A group of mixed political background held a picket this afternoon in Henry Street, one of the main shopping streets in Dublin’s city centre. The picket was protesting the continuing internment in Ireland of political activists and also expressing solidarity with political prisoners in different parts of the world – a Palestinian flag and a couple of Basque ones flew alongside the Irish ones. There are over 60 political prisoners in Irish jails both sides of the British Border.
Many people were out shopping or just enjoying the sun on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far. Up to 200 leaflets were distributed and passers-by occasionally stopped to discuss with the picket supporters.
MESSAGE OF SOLIDARITY TO CAMPAIGNERS FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL
Near the end of the picket, a representative of the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland was recorded voicing a message of solidarity for Mumia Abu Jamal, to send to an upcoming conference on Mumia and other political prisoners.
Mumia is a political prisoner, a black United States activist and author who was awaiting execution but is now in his 40th year in jail. He was a popular broadcaster in 1981 when he went to the assistance of his brother, who was being harassed by a white police officer. As the incident came to an end the cop was dead of gunshot wounds and Mumia was shot in the stomach.
There are so many questions about the scenario the Prosecution laid out and which got Mumia convicted of murder and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to imprisonment for life. His gun had five bullets missing but Mumia was never tested to see whether he had fired the gun nor were the tests on the bullets in the police officer conclusively proven to come from there. The crime scene was not preserved and the police were in and out of it, with Mumia’s gun while Mumia was in hospital, undergoing an emergency operation. Photos taken of the scene by an independent press photographer did not show the presence of the taxi of a witness against Mumia, who claimed he was parked there. Not to mention the later confession of a man who claimed to have killed the police officer on behalf of other police as a contract kill (the decision not to use him as a witness divided Mumia’s legal team and two lawyers resigned as a result).
As the spokesperson of the Anti-Internment Committee said, even if people believe that he fired the shots that killed the police officer, after 40 years Mumia should be freed on humanitarian grounds. The USA is allegedly the country leading the world in democracy, as the spokesperson commented, but holds a great many political prisoners, some of them for many, many years in jail.
MORE EVENTS TO COME
Pandemic permitting, the AIGI intends to hold pickets on approximately a monthly basis to protest continuing internment and in solidarity with political prisoners, such events being advertised on our social media. The organisation is independent of any political party or organisation and all who oppose the jailing of activists without trial or wish to support political prisoners are welcome.
The undemocratic non-jury Special Criminal Court was renewed for another year in the Dáil yesterday evening with the lowest abstentions or vote against it ever. All Sinn Féin’s TDs (members of the Irish parliament) absented themselves and FG, FF, Greens and Labour all voted for another year’s renewal, with the Social Democrats abstaining. Seven votes were cast against it, the lowest ever since it was brought in as part of the Offences Against the State Act in 1972.
Voting against renewal were the five PBP/Solidarity TDs (Bríd Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Mick Barry, Paul Murphy) and the two left-wing Independent TDs: Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle. Sinn Féin, who abstained in 1920 for the first time after decades of opposition, just didn’t attend at all this time. In 1920 they said that they were awaiting a review of the Act promised by the Justice Minister – but without any explanation of what in the review could possibly convince them to keep the Act in place. The Social Democrats, whose amendment to bring the Special Court to an end by a deadline of June 29th next year was rejected, abstained in the vote.
SINNFÉIN ABANDONS DECADES OF OPPOSITION TO THE SPECIAL CRIMINALCOURT
Since the Acts’ inception, Sinn Féin has voted against the annual renewal – until last year, when they abstained and this year, absented themselves from the Dáil before the vote. For some years now, the party has been reshaping itself to take part in a coalition government with one of the government parties. Supporters of the party who believe this a necessary disguise to enter the corridors of power and that the party will then return to its Republican past will find that for whatever principle the party gives up voluntarily, a further one will be extracted by pressure. Those who crawl into government will never be able to stand up in it later.
James Geoghegan, FG’s candidate for the forthcoming by-election in Dublin Bay East, taking a swipe at SF’s candidate Lynn Boylan, said “When it comes before both the Dáil and Seanad, what will Sinn Féin and Senator Lynn Boylan do? Will they abstain yet again, which undermines the laws in place to keep our citizens and democratic institutions safe?
“If Senator Boylan wishes to be a senior legislator and member of Dáil Eireann, she must show her support for the institutions of the State and do all in her power to protect the public from criminality and the threat of terrorism.”
Note that Geoghegan has no difficulty in equating support for “democratic institutions” with supporting their very negation, such as jury-less trials.
Sinn Féin party leaders may think that in not opposing the SCC’s renewal, they are abandoning only some Republican principles, as Republicans have been the main victims of the Special Criminal Court to date but in fact they are also colluding in a major attack on civil and human rights, as pointed to by the opposition of civil and human rights organisations to the SCC.
OPPOSITION OUTSIDE THE DÁIL
Outside the Dáil, which has been held in the Convention Building on the Dublin quays since the Covid 19 measures, a protest picket took place before the vote. The demonstration was organised by the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and supported by a mixed attendance of Republicans, Socialists and Anarchists.
A number of passing motorists, particularly in company vans and lorries, blew their car horns in solidarity in passing, some also extending a clenched fist or “thumbs up” sign out of their window.
Left Independent TDs Thomas Pringle and Joan Collins joined the picketers for a while and Richard Boyd Barrett chatted with them in passing too; all three posed for a photo while holding a placard against the SCC before returning to the Dáil to speak and vote against the juryless court.
The Abolish the Special Courts campaign was launched in 2017 and a public meeting the campaign group organised in Dublin in 2018 heard about a number of then recent cases of unjust convictions in the non-jury courts. Since then the campaign group has organised protests against the SCC.
IRISH STATE TERRORIST LEGISLATION ASSISTED BY BRITISH TERRORISM
The Special Criminal Court, as stated earlier, is part of the Offences Against the State Act (OAS) 1939, which is sometimes described as the Irish State’s anti-terror legislation. However, the setting up of the Special Criminal Court and the infamous Amendment to the OAS which allows convictions of “membership of an illegal organisation” solely on the unsupported word of a Garda at superintendent rank or higher, was in fact passed on a wave of hysteria after a terrorist bombing in 1972 by British Intelligence terrorists.
On the evening of December 1st, 1972, a car bomb exploded near Liberty Hall in Dublin and although there were no fatalities in that explosion, many were injured. A second bomb a short time later at Sackville Place, off O’Connell Street, killed Mr George Bradshaw (29), a bus driver, and Mr Duffy (24), a bus conductor.
The indications had been that Fine Gael and Labour were both going to vote against the Fianna Fáil proposals but in the panic after the the explosions, which were blamed against all logic on the IRA, the opposition to the Acts collapsed and they passed.
THE PRETENCE OF “TEMPORARY PROVISIONS”
The Acts must be voted upon annually because, as with much emergency legislation across the world, the myth is propagated that the provisions are temporary; however these “temporary measures” have now been in place for 82 years! To give another example, the specifically anti-Irish emergency legislation introduced to Britain in 1974, the annually-renewable Prevention of Terrorism Act, was only abolished 15 years later to be replaced by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989 (again “Temporary Provisions”) which in turn was replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000.
The powers this Act provide the police have been controversial, leading to noted cases of alleged abuse, and to legal challenges in British and European courts. The stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Act have been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
That Act was strengthened by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which was then replaced by Section 1 of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures 2011. All repressive legislation in Britain has now ceased even the pretence of being temporary.
A similar trajectory has been followed by “emergency” legislation in the Six Counties statelet, from the very creation of the administration in 1921 (with the Emergency Powers Act of 1920), a new Act in 1926, amended in 1964 and replaced by the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, providing unlimited powers of harassment for the colonial police along with refusal of bail, undemocratic bail conditions and easy convictions for the non-jury Diplock Courts.
Historically, on occasion juries have been misled and have also been complicit in unjust verdicts, convicting innocent people (there are infamous cases such as the Irish-related ones in Britain in the 1970s, the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward). But much less so than non-jury courts. The right to be tried by a jury empaneled by random selection is considered across the world a fundamental democratic right and, furthermore, is one that has been fought for across the centuries, first to win the actual right, then to apply it across classes and finally to apply it to women and ethnic minorities.
The Six County colony has the Diplock non-jury courts and the Irish State has the SCC, both emergency and undemocratic measures in two states that are supposed to be democracies. Both courts regularly remand accused in custody without bail or impose undemocratic restrictions on the few occasions when bail is granted, such as having to be indoors by a specific time daily, prohibition from attending political meetings, etc. At trial, the required burden of proof on the Prosecution is very light indeed, ensuring an unnaturally high rate of convictions.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties, which was founded in 1976 by people concerned about the increase in repressive powers of the Irish State, has stated that the court “continues to represent the single biggest denial of fair trial rights in our legal system”. The SCC has also been condemned by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations.
Whereas apologists for these undemocratic and repressive measures argue that non-jury courts are necessary because jurors might be intimidated, they fail to produce evidence of this having happened. However, there is hard evidence of unjust convictions by the Special Criminal Court.
In 2017 Michael Connolly, who had already spent 14 months in prison had his SCC conviction for alleged membership of the IRA overturned and a retrial ordered, during which he was found “not guilty”. Assistant Commissioner of the Gardaí Michael O’Sullivan was judged to have been “careless” in producing a single piece of “evidence” twice as the basis of his belief of the man’s guilt, which made it appear that there were two pieces of evidence, which the SCC considered sufficient to convict.
In 1986 the Special Criminal Court found Osgur Breatnach, Brian McNally and Nicky Kelly guilty of robbing a mail train near Sallins, Co. Kildare. They were innocent but had “confessed” after beatings in Garda custody, which the Prosecution claimed they had inflicted upon themselves and which the SCC accepted despite vigorous denials and the fact that Breatnach had been in a cell on his own. The three were sentenced to between nine and 12 years but their convictions were later overturned and they were paid compensation by the State in acknowledgement of their innocence. “Whistleblower”, a multi-media work on the unjust convictions organised by musician Cormac Breatnach, a brother of one of the victims of the SCC, has won Irish and international awards –but the SCC continues in operation and to be supported by TDs year after year.
This year and last were the worst years in the existence of the undemocratic court, with lowest votes ever recorded against it. As the Abolish Special Courts campaign succinctly summarised the vote in the Dáil: “Shame on those who used to support the abolition of non-jury special courts who now vote in favour of it, abstain or don’t show up to vote at all.”
(Translation D.Breatnach from Publico report 12 May 2021)
ERC, JxCat and the CUP parties reached a “minimum” agreement this Wednesday to unravel the investiture negotiations to avoid an electoral repetition after the results of the elections on February 14th in Catalonia. The deadline for investing the President of the Generalitat is May 26 (after that new elections would need to be called — DB).
After two hours of meeting in the Parliament, the three organisations issued a joint statement that to promote an “overall National Agreement for Self-determination” and a “space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond governance.”
After the meeting, the Deputy General Secretary and ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, the JxCat Deputy Francesc Dalmases and the leading spokesperson of the CUP in the Catalan Chamber, Eulàlia Reguant, came out together.
Formation of a new Government
The act of separating the debate on the independence strategy from the formation of a new Government was one of the obstacles that prevented the agreement, JxCat until now requiring ERC to link both items.
Although the wording of the statement is ambiguous on this point, it already aims to unlink the creation of a unitary strategic direction of independence from the negotiation for governance, which was threatened recently by the disagreements between ERC and JxCat.
Relations were very strained last Saturday, when the ERC candidate for the investiture, Pere Aragonès, announced that he would no longer continue negotiating a coalition government with JxCat, which he accusef of delaying the negotiation, and that from now on only he would contemplate ruling alone.
In the joint communiqué, entitled “Commitment to a National Agreement for Self-determination”, the three formations emphasize that the results of the 14 February elections “offer the independence movement the possibility of opening a new cycle for national liberation.”
Four “minimum points”
The negotiators have agreed on four “minimum points” based on a proposal that the CUP, convener of the summit in Parliament, had put on the table, in which it has become a mediator to facilitate a rapprochement of positions between ERC and JxCat.
In the first point, they undertake to “provide a response to the social and economic crisis” that Catalonia is experiencing, while in the second they commit to “build a wall to defend fundamental and basic rights that have broad support from Catalan society and which do not fit within the framework of the State “.
Third, they commit to convening a first working meeting to configure “an Overall National Agreement for Self-determination, to go beyond political parties and to bring together the broad social majority of the country in favour” of a referendum.
“With the unequivocal commitment that through dialogue and democratic struggle in the (Spanish) State the exercise of self-determination and amnesty can be achieved during the next legislature,” they added.
Finally, they are committed to “reaching a space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond the framework of governance.” This last paragraph modifies – and adds ambiguity – the fourth point proposed by the draft of the CUP, which suggested “placing the debate on the independence strategy outside the framework of the government pact.”
Unraveling the negotiations
Sources with inside knowledge of the meeting indicated to Efe (news agency) that the meeting was positive in moving forward, although it is too early to say if it will be enough for ERC and JxCat to get back on track to an agreement that in recent days had been difficult.
For his part, the leader of the PSC in Parliament, Salvador Illa, asked ERC to “lift the cordon sanitaire” that he raised against the social democrats before the 14 February elections and to facilitate a left-wing majority led by the PSC. “I challenge them: with the failed independence path not working, at least let a left-wing government be constructed and lift the cordon sanitaire that they signed against the PSC,” he said on a visit to Mataró (Barcelona).
The leader of En Comú Podem in Parliament, Jéssica Albiach, insisted in TV3 that for them “they continue to” attempt to form a Government with ERC, although she also declared the possibility of facilitating Esquerra to govern alone.
The president of Citizens in Parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, rejected the idea of new elections if the Government is not formed because he believes that it would reflect a “lack of respect” for citizens.
For her part, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Elisenda Paluzie, demanded an agreement from ERC, JxCat and the CUP to form the Government and called a demonstration for this Sunday in Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona to demand a pact between them.
ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia), republican party of a left outlook varying from radical to social-democratic. Its leader, MEP Oriol Junqueras, is in jail arising out the Spanish State’s opposition to the holding of the Referendum of October 2017. The party has 32 seats in the Parlament.
JuntsXCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalunya), a coalition of forces originally brought together by liberal conservatives but pushing hard for independence and more lately adopting many socially progressive policies. It leader, MEP Carles Puigdemont, is en exile in Brussels to avoid Spanish jail, along with others. The party has 33 seats in the Parlament.
CUP (Canditatura d’Unitad Popular – People’s United Candidature) is a more radically left-wing coalition of groups that until recently focused on local democracy than on national politics but is completely in favour of independence from the Spanish State. One of its leading activists, Anna Gabriel, is also in exile to avoid Spanish jail. CUP now has nine seats in the Parlament
ERC and JuntsXCat have 65 seats between them which give them a comfortable enough parliamentary working majority in the 135-seat Parlament and with CUP’s nine seats, could defeat a vote of no confidence even if the social-democratic (but unionist) PCE (33) and Comu Podems (8 — a local version of Podemos) supported a vote of no confidence by the right-wing parties of Ciutadans (6), Vox (11) and PP (3).
ANC (Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya – National Assembly of Catalonia) is a huge grass-roots pro-independence organisation which pushed for the Referendum in the 2017, organised massive demonstrations for independence and participated in organising a number of one-day general strikes of protest in and since 2017. Its former leader Jordi Sanchez is an MP but is also in jail along with another grass-roots movement leader, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural.
What is at stake here is not merely a power struggle between one independentist political party and its leader and another party and its leader, but also a division over tactics and perhaps even strategy. Puigdemont of JuntsXCat led all the independentist parties and, in a sense, the whole united t movement through the Referendum, Spanish police invasion and violence and as far as declaring a republic – but then blinked and a few minutes later suspended that declaration.
Apparently he had been promised by ‘friends’ in the EU that if he suspended the declaration, they would come in and put pressure on the Spanish State. Predictably, I would say, they didn’t come through on that, Spanish State repression followed and Puigdemont went into exile.
Since the repression, ERC has been insisting they need to sit down and talk with the Spanish Government, which is a coalition of the social democratic PSOE and the radical social-democratic and trotskyist alliance of Unidas Podemos. However, the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has stated unequivocally that although he wants to talk, he will not be discussing holding a government-authorised referendum on independence for Catalonia nor the freeing of the political prisoners arising out of the last Referendum. They also voted in the Spanish Parliament to support the Government getting its budget approved, thereby helping to keep it in power.
Naturally enough, much of this has raised suspicions that ERC was preparing a sellout and even those who did not necessarily suspect that were exclaiming, since independence referendum and prisoner freedom is ruled out: “Talks with the Spanish Government about what?”
Despite Puigdemont’s faulty judgement at the time of declaring the Republic, he continues to have a lot of support in the independentist movement. However his insistence and therefore that of JuntsXCat that the forum for discussing and deciding independence strategy has to be the Consell per la República (Council for tge Republic) has caused a lot of trouble within the movement for Catalan independence. The Consell was formed as a private organisation by Puigdemont in Barcelona and in Brussels and, while in the latter sense it is out of the reach of the Spanish State, it is also out of any democratic control from within Catalonia, which ERC has pointed out as its reason for not agreeing to that measure.
The current agreement has bridged the gap temporarily and avoided the parties having to go into other elections for the second time this year, purely for the reason that the two main parties of the movement cannot agree with one another on the way forward. And momentum, the loss of which can be fatal for revolutionary movements, can hopefully start gathering force again. But there are likely to be further disagreements ahead. Which must be pretty depressing for the ordinary activists and supporters in a movement that has come so far so quickly and then stalled, while a number of people went to jail and over 700 town mayors are awaiting processing by the Spanish courts.
On the other hand, the role of mediator played by the CUP has no doubt enhanced their standing in the eyes of pro-independence Catalonia.
He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating. His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason “bury me in my blanket.”
Catalan political activists are in jail for following their electorate’s wishes for independence from the Spanish State, while many election observers are on trial or threatened, along with 700 town mayors in Catalonia … meanwhile other political activists are in exile. In exile too is a rapper who had been sentenced to jail for his lyrics and actually in jail is rapper and poet Pablo Hasél.
Excellently compiled performance slices here in this video put together by rappers (and dancers) in Castillian (Spanish) and Catalan: “Freedom of expression!
Take up a position!
Down with the prisons!
The Bourbons are robbers!”
Repression reigns in the southern Basque Country too and anywhere people in the Spanish state take up a position of dedicated resistance. But Catalonia is the current frontline.
Interview of framed ex-prisoner awaiting trial by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
(Reading time: 8 mins.)
In June 2017 a bomb exploded in the Centro Andino shopping centre in the north of Bogotá, Colombia, cutting down three people. A few days later the police arrested ten youths for their supposed participation in the attack, amongst them Lina Jiménez, an arts student, whose photo went viral. These youths all had something in common and it wasn’t their participation in the attack but rather that they were all friends.
We all met in the university, as we studied together. Some of us studied Law, Politics and others Sociology. I met some of them in optional classes were we coincided. We had a common position on the defence of human rights and the student movement, we met in one or other coffee shops, assemblies that took place in various parts of the university.
Friends to the point that six of them were arrested together a few days after the attack whilst on holidays in the El Espinal area. The precise moment she was arrested was the first time that Lina became aware that the Prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant for her.
I was on holiday in El Espinal and we were going to meet up in a spa resort. In El Espinal there are some festivals for Saint John’s and Saint Peter’s day and that is why we were there and I was in a taxi when various cars surrounded us and stopped us. Then they took me out of the car and officers from the Special Operations Group (GOES) and the Judicial Investigative Police (SIJIN) read out the arrest warrant. They never showed it to me or read me my rights.
It wasn’t just any order. The weaker the State’s case the more need it has to make it appear solid and to show the dangerousness of the detainees.
We were taken to the main police station in El Espinal. There were loads of them, all those that took part in the operation. Later on, one of the police officers who was guarding us said that they had around 1,200 officers involved in our capture in El Espinal. It was basically full of police officers.
We don’t know whether the figure of 1,200 officers is correct or not, but there is no doubt it was an enormous operation. I asked her jokingly whether such a disproportionate and unnecessary deployment made her feel important. She laughed and said no
That didn’t make me feel important, what made me feel important was the flight, as they brought us in a plane from El Espinal to Bogotá. They took us to the police station, searched us, took our prints and whatnot. They never said it was for terrorism. I was told it was for conspiracy, we were only told it was for terrorism when we got to Bogotá- They took us out of the station well guarded with motorbikes, cars, loads of officers and they took us from Flandes airport to Catam [Military Airport].
As Lina herself acknowledges such an operation was a bad omen for any detainee, even when innocent. When they took her to the airport she knew nothing good could come of it, that the State was going all out against her and would do everything possible to show results in the case and they charged her with terrorism, conspiracy, homicide and attempted homicide with a possible sentence of 60 years.
When we were being taken to the airport in Flandes, I said to myself, this thing is not so that they invalidate our arrest. If they are setting up such an operation to get some people on holidays, they are definitely not going to let us go. Regardless of whether we did it or not, these people are going to convict us. To see how they organised the truth, leaves you feeling powerless.
In fact, later she found out when she could read the press that they had already convicted her, that both state functionaries and the press had declared that the guilty ones had been captured. They published identikit pictures of some of those arrested that matched them so neatly they seemed to be photos, but they did not match the statements from the witnesses. The identikit photos had been prepared days before the attack.
Little did Lina know when she was arrested the legally doubtful manoeuvres the State would resort to, re-arresting her three times in contravention of court orders to free her. The State sought out judges in their pocket to legalise what was illegal and to justify her re-arrest and even open up another slightly different case against her. Amongst the manoeuvres of state was the harassment of the relatives and attempts made to force them to give information or testify against other detainees.
The strategy did not work when it came to the relatives, but one of the detainees, Natalia Trujillo, could not withstand captivity and the pressure on her and handed herself over to the State, reaching an agreement with the Prosecutor which consisted in her not serving any time in exchange for her false testimony against her friends and fellow students. It was a potentially serious blow in the legal case, but it was also a hard knock in personal terms. You could understand bitterness in a case like this, but when Lina speaks of her former cell mate, there is no trace in her voice, but rather of pain and also an understanding of how a person could break like that.
You feel enormous hurt, you just don’t expect that to happen, especially as we went through this process together, together we experienced what was happening, together we felt the same pressure from the State and what happened to her is sort of like that. We all have different ways of dealing psychologically with this type of severe pressure. It is no secret that the State seeks to weave its own truth and as part of doing so it resorts to these type of situations, to push people to their physical and psychological limits that they end up saying things that are not true. It was really hurtful.
Natalia suffered the legal process for more than two years, but in August 2019 she turned up testifying against Lina and other people linked to the case.
As I said, we don’t all have the same capacity and I can’t say that I didn’t feel pain nor exhaustion during all of this process, because it was really severe and there are days you just don’t want to move an inch. I believe in the power of love and I really believe that solidarity also picks you up and saves you from many things. When you are down the other person picks you up and you pick them up, there are series of bonds which are built and that pushes you forward, but we don’t all have the same capacity to say ‘right I can take a little more of this’.
Perhaps, Lina was stronger and she showed that in a photo that went viral. She is seen with her hands tied behind her back leaning in towards a journalist, seething and shouting. I asked her about that photo, as in person she is nothing like that, but an arrest is not a normal situation for anyone.
We were in the station in Puente Aranda and it has to be said that it is a horrible place. It was a complicated situation, we had nowhere to sleep. I hadn’t a clue about the hearing to legalise our arrest, that was explained to me the next day and we were heavily guarded. We left Puente Aranda in an armoured car with police vehicles surrounding it. We got there and the armoured car took a while in getting us out. When I got there I saw relatives and some friends crying, I could see their deep pain in the midst of all the rage and impotence and they were very quiet. I felt the need to say it wasn’t true, that this was about something else.
Of course, they had told me ‘You’re to keep your mouth shut’ and in that moment I felt I couldn’t let this go… You feel a rage for your own life, but also seeing your family subjected to such complex situations, that the police push them around. We were walking and there was a lot of press there and we were guarded by the police and they didn’t want us to talk. So as soon as I got down out of the armoured car I started shouting that this was a judicial false positive that this had got to do with electoral interests at the time, that is was part of the Uribista strategy. I started shouting that and that photo was taken when I was going up the stairs and a journalist from City TV came up to me and I was really upset as whilst I was shouting a policeman tried to push back the journalists and he shouted at me ‘shut up, shut up, don’t say anything!’ Obviously that was like winding me up more. Looking back on it, it would have been very different had we remained silent.
And that is certainly the case. In the entire process none of those arrested bowed their heads, they have even appeared in videos from the jail, some have written articles and others were even spokespersons for prisoners in prison protests. Unjustly detained, but not defeated.
All prisons try to crush the individual, to break them, to take away their dignity, their sense of being alive. Colombia’s prisons are no different in this matter and in fact various problems such as overcrowding and poor health and educational services make the situation worse still. Being a political prisoner can be dangerous, but when the numbers allow for it, being part of a prisoners’ collective has its advantages. Lina was taken to the Good Shepherd Prison (Buen Pastor) in Bogotá and following her processing she was placed in the political prisoners’ wing.
It is very interesting, because when we got there, the last political prisoners of the FARC were beginning to leave, we were eight days in the police station and they put the fear of God into us, that ‘you are just posh kids and in the Good Shepherd prison they are going to rob you and attack you.’
But when we go to Wing Six, the political prisoners really surprised us, they had cleaned our cells, clean sheets, everything was organised, they had hot soup, coffee, toilet paper and other things. There were around 34 prisoners from the FARC and the ELN. After a while the FARC prisoners were released and social prisoners began to arrive and it was very different. As it was a high security wing, people connected to the drugs trade began to be put in it. There was a complete change in the atmosphere as their money could be seen, they paid for whiskey to be brought in, which when the political prisoners where there, that didn’t happen. When the social prisoners came, it was different, a huge change.
Although states usually try to treat political prisoners as common criminals, they are not and it can be seen in how they organise in prison and how they relate to the prison authorities. And to form part of a collective had, as Lina saw when she arrived, certain advantages for own safety and well being.
The prisoners had outside support and they reported things, the guards called Wing Six the wing for the complaints as we were always reporting to the Procurator, the Public Defender’s Office etc. The Director consulted the prisoners about how to do certain things. Meetings were held with the Director. This didn’t happen on other wings; they didn’t take the prisoners’ views into account. The political prisoners won a space, these were not concessions from the prison authorities, but rather they were won through protests and even hunger strikes over the years.
But it is not just people like Lina who suffer the effects of judicial frame-ups, but also their families, especially when they are accused of a crime such as the attack on the Centro Andino. The State harasses the relatives and tries to put pressure on them as part of its legal strategy.
There is an enormous pressure put on our families as well as the social stigma. In my case, when I was captured, they were raiding my home at the same time and it was severe as I live on a main avenue and they closed the entire avenue off, there were armoured cars, and at least ten anti-explosives vehicles and a huge number of police officers and everyone was asking, what happened? And since my release, they haven’t stopped following me and taking photos and there is a permanent presence of plainclothes cops.
To her, the case and other processes against other students are state strategies to defeat the social movement and hand down exemplary sentences as a warning to all those who think differently and want to change the country. The legal cases try to break grassroots processes and the detainees themselves. In her case, it didn’t work that well.
To see the misery of this system in the flesh makes you understand and treat this space as another space for political struggle. In the legal process itself and the prison, you see the system so cruelly unmasked because this can only be done by people who have no respect for life, for humanity, for nothing. You feel you have to continue struggling for what you believe in, for life. This system has been in crisis for a long time and I left the prison and we are in a pandemic, we face a very complicated situation which is not far removed from the logic of the system. In this system there are humans who are in the top category and then there are those who are not in any category. And my position and that of my friends in the case, is the type of position that has to be hidden out of view and that is the role of the prison.
You see the State’s aim take shape, to continue suppressing and depleting the movement because, amongst other things that is one of the tools in creating the idea that there has to be an exemplary punishment that has to be handed down and it seeks out the tools to rob people of their humanity.
Although Lina and the others unjustly arrested for the Andino Case are at liberty, the legal case against them continues. It is to be hoped that the judges make a finding in law, as has already happened in the case of Mateo Gutiérrez who was also accused of belonging to the same organisation that supposedly carried out the attack and he managed to demonstrate and prove his innocence. But in Colombia justice limps along and sometimes never gets there.
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.
— BOGOTA — The recent election of Joe Biden as president of the U.S. has been met with a round of applause from left reformist currents in Colombia, some even eager to claim Biden as one of their own. Underlying such praise is the notion that the Democrats are more progressive and will treat Colombia fairly, or at least better than the Republicans. There is no evidence on which to base such a claim.
Historically, some of the greatest blows to Colombia have come from Democratic administrations, starting with the smiling, handsome, charismatic JFK, whose policies left few smiling in the country. It was under JFK that two U.S military delegations visited the country and made recommendations that the Colombian state set up armed civilian groups, which are now commonly referred to as paramilitaries. By 1965, Colombia introduced legislation to give effect to those proposals and thus began a long sordid history of the state setting up death squads and providing them with legal status.
Of course, JFK was a long time ago, some would argue, though obviously no Democrat would countenance publicly criticizing him on such matters. Many of those who rushed to endorse Biden are unaware of this aspect of their history, but not so, the leading politicians such as Senator Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá and the most successful left-wing candidate for the presidency ever. They are only too aware of the history of paramilitary violence in the country, yet prefer to ignore it on the altar of realpolitik.
The most recent embodiments of charming, handsome U.S. presidents also get a free pass now, just as they did when they were in power. Bill Clinton is perhaps the most notorious of recent U.S. presidents whose policies can be measured in bodies, forced displacement, and the mass destruction of the environment through the aerial fumigation of coca crops. Clinton was the architect of Plan Colombia, a massive supposed anti-drugs policy, which strengthened the Colombian military and under the guise of a concern for public health helped the Colombian military gain the technical and logistical capacity to wage war, including the expansion of paramilitary units throughout the country.
Plan Colombia was of course, implemented by George W. Bush as Clinton finished his second term shortly after concluding the agreement, a sign that policy on Colombia has always been bipartisan. When Clinton announced the initiative he lied. He stated that the motives were public health ones and that cocaine was killing 50,000 people per year in the U.S., when at the time the CDC put the figure for all deaths from all drug abuse, excluding alcohol and tobacco, but including legal pharmaceuticals at just over 15,000. Alcohol alone doubled that figure. The ruse worked and Congress passed Plan Colombia, thanks in part to Biden, who fought for the plan in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton finished his term with controversial presidential pardons, including Marc Rich, but in Colombia, he is remembered for his clemency deal with Harvey Weinig, a U.S. lawyer convicted of laundering $19 million for the Cali Cartel. Whilst attacking impoverished farmers, he indulged the wealthy individuals higher up the chain.
Thanks to the Plan, paramilitaries swept through the country taking over, not only rural areas, but some major urban centers. The Colombian military was in a position to aid them in that and also hold on to those areas, once the dirty work had been done. Their first targets were areas of military and economic strategic importance, with gold and oil deposits and also areas that were earmarked for major transformations in the rural economy. As part of this drugs initiative, peasants were “encouraged” to switch crops. Plan Colombia financed major agribusiness projects, particularly African Palm, and in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement that would be signed under Bush but come into effect under Obama, the country geared its agricultural production toward export markets and opted for importing basic food staples such as rice, beans, and cereals. For example, corn imports from the U.S. began to decline notably from 2008 onwards, but once the FTA came into force in 2012 under the Obama administration, the year of the lowest amount of corn imports in a long time, they quickly increased and by 2016 almost doubled the figure for 2008. By 2018, 80% of all corn consumed in Colombia was imported and barely 20% was produced nationally.
Thanks to Bill Clinton and Obama, Colombia is now one of the major recipients of military aid. Between 2001 and 2019, it received $9 billion in aid, just over 66% of it under the guise of anti-narcotics aid. All anti-narcotics operations in Colombia involve the deployment of ground troops following the strafing of farms by helicopters, displacement of peasant farmers, threats and not infrequently the murder of leaders in the areas. Furthermore, many of these soldiers involved in operations were trained by the U.S. In the same period, 107,486 Colombian military personnel received training from the U.S., making it the largest recipient of such training followed by Afghanistan.Both the aid and training reached their peak under Bush, as part of Clinton’s Plan Colombia, but continued steadily under Obama, though government to government and private arms sales peaked under Obama.
Nothing could stop Biden and Obama from backing their murderous ally to the south, not even the False Positive scandal. The so called False Positives entailed the luring of young men to rural areas with the promise of work, who were then dressed up in military uniform and executed and presented to the media as guerrillas killed in combat. Amongst the victims were impoverished working-class men, children with cognitive impairments, and even included the kidnapping and murder of professional soldiers recovering from wounds received in combat. The scandal broke in 2008, following the murder of 22 young men from the city of Soacha.
In his preliminary report the UN Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston stated: “But there are two problems with the narrative focused on falsos positivos and Soacha. The first is that the term provides a sort of technical aura to describe a practice which is better characterized as cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit. The second is that the focus on Soacha encourages the perception that the phenomenon was limited both geographically and temporally. But while the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene, my investigations show that they were but the tip of the iceberg.”
He did say they were widespread but not official state policy. However, every soldier who killed one of these young men was paid a bonus by the then Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, who would become president in 2010. Santos enjoyed the support of Biden and Obama during his tenure and although he began peace talks with the FARC guerrillas in 2012, his regime never stopped murdering social leaders. From 2012 to 2018, 606 social leaders were murdered; there were a further 3371 other acts committed against these leaders, including threats, displacements, and prosecutions. None of this caused Biden or Obama to express their concern. It was business as usual for them. The total number of False Positives is now calculated to be in the region of 10,000 youths, and despite Alston’s diplomatic statement that it was not official policy, no one buys that. We are not even sure whether Alston himself could stand by that statement, outside of his role as a UN diplomat.
It is true that the current regime in Colombia, under Duque, is but a mere remold of the Uribe governments (2002-2010), and the situation has deteriorated in the country. Duque openly backed Trump, and Colombian government officials illegally intervened in the U.S. elections, calling for votes for Trump in Florida. So brazen was their involvement, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Phillip S. Goldberg, publicly warned them against campaigning. There may well be a reckoning of some sort with Duque on this point, but it is unlikely that there will be any major change in policy towards the country.
Duque may well be publicly chastised by Biden and given a few well-placed mediatic slaps across the face. It will be mere window dressing. Prior to the implementation of Plan Colombia, Clinton sought and obtained the disbandment of the Colombia’s notorious XX Brigade; charged with intelligence and counterintelligence, it was an exercise in public relations. It did not affect intelligence agencies’ role in the murders, torture, forced displacement, and disappearances, nor the spying on left-wing politicians and human rights organizations, which continues unabated to the present day. On Colombia, the Democrats are very media friendly and good at dressing things up.
The war on drugs is likely to continue in one form or another, and though some left reformists hope that Biden will pressure Duque to restart the stalled peace process with the ELN guerrillas, it is unlikely. During the talks with the FARC, Biden and Obama wouldn’t release from a U.S. jail the FARC commander Simon Trinidad, in jail for his supposed role in the capture and imprisonment of three U.S. Dyncorp mercenaries. The ELN do not represent the same military threat that the FARC did. They are less militarist and much more political, and any threat they may represent is in the political arena. But they have long attacked U.S. companies and oil pipelines, and such attacks may be used as an excuse for further increases in military aid and greater involvement in the conflict. U.S. troops are already involved in the protection of the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline as it passes through the ELN stronghold of the department of Arauca. It will be very much business as usual under Biden.
Top photo: Protesters march against President Iván Duque’s policies, including police brutality and disappearances of political activists, in October 2020 in Bogotá. (Louisa Gonzalez / Reuters)
(translated from Castillian by Diarmuid Breatnach)
(Reading time: 2 mins.)
STATEMENT BEFORE MY IMMINENT IMPRISONMENT:
In ten days the armed wing of the State will come to kidnap me by force to imprison me because I am not going to present myself at the prison voluntarily. I don’t know to which jail they will take me or for how long (I will be detained). Among all the cases that I have accumulated through struggle, some with convictions pending appeal and others pending trial, I could spend up to almost 20 years in prison.
This constant harassment that I have suffered for many years and that goes beyond prison sentences, is not only due to my revolutionary songs, but also because of my activism beyond music and writing. The Prosecutor herself put it into words: “he is dangerous for being so well known and inciting social mobilization.” Putting the struggle I speak of in my songs into practice is what has put me especially in the spotlight, in addition to supporting organizations that have fought the State, being in solidarity with their political prisoners and raising awareness by denouncing injustices by pointing out the culprits loudly and clearly.
It is very important to be clear that this is not an attack only against me, but against freedom of expression and therefore against the vast majority who are not guaranteed it like so many other democratic freedoms. When they repress one, they do it to scare the rest. With this terrorism they want to prevent their crimes and policies of exploitation and misery from being denounced, we cannot allow it. They know that I’m not going to give up because I’m in prison, but they they do it in particular so that the rest do. By not internalizing that it is an aggression against any anti-fascist, solidarity has been lacking to avoid my imprisonment like so many others. The regime grows in the face of the lack of resistance and every day it takes away more rights and freedoms without thinking twice when it comes to attacking us — we need to organize self-defense against its systematic attacks. Many people write to me asking what they can do. It takes a lot of diffusion so that everyone knows what they are doing and is aware of it, but above all organization is urgent not only to bring solidarity to the events in the streets and coordinate it well, also to defend all the rights that they trample on with impunity.
It is also necessary to call out the badly-named “progressive” Government1 for allowing this and so much more; while protecting the Monarchy and increasing its budget, they do not touch the gag law and other repressive laws, they have also added the “digital gag law”, they continue to keep jails full of fighters in terrible conditions, in addition to other policies against the working class. There is no doubt that if we were imprisoned during a government of PP and VOX2 there would be much more of a scandal, but these phonies who while claiming to be left-wing have not even firmly opposed this.
I will not repent3 to reduce the sentence or avoid jail, serving a just cause is a cause of pride that I will never renounce. If they release me before the end of my sentence, it will be because solidarity pressure conquers them. Prison is another trench from which I will continue to contribute and grow, like so many other people I began to fight inspired by the example of resistance and other contributions of numerous political prisoners. I hope that this serious outrage will be used to add more people to the fight against the regime, enemy of our dignity, that if they imprison me to silence the message, they will give rise to a much greater voice and lose out. With regard to going into exile,4 I decided to remain here so that this opportunity can be used to expose them even more. This blow against our freedoms can turn against them, let’s get down to work.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PABLO HASÉL:
Pablo Hasél (Pablo Rivadula Duró), poet, writer, political rapper and activist from Leida in Catalonia, 32 years of age, has described himself as a revolutionary Marxist. Since 2011 Hasél has been convicted in Spanish courts on a number of occasions of “promoting terrorism” and for “slandering” Spanish State and Royal institutions in his lyrics, as well as for allegedly assaulting a TV3 reporter and being party to an assault on a Catalan far-right group.
Hasél began his recording in 2005 with Esto no es un Paradiso (This Is Not a Paradise) since when he has recorded another 64 discs on his own and another 35 in collaboration with others. In 2020 alone Hasél recorded two discs. He is also that author of nine poem collections, four of which are in collaboration with Aitor Cuervo Taboada, and one collection of stories.
1The current Government, a coalition between the PSOE and Podemos. The former is the social-democratic party of the two-party system of the Spanish State which has been breaking down of late. Podemos-Izquierda is a coalition of trotskyist Left tendencies, Left social-democrats and the old Spanish Communist Party.
2The PP has been the right-wing conservative party of the two-party system of the Spanish State while Vox is even further to the Right.
3The Spanish penal and judicial system requires prisoners to repent of the “crimes” of which they have been convicted if they are to be moved to less harsh prison conditions or to be paroled. This is a particularly crushing requirement of inmates convicted of politically-inspired actions who are serving long sentences of a number of decades.
4 In May 2018, the day before he was due to surrender himself to Spanish jail, rapper Valtónyc (José Miguel Arenas) went into exile in Brussels.
(Published elsewhere earlier in December, including Red Line; published here with author’s permission and section headings, photo choices (except one) and intro line are by Rebel Breeze editing)
The issue of drugs is one that is never far from public discourse on the Colombian conflict. Biased or just simply lazy journalists use the issue to ascribe motives for an endless list of events, massacre and murders. It is true that drug trafficking has permeated all of Colombian society and there is no sector that has not been impacted by it. But not everyone in Colombia is a drug trafficker. However, once again the King of Clubs is played to describe the conflict in terms of a drug problem.
Several Colombian newspapers have recently published articles on the supposed relationship of the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with drug trafficking and there are already eleven commanders who are under investigation for such crimes and are sought in extradition. They talk as if the ELN dominated the drugs trade, and talk of settling of accounts over drug money, as if they were a crime gang, instead of saying that the ELN takes drastic measures against its members who get involved in drug trafficking and that those internal executions are due to the indiscipline and betrayal of principles of some people and are not an internal dispute over money. Of course, the ELN in an open letter widely distributed on social networks and alternative press, denied any links to the drug trade. But, how true is this new tale? Before looking at the accusations levelled against the ELN it is worth going over the history of drug trafficking in Colombia and the reality of the business in international terms.
POLITICIANS, GUERRILLAS AND BANKS
Let’s start with the obvious. When the FARC and the ELN were founded in 1964 drug trafficking was not a problem in the country and there were no large plantations, i.e. the existence of the guerrillas predates the drugs trade. Later in the 1970s the country went through the marijuana bonanza on the Caribbean coast, but it is the emergence of the large drugs cartels in 1980s around the production of cocaine that would define forever the shape drug trafficking in the country would take. Up till the 1990s the country was not self sufficient in coca leaf, even though it was the main manufacturer of the final product: cocaine. Escobar was dead by the time Colombia achieved self sufficiency and it is in that context that the discourse of blaming the FARC for the drugs trade gained ground, completely ignoring that the main narcos were the founders of the paramilitary groups. One of the most notorious paramilitary groups in the 1980s was the MAS (Death to Kidnappers) founded by the Cali Cartel and other drug traffickers in response to the kidnapping by M-19 of Marta Nieves Ochoa a relative of the Ochoa drug barons.
That discourse, however, was useful in justifying Plan Colombia and there was an element of truth to it, but not that much back then. The FARC’s relationship with the drugs trade has not been static and has evolved over time. Almost everyone accepts that they began by imposing a tax on the production of coca leaf, coca base or cocaine in the territories they controlled. The initial relationship changed and the FARC went from just collecting a revolutionary tax to promoting the crop, protecting laboratories and even having laboratories of their own and in some cases, such as the deceased commander Negro Acacio, got directly involved in the drug trade. There is no doubt on the issue. But neither were they the big drug barons that they tried to have us believe, those barons are in the ranks not just of the Democratic Centre but also the Liberal and Conservative parties. It is forgotten that Samper’s (1994-1998) excuse regarding drug money entering his campaign’s coffers was and still is that it was done behind his back, but no one denies that drug trafficking has to some degree financed every electoral campaign in the country. Although companies like Odebrecht play a role at a national level, at a local and regional level drug trafficking decides who becomes mayor, governor, representative in the house and even senators. Even the brother of the current Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez was a drug trafficker and there are loads of photos of many politicians with Ñeñe Hernández and Uribe appears in photos with the son of the paramilitary drug trafficker Cuco Vanoy. It is a matter of public knowledge that several high ranking police officers close to Uribe such as his former head of security Mauricio Santoyo were extradited to the USA for drug related crimes and Uribe’s excuse was the same as Samper’s: it was all done behind his back.
NOT THE ELN
But when we look at the extent of illicit crops in Colombia, we can clearly see the reason why they are linked to the FARC for so long and not to the ELN. The reason is simple, the majority of the large plantations of coca and opium poppy were to be found in areas under the influence of the FARC. If we look at the crop monitoring carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) we can see that in 2001 the main departments (administrative regions: Colombia has 32 — RB editing) where there were crops were almost exclusively FARC fiefdoms.
In 2001, coca was to be found in 22 departments of the country, compared to just 12 in 1999. However, despite the expansion, just two areas accounted for the majority of the crops: Putumayo-Caquetá had 45% of the total amount of coca (about 65,000 hectares) and Meta-Guaviare-Vaupés with 34% of the area (about 49,000 hectares) i.e. 79% of the total area under coca. They were areas that were completely dominated by the FARC, not a single eleno was to be found in those territories and if they did venture in, it was undercover at the risk of execution by the FARC were they discovered as the FARC did not tolerate political competition in their fiefdoms. When one looks at the map of crops back then, one can see not only the concentration in those areas but also almost all the other departments were dominated by the FARC and those where there were significant amounts of coca and also an ELN presence, one finds Cauca with 3,139 hectares, Nariño with 7,494 hectares and the Norte de Santander with 9,145 hectares. But in those areas there was a certain territorial balance between the different guerrillas and one of the few departments where the ELN was clearly the dominant force was Arauca with 2,749 hectares. But when we look at the counties we can see that it is not as clear cut, as in the Norte de Santander 83% of the coca crops were to be found in just one county: Tibú, FARC fiefdom for many years before the paramilitary takeover in 1999. In Arauca the county of Araquita accounted for 60% of the crops in the department and it was also a FARC fiefdom within an area dominated by the ELN. Thus it is obvious as to why they spoke almost exclusively about the role of the FARC in drug trafficking and not the ELN at that time.
Years later the situation had not changed much, the main producing departments were the FARC fiefdoms. The UNODC study on coca crops in the country in 2013 continues to show a concentration in FARC fiefdoms, with a displacement from Putumayo to Nariño due to aerial spraying and the persecution of the FARC by the State. In 2013, there were just 48,000 hectares of coca in the entire country, with significant reductions in some parts. Nariño, Putumayo, Guaviare and Caquetá accounted for 62% of the land under coca, with Norte de Santander representing 13% and Cauca with just 9%. There was a reduction and a displacement of the crops towards new areas with Nariño accounting for the most dramatic increase of all departments.
In 2019, there was 154,000 hectares of coca, a little over three times the amount grown in 2013, though it was slightly down on 2018 when there was 169,000 hectares. Coca production recovered after 2014 in the middle of the peace process with the FARC. It stands out that in 2019, Arauca, a department dominated by the ELN the UNODC did not report any coca crops. Once again Norte de Santander is a department with widespread coca leaf production almost quadrupling the amount reported in 2001. It had 41,749 hectares of coca but the county of Tibú alone had 20,000 hectares and the same UNODC report indicated that these are not new areas and show that the crop has deep roots in the area.
THE BANKS, THE BANKS!
However, despite the role of the FARC in the drugs trade, they weren’t the big drug barons we were led to believe. How can we be sure? Their demobilisation did not alter the flow of cocaine towards the USA and Europe. The big drugs capos in the companies, the Congress of the Republic, the international banks did not stop for a second. Neither did people such as Ñeñe Hernández and other associates of right wing political parties in Colombia stop for a single instant.
Neither the production nor consumption of cocaine halted. The UNODC’s World Drug Report says as much about both phenomena. According to the UNODC consumption of cocaine fell from 2.5% in 2002 to 1.5% in 2011 in the USA, but from that year it increased again reaching 2.0% in 2018 and also there are indications of an increase in the sale of cocaine of high purity at lower prices between 2013 and 2017. The price of a gram fell by 29% and the purity increased by 32%. The report also indicates that in Europe there was a significant increase in various places such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Estonia and Germany. Nevertheless, some of those countries had seen decreases in consumption in the first years of the century. All of this suggests that there is a greater supply of the drug. This can be seen not only in the previously mentioned figures of an increase in the production of coca leaf in Colombia (or in other countries such as Peru and Bolivia), but can also be seen in drug seizures. An increase in seizures may indicate greater efficiency by the police forces, but combined with stability or an increase in consumption and a reduction in price, rather indicate an increase in production and availability.
According to the UNODC cocaine seizures have increased dramatically since the commencement of Plan Colombia, indicating, although they do not acknowledge it, the failure of their anti-drugs strategy and the tactic of aerial spraying with glyphosate. In 1998 400 tonnes were seized globally and that figure remained relatively stable till 2003, reaching 750 tonnes in 2005 and surpassing the threshold of 900 tonnes in 2015 to finish off at 1,300 tonnes in 2018, i.e. there was no reduction in consumption or the production of cocaine. Throughout the years with or without the FARC there has been coca production and of course the main drug barons never demobilised, the heads of the banks remain in their posts.
The real drug traffickers wear a tie, own large estates, meet with President Duque, it is not the ELN that moves hundreds of tonnes of cocaine around the world. In 2012, the Swiss bank HSBC reached an agreement with the US authorities to pay a kind of fine of $1,920 million dollars for having laundered $881 million dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel of Northern Valle, Colombia. The bank had, despite everything, classified Mexico as a low risk country, thus excluding $670 billion dollars in transactions from monitoring systems and the bank was notified by the authorities but ignored them. Nobody went to jail, in fact no one was prosecuted. As Senator Warren in a session of the Senate Banking Commission pointed out, no one was going to go to jail for this massive crime. Moreover, the Sub Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David S. Cohen refused to recommend a criminal investigation against the bank. There is no need to state that no ELN commander is on the board of this or other banks. The ELN is usually accused of infiltrating universities, but to date no one has accused them of having infiltrated the boards of banks.
It is not the only bank implicated in money laundering, in 2015 London was described as one of the main centres for money laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. A report by the UK National Crime Agency states, on the basis of a UN calculation that between 2% and 5% of global GDP are laundered funds “that there is a realistic possibility [defined as between 40-50%] that it is in the hundreds of billions of pounds annually” and the majority of it comes from crimes committed outside of the UK. There is no need to say that no ELN commander is a director of those companies, nor is there any need to state that these companies continue to operate and their directors are walking about free and according to the report they could only recover £132 million. The NCA cites favourably the reports of Transparency International. According to this organisation, 1,201 companies operating in the British Overseas Territories inflicted £250 billion in damage through corruption in recent decades. They analysed 237 cases of corruption in the last 30 years. The majority of the companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands (92%) and the majority (90%) of the cases happened there in the favourite headquarters of many companies that operate in Colombia, without mentioning those who finance election campaigns. Once again, the ELN does not operate in those territories, although many mining companies in Colombia are registered there. The report points out that due to legislative changes there are fewer reasons to buy property in the UK through those companies registered in the Overseas Territories, yet the number of properties has remained relatively stable at some 28,000. Of course not all them are the result of illicit funds, however… As far as we know the ELN’s Central Command is not the owner of any of these properties.
Transparency International continued with its investigations and its last report highlighted the number of British companies involved in money laundering or dubious transactions. It states that there are 86 banks and financial institutions, 81 legal firms and 62 accounting companies (including the big four that dominate the market). According to this NGO
Whether unwittingly or otherwise, these businesses helped acquire the following assets and entities used to obtain, move and defend corrupt or suspicious wealth: 2,225 Companies incorporated in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies directly involved in making payments; 17,000 more companies incorporated in the UK that we have reasonable grounds to suspect have facilitated similar activity; 421 Properties in the UK worth more than £5 billion; 7 Luxury Jets 3 Luxury Yachts worth around £237 million worth around £170 million. 
Of course not all the laundered funds are drug related but they are all illicit in origin. However, the USA has not sought in extradition any of the banking capos, legal firms and less still the four big accountancy companies in the world. It would simply collapse the financial system were they to do so.
The extradition of criminals from Colombia has always been problematic in legal and political terms. Nowadays, the majority of those extradited are extradited for drug trafficking. The USA receives 73% of all those extradited from Colombia and 60% of them face charges of drug trafficking or money laundering. Though not all those extradited are guilty and there are various cases of people being returned to Colombia, after their extradition, or others more fortunate who managed to demonstrate their innocence before being extradited, such is the case of Ariel Josué, a carpenter from San Vicente del Caguán who didn’t even know how to use a computer and yet for
… the United States and then the Colombian justice system, Ariel Josué was the head of an electronic money laundering network, and had to pay for his crime in a north American prison.
In the absence of an independent investigation nor the verification of his identity, the Supreme Court issued a court order in favour of his extradition and even President Juan Manuel Santos signed the order for him to be taken.
OPEN LETTER FROM THE ELN
Despite those extradited, when not innocent, being poor people or those who have some relationship with right wing political parties or the economic elites of the country, the media and the Colombian and US governments’ focus on the problem is always the same: the guerrillas and not the banks or business leaders. In fact, one of the most famous people extradited is Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and part of the negotiating team in the Caguán. Trinidad was extradited for drug trafficking and despite being a FARC commander they didn’t manage to prove any link to the drugs trade and thus resorted to the detention and captivity of three north American mercenaries hired by the Dyncorp company, a company denounced for crimes such as trafficking in minors, prostitution, sexual abuse amongst others. So we should be very careful when it comes to accepting these new allegations against the ELN.
The ELN in its open letter acknowledges that they collect taxes from the buyers of coca base and cocaine who come into their areas of influence, as they do with other economic activities. So if the ELN is not involved in drug trafficking, how can we explain the presence of illicit crops in their areas? The ELN commanders explain the presence of these crops in the same manner and the same dynamic they describe could be seen in all the regions where they had to deal with the FARC. There was a dispute between the two organisations as to what to do regarding the crops and drug trafficking itself. Initially the ELN opposed the planting of coca and opium poppy in the regions, but the FARC said yes and they authorised the peasants to grow it and moreover in some parts they were willing to buy base or cocaine itself, depending on the region. Faced with this reality the ELN felt that it had no choice but to allow the growing of the crop, as otherwise they would have to militarily face the FARC and the communities. That is why the ELN is to be found in areas with a coca tradition and as they acknowledge in their open letter they tax the buyers as they do with other economic activities. However, it is worth pointing out that the FARC also initially only charged taxes, but given the long ELN tradition on drugs it is unlikely, though not impossible that they do the same.
Its open letter not only refutes the allegations against it, but they also put forward proposals as to what to do regarding the problem of crops and drug consumption. It extends an invitation to various organisms to carry out in situ visits and inspections to see the reality of their relationship to the drugs trade, but they go further than clearing up the question of their links or otherwise to the drugs trade and they put forward proposals on the drugs problem as such.
PROPOSALS — SOLUTIONS?
To pick up the proposals made on various occasions by the ELN with the aim of reaching an Agreement that overcomes the phenomenon of drug trafficking that includes the participation of the international community, the communities in the regions that suffer this scourge and various sectors of Colombian society.
The issue of drug trafficking is not one that Colombia can solve on its own, it is an international issue in nature, not just in terms of the distribution and consumption of the final products, such as cocaine and heroine or ecstasy and other drugs generally produced in northern countries, but also because Colombia’s obligations on the issue are covered by various international UN treaties. The ELN makes various points.
Only the legalisation of psychotropic substances will put end to the extraordinary profits of drug trafficking and its raison d’être.
This position has been discussed thousands of times in various fora and international settings. It is partially true. No doubt the legalisation demanded by various social organisations, including health organisations, would put an end to the mafia’s profits, but not the profits as such. The medicinal uses of coca and opium have never been banned, rather the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regulates and controls its production and end use. The UNODC calculates that in 2018 there just under 12 billion daily doses of opiates available in the legal market, double the amount available in 1998. Cocaine and medicinal opiates, including heroin, have always been used in a medical context and the use and regulation of cannabis is a growing market. The legalisation of recreational consumption is another matter, the state of Colorado in the USA and Uruguay are two places where they legalised the recreational consumption, with various benefits in terms of crime, health and taxes. The profits are lower in these legal markets but they are large, nonetheless, as are they for other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, products that are controlled in terms of quality and their impact on the health of the consumer. The legal marijuana market in Colorado amounted to $1,750 millions in 2019 with 69,960,024 transactions with an average price per transaction of $51.89, but the price to the consumer continues to fall and quality is guaranteed. However, both Colorado and Uruguay have experienced legal problems with the banking system as their legalisation has no international recognition. The ELN’s proposal could only happen in the context of an international debate and a paradigm shift in the states and regulatory bodies at an international level such as the UNODC and the INCB, amongst others and the recent decision by the WHO on the medicinal use of cannabis is a good start.
A pact on shared responsibility between drug producer and consumer countries is required
This pact already exists. There are various UN pacts on the issue starting with the Single Convention of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1981 and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This last treaty deals with aspects related to organised crime, precursor chemicals etc. What is lacking is political will, not another pact. The factories where the acids used to make cocaine are not bombarded but they do attack and bombard the producer communities, neither do they bombard the factories of illegal drugs such as ecstasy in the Netherlands. It is not the case that there is a lack of pacts but rather as they say the law is for the ragged and in geopolitical terms, Colombia is very ragged
The drug addicts are sick and should be treated by the states and should not be pursued as criminals.
This is one point that is always overlooked in the discussions on illicit crops and despite the belligerent tone of the USA, both the north American health system and that of the majority of countries in Europe deal with it as such, some countries do not even pursue consumption as such, acknowledging its character as a health problem and only go after related crimes. The UN accepts the need for treatment for drug addicts and calculates in its World Drug Report that 35.6 million people in the world abuse drugs and just 12.5% of those who need treatment get it, i.e. about 4.45 million people.
The peasants who work with illicit use crops, should have alternative plans for food production or industrial raw materials, financed by the states in order to solve their sustenance without seeking recourse in illicit use crops.
Although this point is well intentioned it makes the same mistake as the FARC, the NGOs, international aid etc. Whilst it is true that the peasants should have alternative plans and receive economic support from the states, the problem is a core issue and cannot be solved through projects or credits: the economic aperture ruined the agricultural production of the country and the peasants can’t compete with the imports subsidised by the US and European governments. The underlying problem is not agricultural, nor economic but political and requires national and international changes. The free trade agreements, the monopoly in the agricultural and food sector exercised by multinationals such as Cargill, Nestlé, Barry Callebaut amongst others are not resolved by subsidies or projects.
As well as pursuing the Cartels in the narcotic producing countries they should also pursue the distribution Cartels in the industrialised consuming countries; as well as the Cartels for the precursor chemicals and money laundering of narco funds in the international financial system and the tax havens.
This is a key point. As long as drugs are illegal, they should go after the points in the production chain there, both the banks and the companies that engage in money laundering and the companies whose chemicals are used in the manufacture of cocaine. They don’t do this, one little bit or not much at least. Whilst the USA seek in extradition just about anyone in Colombia, they have never sought nor will they seek the directors of banks such as HSBC.
There are reasons to accept the ELN’s word on the issue of drugs, and there are more than sufficient reasons to accept the debate on drugs and what to do about them. It is a debate that never occurred in the context of the negotiations with the FARC. The FARC opted to negotiate benefits for themselves, their social base and they never touched the structure of the agricultural economy in the country nor the international law in force on drugs.
The allegations against the ELN lack any basis in fact, but the media does not ask us to treat it as truth, rather it serves as an excuse to delegitimise this organisation in the eyes of Colombian people and in the international area they are useful as excuse to continue to militarily support the Colombian state and in a given moment can be used as a pretext for more direct interventions against the ELN and perhaps Venezuela.
 Some NGOs prefer the expression illicit use crops, but it is misnomer. The international treaties on the matter leave us in no doubt on the issue, the crop itself is illicit. The Single Convention of 1961, the convention in force on the issue, in Article 22 No.1 demands the total eradication, the coca leaf and its derivatives are banned. The treaty demands that even the plants belonging to indigenous people be destroyed.