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Is Spain a terrorist state?

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Marc Molas Carol
Spanish editor of the Modern Times Review. Residing in Barcelona.
SPAIN / The country receives sharp international criticism for the police and the Civil Guard's extensive use of torture, which is never prosecuted. Regime rebels are imprisoned for trifles. European accusations and objections are ignored.


No one in Spania is particularly surprised by the uproar surrounding CIA documents that unequivocally imply that former Prime Minister (1982-1996) Felipe González was an important figure in the establishment of the Spanish terrorist organization GAL.

Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) was funded by senior officials in the Spanish Interior Ministry from 1983 to 1987 while González was prime minister, and is said to have carried out 27 murders, kidnappings, torture and economic crime. In addition, the group is said to have taken 10 civilian lives in bomb attacks against the armed Basque separatist group ETA. In the years that followed, all governments (regardless of party affiliation) blocked or delayed any investigation, and granted amnesty to anyone who was unfortunately brought to justice for GAL activities.

Today, only parties that are for independence want to investigate Felipe González, which remains unpunished thanks to the same fronts that blocked the corruption investigation against the country's previous king, Juan Carlos I.

The Amnesty Act of 1977

The end of Francisco Franco #'s dictatorship and a nascent transition to democracy was a turbulent time, with several groups on the far right carrying out rebellion and terrorism against the state, an army seeking to return to the military regime, and a Civil Guard accustomed to using torture without to be punished for it, and their confrontations with various terrorist organizations of nationalist, communist or republican casting.

Is Spain for the Catholic Church what Saudi Arabians for radical Islam?

The Amnesty Act of 1977 ensured that no one was brought to justice for acts committed under Franco's regime, thus ensuring the continuity of the judiciary and the political and military elite. At the same time, attempts were made to facilitate democratic ambitions that would otherwise have been blocked by such powerful actors.

The law was a necessary compromise in 1977, but it has not stood the test of time. Critics point out that war crimes are not prosecuted precisely because the law exists.

The case against Otegi

Arnaldo Otegi is undoubtedly the most relevant person in ETA's demilitarization process and transformation into a political force. He took an active part in the signing of the Estella Pact, and despite criticism, he has positioned himself to stop the violence.

Otegi has been imprisoned five times. First for a kidnapping in 1979 (he was 20 years old and a member of ETA), the other four for political actions. His last sentence meant that he had served six years and was thus disqualified from public office. He is accused of being active in a terrorist organization in 2008, but what he really did at the time was to unite the many parties and organizations belonging to Ezker Abertzalea (the patriotic left) into one party, and through a peaceful political process convey the ambitions to the Basque independence movement.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that there were problems of impartiality in Otegi's last sentence, and the Spanish Supreme Court was forced to overturn the verdict, which has opened the door for compensation. But Otegi has already served his sentence, and his candidacy for Lehendakari 2016 (presidency in the Basque Country) was not made.

Catalan protesters

Altsasu case

The Altsasu case is a good example of how the Civil Guard escapes punishment. Nine Basque youths were arrested for taking part in a fight at a bar in Altsasu, involving two officers of the Civil Guard and their partners. The young Basques were remanded in custody pending trial and were sentenced to up to 62 years in prison for terrorism.

Videos and testimonies show that these were drunken riots and minor injuries that ended in a legal revenge action where the intention was to demonstrate the Spanish power's iron grip on the Basque Country (Basque Country). Three of the boys have now served three years of a sentence of twelve years in prison for terrorism, without being terrorists.

The case against independence activists

The referendum on independence in 2017 has resulted in the imprisonment of 9 politicians with sentences of up to 13 years for allow the referendum. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Of the 947 existing populations in Catalonia, 712 declared themselves in favor of the referendum. 712 mayors have therefore been indicted and must appear in court, which they have denied. The case is not yet scheduled.

The remaining politicians who went into exile, among them the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, have not been extradited from any of the European countries in which they have sought refuge. The judges there have not found that the politicians have committed any crime. Along with the politicians, hundreds of Catalans have been arrested and charged with wearing yellow ribbons, singing, demonstrating… an oppression that gives itself hysterical expressions, such as prosecuting a clown for putting a red nose in – not on – an officer from the Civil Guard.

Valtònyc and Pablo Hasél

The two rappers' political involvement has been met with a particularly aggressive response from the Spanish authorities. They have rapped and rhymed about breaking into the National Assembly with AK-47 (automatic rifles) and hanging the king in the square. The rhymes may indicate bad taste – but to be put on trial? After all, it's just songs. Pablo Hasél has been sentenced to two years in prison for inciting terrorism and insults to the royal family. He has decided to serve his sentence.

Does Spain feel the pressure from international institutions at all?

Valtònyc has been sentenced to three years in prison, but has sought refuge in Belgium, which has so far agreed not to extradite him.

There are currently more than 100 people charged, in exile, fined or in prison for twitter messages, songs, puppet theater, criticism of the police or the king on social media, works of art… to whistle the Spanish national anthem at a football match or not to respect God in public contexts. Has Spain become for the Catholic Church what Saudi Arabia is for radical Islam?

Torture without punishment

Council of Europe Torture Monitoring Committee published in 2018 a sharp report against Spain which describes abuse, beatings and torture practices at police stations and prisons in Catalonia. The report also tells of dirty cells without windows and long periods in isolation for the inmates.

Spain has many problems, but they maintain unwavering opposition to the many international calls for restrictions on the oppressive and authoritarian practices that characterize large sectors of the security forces and the judiciary.

In 2019 condemned UN human rights committee torture perpetrated by an officer of the Civil Guard against a member of ETA. Amnesty International has on several occasions condemned Spain for its use of solitary confinement and extensive use of impunity for torture committed by police officers or members of the Civil Guard. The European Court of Human Rights has had several cases against Spain involving non-prosecution in torture cases. Spain's tactics so far have been to refrain from responding to the allegations. Do the authorities feel the pressure from international institutions at all?

The regime of 1978

Spain's main problem stems from the friction between a multinational Spania with multiple languages, cultures (mostly Republican) and the Spain that won the war, lifted Franco and restored the monarchy by threatening to return to a military regime.

The Royal House of Bourbon used military coups to take back the throne on a number of occasions; last time it cost Spain 40 years of dictatorship. It is impossible not to identify the monarchy with Franco, the Bourbons with oppression, the Civil Guard with authoritarianism, the National Catholic right with the nepotism's patronage over a society built thanks to the looting of Republican property in the post-war years.

Juan Carlos I of Spain (who abdicated in 2014) recently announced that he has left the country, so that the corruption allegations against him – from the authorities in Belgium and Switzerland – do not damage the royal house's reputation. In this way he follows in the footsteps of his predecessors in the Bourbon house for the last 140 years: exile.

He is reported to be staying in the United Arab Emirates – a country without an extradition agreement with Switzerland.

Meanwhile, King Felipe VI has seen it as his duty to reward and hand out medals to the thousands of policemen and members of the Civil Guard who beat down women and the elderly in Barcelona at the polls in 2017 because they were so rude as to want to vote without permission.

Terrorist state is perhaps too sharp a definition. Oppressive state? Authoritarian state? Modern democracy?

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