Catalonia terror attacks: 500,000 march for tolerance as Spanish establishment blames independence movement
By Dick Nichols September 4, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — After the August 17-18 terror attacks on Barcelona’s Rambla and in the seaside town of Cambrils, the half-million-strong march in the Catalan capital on August 26 expressed the profound desire in Catalan society to stay tolerant, open and un-militarised in the face of the terrorist threat. But it expressed more than that. This was partly because the attacks — claimed by Islamic State and causing 16 deaths and up to 130 wounded — coincided with the tensest moments to date in the fight between the Catalan and Spanish governments over the planned October 1 referendum on Catalan independence. The central People’s Party (PP) government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy is determined that a plebiscite that it claims is illegal will not take place: the pro-independence Catalan government of premier Carles Puigdemont, basing itself on the 70% to 80% support in Catalonia for the right to self-determination, is determined that it will. The stated aims of the march, called jointly by the Catalan government and Barcelona Council, were to: show rejection of terrorism (through the slogan “I’m Not Afraid”); express solidarity with the families of attack victims; assert Barcelona’s determination to retain its vibrant, cosmopolitan and welcoming character; mark community appreciation of the rapid response to the crisis of the Catalan police and emergency service and health workers; and reaffirm the values of tolerance and solidarity, especially between Catalonia’s Muslim communities and the rest of society. However, no mass anti-terrorism demonstration in present-day Catalonia could be confined to motherhood positions on those themes — as events soon confirmed. Terrorism: your approach and ours An immediate reflection of the underlying political issues involved came the day after Barcelona mayor Ada Colau and premier Puigdemont announced the march: the left-nationalist People’s Unity List (CUP), part of the pro-independence bloc in the Catalan parliament, said it would not take part if the representatives of the Spanish state (led by Rajoy and King Philip) were present. This stance was not just the CUP’s: it reflected the widespread feeling in the Catalan left and social movements — which earlier this year produced the world’s biggest ever march in support of refugees — that they had to express their own position on the terror attacks. The upshot was the manifesto After the August 17 tragedy: peace, solidarity and coexistence in diversity. The manifesto attracted the support of 170 social, political and cultural organisations — including major forces like the Catalan National Congress, the Confederation of Neighbourhood Associations of Catalonia and the language and culture association Omnium Cultural. It stated: “We protest to denounce the hypocrisy of political leaders and representatives, the Spanish government and the monarchy. Those who, with their policies, promote wars and foster armed conflicts by selling arms to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar [as Spain does], as well as imposing repressive anti-terrorist policies that only worsen the spiral of violence. “Those who breach their commitment to give asylum, as the European Union member states do. Also those that promote hatred, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, with the worrying collaboration of much of the media. Those who stop and search our neighbours on the street because of their skin colour and imprison them at the Centres for the Internment of Foreigners.” If adopted universally, such a position would have turned the march into a mass protest against the foreign policy of the Spanish state and the PP government. Three marches (at least) in one To accommodate the competing pressures on them the march organisers were forced to announce a change to its format: instead of being headed in usual style by dignitaries holding the lead banner, this time the leading group would be made up of emergency service and health workers, firefighters and police, with the notables demoted to a second contingent. This arrangement gave pride of place to those whom ordinary Catalonia felt were the heroes of August 17-18, maintained an acceptable spot for the dignitaries and also allowed the supporters of the peace and solidarity manifesto to form a third contingent. Its participants were encouraged to wear sea blue, the same colour as the refugee rights demonstration earlier in the year. The result was August 26’s three-marches-in-one: first row led by religious representatives and emergency service workers whom everyone cheered and hugged; then the dignitaries including the King and Rajoy (loudly booed, whistled and invited to go home); then the “blue contingent” behind an enormous banner that read: “Your policies, our dead”. Behind came the mass of “ordinary” Barcelona citizens, half a million according to the municipal police. This was a massive turnout, given that in late August a large part of the city’s people were still out of town on summer holidays. The size of the crowd ensured that the supply of 70,000 red, yellow and white roses (colours of the city) that had been donated by the Guild of Florists of Catalonia fell well short of demand. The multi-lingual placards distributed by the activists of the blue contingent then provided, along with some Catalan independence flags, the main décor for the bulk of the march. Those watching could read in Catalan, Spanish and English messages such as “Mariano, people who want peace don’t deal in arms” and “Imagine a country that doesn’t sell weapons”. As media commentators noted, this was an unprecedented and even strange march, because people who would never appear together at the same protest — Muslims, Catholics, supporters of Catalan independence, Spanish unionists, the left (even including some anarchists) — were together in the same space. The militantly pro-unionist Catalan Civil Society marched under a banner thanking King Philip for his role in the war against terrorism while people with estelades (the Catalan independence flag) waved photos of Philip shaking hands with his Saudi counterpart after finalising the sale of Spanish frigates to the Gulf autocracy. Notable was the turnout from Muslim communities, whose younger generation made a point of mobilising parents and grandparents to turn out on August 26 with the goal, in the words of Cheima El Jebary (coordinator of the Multicultural Muslim Youth) of “making it normal and natural that we are part of Catalan society and making it clear that terrorism has nothing to do with religion” (August 24 edition of web-based daily El Mon). After the march arrived at its destination in central Plaza Catalonia, it ended with a simple ceremony. Actress Rosa Maria Sardà first read the demonstration’s declaration with Miriam Hatibi, spokesperson for the Ibn Batutta Foundation (dedicated to winning full citizenship for migrants). It said:
• The alert had not gone to the Catalan police alone, as implied by El Periódico, but to all Spanish anti-terrorist agencies. None of these had regarded it as worthy of special attention because the information was neither corroborated nor verifiable. Confirmation of this was that none had advised Barcelona Council of any special security threat. At meetings of Spanish anti-terrorism authorities on May 25 and June 8 and of the joint Spain-Catalonia security commission on July 9, the alert wasn’t even raised for discussion;
• The advice had not come directly from the CIA, which only talks to its equivalents in other countries (in Spain, the National Intelligence Centre, CNI) but apparently from the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Moreover, the NCTC has no direct links with regional police forces in other countries, only with central bodies. The relevant central body for the Spanish state is the Intelligence Centre Against Terrorism and Organised Crime (CITCO), which sends on information to regional police authorities as it thinks fit;
• The document published by El Periódico bore many signs of concoction, including misspellings (“Irak” instead of “Iraq”), Spanish instead of English terminology (“nota” instead of “notice”) and other slips. The explanations of the paper’s editor, Enric Hernández, including that the document was a transcription of an oral communication, only deepened suspicions about its authenticity.
• In the face of this criticism, El Periódico published another version of the document. However, like the original this did not have any letterhead or watermark that could identify its original source. So far that information, if it actually exists, remains unknown;
• Regardless of the authenticity or otherwise of the document, the information it contained could not have been about the actual attack of August 17, as this was only decided by the jihadist cell after its original plan — to stage a bomb attack on some important monument (like Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral) — had to be abandoned after its stock of explosive material accidentally blew up in a house in the southern town of Alcanar.On the basis of these revelations, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called on El Periódico editor Hernández to resign. …and continue The Catalan government and police had initially denied that they had received an anti-terrorism alert of any kind (“what has been published is a set-up”, Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn had said), but later conceded that they had received an alert which neither they nor any of the other Spanish anti-terrorist agencies had considered worthy of special attention — alerts of threatened attacks on Spain’s main tourist attractions are received daily. To date, the Spanish government has refused to confirm that its own anti-terrorist agencies likewise regarded the alert as insignificant, even while — in form of cabinet spokesperson Iñigo Méndez de Vigo — demanding explanations from the Catalan authorities as to why they had denied receiving it. The correction by the Catalan authorities was pounced on by the unionist parties PP and Citizens, for whom it was a welcome diversion from the growing body of evidence suggesting that the “document” published by El Periódico may plausibly have been leaked by a free-lancing CITGO in such a way as to prejudice the pro-independence Catalan government in the run-up to the “illegal” referendum. CITCO is headed by José Luis Olivera Serrano, who was previously involved in the special Spanish interior ministry dirty tricks campaign against Catalan pro-independence politicians known as Operation Catalonia. This Watergate-like operation, whose existence has been confirmed by commissions of both the Spanish and Catalan parliaments, included falsifying documents and bank statements of Catalan politicians like former Barcelona mayor Xàvier Trias, then leaking them to right-wing media outlets. According to the September 1 edition of the web-based daily Público, whose reporters initially exposed Operation Catalonia: