrorism Act” in force since 1974 in Britain specifically targeted the Irish community and gave the police the power to detain someone for up to five days without access even to a lawyer.4
Early arrivals started to knock at the door and I was in a quandary – until I had some reliable able-bodied people to staff the door, I didn’t want to start letting people in. On the other hand if we were going to be attacked, I couldn’t leave them outside either. So it was open, let them in, lock the door again, open, let some more in …. until the arrival of some I could ask to mind the door (after I’d told them about the “extras” in case they were needed).
Then there were sound amplification checks and gradually the hall was filling up. I was to be MC and so on duty inside the hall but kept checking the lobby to see everything was ok. And of course people wanted to chat about the news so would stop me and ask me about it …
For the evening’s program, the MC was to welcome people, introduce the Irish ballad band and have them play for an hour. Then intermission, MC on again with a few words on behalf of the local organisation, introduce the featured speaker, get the band on again for an hour or so to finish. So, some time to kill, to worry before the hour for which the band was booked.
The time came but the band didn’t. At half an hour late I started to worry and the supporter who had booked the band on behalf of the branch couldn’t get any reply from them by phone. As MC I apologised to the attendance and asked for their patience. Over an hour late, the band’s manager finally phoned to say they would not be coming. Because of worry arising out of the media reporting.
A few of us in the organising group held a quick conference. Nothing for it but to face the music – or rather its absence – and so I got on the stage and told the audience that the band had pulled out and everyone was entitled to a refund of their ticket price without any hard feelings whatsoever or …
Before I could lay out the alternative, a guy sitting near the stage jumped up and shouted “We will NOT accept our money back!” to the applause of some others. A little taken aback, I thanked him for his spirit but said people should have the choice and laid out the alternative, which would be to hear the speaker and just socialise for the rest of the evening. Nobody made a move to get up and approach the door so ….. I introduced the speaker, who that year might have been from the IRSP (a previous speaker had been Michelle Gildernew, then representing Sinn Féin in Britain). He did his bit, I did mine, much of that not surprisingly being devoted to censorship, intimidation and repression of the Irish community as well as the commemoration of our history.
Then a guy approached and said he’d play guitar and sing, so he went up on stage, I followed with a few songs acapella, someone else sang a few …. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, there was no trouble at the door …. and because there was no band to pay, we made more money than we had ever done for function organised by the local IBRG branch!
But there were to be two dramatic sequels to this controversy. And tensions between myself and the Centre Manager would follow.
THE “MAC CHICKEN BROTHERS”
The professional name of the Irish ballad band was The Mac Namara Brothers but Brian, a resilient Dublin comrade from a deprived background, that night baptised them the Mac Chicken Brothers (a play on the Mac Donald chain’s naming of items and a reference to the band members’ cowardice.
Our event had been on a Friday night and they were due to play Sunday afternoon at an Irish bar a five minutes’ drive from the Lewisham Irish Centre. We didn’t see how we could let them do that without confronting them. In discussion I suggested we present them with some white feathers and denounce them and Brian was all up for that; he was taking the kids to the seaside and would pick up some white feathers around the beach. But, unbelievably, he could find none. Nor could I in a local park. In the end, I opened a pillow and took out handfuls but they were all small.
The next day, we declined to invite anyone who might get hurt without being accustomed to defending themselves or who might not be sufficiently disciplined in behaviour and of the remainder, only myself and Brian were available. The pub, The Graduate, was under new management, one of three sisters from the Six Counties (perhaps Armagh), who lived in South-East London. I knew her from when she had been barmaid and perhaps manager at the Woodman, another Irish pub in the general area, where I attended Irish traditional music sessions (and sometimes a lock-in for an extra hour or so).
On Sunday we were a bit late in getting going but Brian drove us there and we entered the crowded area that would have been the public bar before the lounge and that area were combined. I bought us a round and we tried to act as relaxed and natural as possible, nodded to people we knew … It was certain that many of those present already knew what had happened but no-one came to ask us about it.
The “Mac Chicken Brothers” were playing and I was unsure whether we had perhaps missed their break. I got another round in but that was going to be my limit. To our relief, the band took a break but now my tension racked higher as I positioned myself nonchalantly near the stage and waited for the band to get ready for the second half of their act.
Finally, I saw them coming and with a small plastic bag in my hand I jumped up on to the low stage, Brian ready to handle any trouble from the floor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I called out loudly and got instant attention. “A few nights ago the British press ran a scare story about a 1916 Rising commemoration in Lewisham,” I continued. “This band here was booked to attend but didn’t turn up, leaving a couple of hundred people waiting. This is what we think of you,” I said, turning to the band members and threw a handful of the feathers from the bag in their direction.
“Hear, hear!” shouted someone in the crowd and I got down from the stage, glanced at Brian and made for the door, with him following closely behind. Incredibly I heard one of the band members say to me: “You might have told us you were going to do that!”
As we walked away outside, my heart thumping, the manager came rushing out.
“You had no right to do that,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Not in my pub!”
“Sorry, Bridget,” (not her real name), I replied, “It had to be done!”
“Not in my pub!”
“But that’s where the band was! It just had to be done.”
Now a customer came haring out looking for us and, from the look on his face, it wasn’t to offer congratulations. I felt Brian beside me change his stance to take him on but the manager took the guy by the arm and talked him back inside and we got in Brian’s van and car and drove off. “Bridge” wouldn’t talk to me for some years afterwards, though one of her sisters would.
The following day, I wrote a letter about the matter to the Irish Post5, attacking the Labour Council for its cowardice, the band for failing to comply with their booking and the Evening Standard for its felon-setting. Since I was Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Centre, which was already under some pressure, I wrote it under a pseudonym. The letter was published.
I felt that not only our branch of the IBRG but the Irish community had been attacked and we had responded appropriately and publicly, both locally and in the wider context. We would now face the next move, if one was to come, from the Council, as an Irish community with pride.
But at the next monthly meeting Management Committee, I was surprised to find that Brendan, the Centre Manager, believed that either Lewisham IBRG had organised the event jointly with 32CSM or that I had placed the advertisement. But worse, I was genuinely shocked to see that he believed my use of a pseudonym for the Irish Post letter was an attempt to distance the IBRG and myself from the controversy and leave him to face it alone. Brendan and I disagreed politically (he was a Sinn Féin supporter and I was by this time hostile to the party’s new trajectory with respect to the conflict in Ireland) but I supported him as Manager of the Centre while as Irishmen we stood together against oppression. But no matter what I said now, I seemed unable to convince him that the use of a pseudonym, far from being a device to have a say and protect myself at the same time, was to protect the Centre and himself as its Manager.
We got through the meeting and the Council officials seemed happy to let the matter rest, since the Standard lost interest and moved on to the next sensation.
But a more direct attack than that of Barker and the media was being planned somewhere.
ARSON ATTACK ON THE CENTRE
In the early hours of one morning a couple of weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fire Brigade, attending at the Lewisham Irish Centre. I was one of the emergency nominees. When I got down there, Pat Baczor6, another member of the Management Committee and also an emergency nominee, was there already. So were the Fire Brigade and the police.
There had been an arson attempt and a hole was burned in the wood of the front door. We opened up and let the Fire Brigade in, who came out a few minutes later, pronouncing the building safe. A container with some inflammable liquid had been set by the door and had burned a hole about the size of my fist but the floor inside was tile and had not caught.
In response to the police, I said while we had received no threats, there had been some controversy in the media about a history commemoration and though I would suspect local fascists, I had no specific individuals in mind.
If we hadn’t wire screens on all the external windows, it would have been easy to smash a glass pane and to throw in the container with a lit fuse. The flooring of the whole hall was wooden and the result would have been quite different. I was very glad that during discussion on the refurbishment of the Coop Hall for use as an Irish Centre more than many years earlier, as Chair of the Steering Group, I had made a point of insisting on the wire screens. An Irish Centre in Britain could expect to be the target of an attack some day.
AFTER ALL THAT
We weathered that storm and the following year’s 1916 Rising commemoration took place without incident.
The next crisis for the Irish Centre came some two years later when the Council’s Labour Party Leadership, which had been “Blairite before Blair” as one local Leftie commented, listed the Centre for cuts to our total staffing: one (underpaid) Manager and one part-time caretaker-handyman. There were heavy cuts planned to the whole Council-funded service sector across the Borough of Lewisham so, although in our case the cuts would have meant wiping out our entire staffing, it was difficult to say whether the controversy some years earlier had played a role or not.
But that was another day’s battle.
1The wider IBRG had been founded in 1981 and consolidated in 1982. The Lewisham branch was founded from an initiative by a core of people who had taken over organising the 1985-1986 Irish Aspects course at Goldsmiths (then) Community College from its original organiser, Derry-born Peter Moloney, who was stepping down and invited them to run it in his place or that the course would come to an end. Peter was one of founding members of the branch and active within it for a few years.
2The intentions of this bombing are still the subject of dispute. The killing of civilians would have been against the interests of the organisation and in the event were strongly so; it strengthened the hands of the authorities in enacting further repressive legislation and also ideologically for the authorities and the Provisionals in gathering support for the Good Friday Agreement and in neutralising its opponents within the Irish Republican movement. Over the years the Wikipedia page on the bombing has changed substantially as cases against accused collapsed, including one in which the Gardaí were found to have concocted notes of an interview and revelation has followed revelation of intelligence services awareness of elements of the plans and failure to alert the RUC (colonial police) on the ground. Four defendants were found responsible in a controversial civil case and it seems clear that that Mickey Kevitt’s criminal conviction on questionable evidence in another case in 2003 was related to his believed involvement as was the refusal to apply all possible reductions which would have seen him released in 2016. McKevitt died of cancer on 2nd January 2021, still serving his sentence of 20 years. The full truth may never be known.
3Pat Reynolds, PRO of the IBRG throughout most of its existence, in his year-by-year review of the IBRG commented: “The London Evening Standard with a long history of anti-Irish racism came out with the headline London fundraiser for the Omagh Bombers alleging that the event was organised by supporters of the real IRA. The IBRG were seeking legal advice on the article as the event was organised by Lewisham IBRG.” Busy with more practical organising and without perhaps the right contacts, Lewisham IBRG never did take up the misreporting legally or with the Press Council.
4As Irish community activists warned the British public, it would lead to wider repressive legislation if permitted to stand, which it did. The 2006 Act allows for detention up to 28 days without charge.
5The Irish Post was founded in 1971 as a newspaper aimed at the Irish community in Britain and played a generally progressive role until its editor-owner, Brendan Mac Lua and Thomas Beattie sold the title and company to Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) in 2003. In 1981 the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group was in part inspired by comment in the paper’s “Dolan” column (a pen-name of Mac Lua’s). In later years the newspaper suffered competition from other titles aiming at the same community, The Irish World and The London Irish News(?). More about the Post’s later history (but next to nothing about it earlier work including promoting the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven etc and also covering protests against anti-Irish racism and promoting new Irish writing) here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Irish_Post
6Patricia Ellen Baczor owed her surname to having married a Polish man. There were many such marriages between Polish refugees and servicemen who met young Irish women at Catholic parish social events in Britain during WW2. Pat was a strong widow and supporter of the rights of the Irish community, progressive in her thinking, anti-racist but not one to push herself forward. She was generally very supportive of me as Chair of the Management Committee and appreciative of the other hat I wore in the local and ‘national’ IBRG and the tensions thereby I sometimes had to negotiate.