Catalonia: Events since October 1 and an Activist’s interpretation

Since Catalonia’s unofficial vote to break away from Spain on 1st of October 2017, the autonomous region has been a very hot topic all over the news and worldwide. Not only has this been the biggest political crisis in Spain in the last 40 years, but it also is a major challenge for the European Union. Years of ill-feeling concerning the level of autonomy the region had under the Spanish constitution led towards independence last autumn.

Then, on October 27, the regional parliament, where separatist MPs made up the majority, officially declared independence, no longer recognizing the Spanish constitution. Madrid’s response was to impose Article 155 of the Spanish constitution to dissolve the regional parliament and dismiss Carles Puigdemont and his entire cabinet.

On October 30 Carles Puigdemont went to Brussels with some of his collaborators to escape Spanish justice. Weeks of protests and mass demonstrations followed to “defend the republic”. Mariano Rajoy’s Deputy Prime Minister was appointed to run the region temporarily and new elections were called for December 21.

After being imprisoned, a few Catalan politicians and activists still remain in Spanish custody after a judge denied bail for the separatist leaders — including the erstwhile vice president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, who was campaigning for the elections on December 21 from behind bars. Six other former Catalan ministers were freed on bail by the court.

The first time the Catalan parliament convened again was to elect a speaker of the house. Roger Torrent, from the leftwing Esquerra Republicana party, was chosen as a speaker on January 17. He called for an immediate end of Spanish rule over Catalonia and criticised the Spanish courts’ decision to keep three separatists in detention pending trial.

This morning, Friday March 23, a Spanish supreme court judge has charged 13 senior Catalan leaders, including the region’s deposed president and the candidate chosen to succeed him, with rebellion over their roles in last year’s unilateral referendum and the subsequent declaration of independence.

The charges, announced by Judge Pablo Llarena, carry a maximum sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment and were brought against both Carles Puigdemont, the former president in exile in Belgium, and Jordi Turul, who faces a vote on Saturday to take up the post. Llarena said that Catalan separatists had colluded for the past six years to execute a plan to declare Catalonia’s independence. The court did not give a date for the trial.

What else has been going on?
– Carles Puigdemont criticized the Spanish judge’s decision to charge him and 12 other Catalan separatists with rebellion
– A Spanish Supreme Court judge is requiring the 14 members of the former Catalan Cabinet to pay a collective deposit of 2.1 million euros before an upcoming trial establishes whether they misused public funds for an illegal independence referendum
– Llarena said that 25 Catalans will be tried for rebellion, embezzlement or disobedience
– Also charged with rebellion are Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras, former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, separatist activists Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart and ERC party leader Marta Rovira, who on Friday announced that she was fleeing Spain
– Catalonia has been without a leader for nearly five months after central authorities took control following the illegal independence declaration

We have interviewed Jordi Vilanova, Translator, Social Media Manager, Radio Producer & Host in Catalunya, regarding the current trends in Catalonia and posed the following questions:

Will there be new elections for a regional president with new candidates and how long do you think Catalonia will be without a leader?
According to parliamentary rules, as the session to appoint the President had been adjourned by the Speaker (the presiding officer) Roger Torrent, the process was frozen, until yesterday. Now, if the candidate Jordi Turull is imprisoned (pending trial) he cannot attend the session tomorrow so he cannot be appointed. In theory. So, if no other candidate is found, i.e. one who will be voted by a majority of members, no government can be formed. This can go on for exactly two months from today. Then, parliament is dissolved and elections are called by the current President. Not Puigdemont, who was deposed by the Spanish government, but by the acting President, Rajoy, 54 days later. So, Sunday 15 July.

Do you think Catalans are losing faith in becoming independent?
Yes. Numbers are declining, according to surveys. But then, the survey was saying the same before the last elections, and more people voted pro-independence candidates than ever!

What has actually changed in the end, apart from politicians in jail and chaos? Will the whole issue just start back from square zero as soon as a leader is chosen?
The issue will not simply go away. The Catalans will want to form a government now as soon as possible, but the far-left radical pro-Independence CUP, who refused to vote for Jordi Turull, will continue to pressure to declare the Republic. The other Independence parties will want to re-establish a ‘home-rule’ (British term for ‘autonomous’) government. They will however not give up and will continue planning for the establishment of a Catalan Republic.

Do you think there can be some sort of compromise?
The Spanish don’t seem to understand the concept of ‘compromise’ when the Nation is concerned. They are extremely nationalist in this sense.

Therefore, it remains exciting to wait and see what will happen next. While some Catalans might have lost the motivation to fight for independence, others believe in it more than ever, although Madrid is very eager to undermine their power. Stay up to date with Barcelona City FM!

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]

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The Cambridge-Analytica Affair and Mark Zuckerberg

The whole world is reporting on the scandal of data breaches, only the founder of Facebook remains silent. Five days have passed since the release of the data breach by Cambridge Analytica and it was announced that this is about 50 million Facebook profiles. The world is now waiting for a statement from Mark Zuckerberg. Only yesterday, the company announced that he is dealing with it around the clock and therefore had no time to comment yet.

Both companies are under enormous pressure. The CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, was suspended yesterday and at the same time, the Facebook stock has fallen by almost seven percent. Everyone is waiting for Zuckerberg, but the last public post of the otherwise active manager shows him and his wife Priscilla baking on March 2.

On Monday, US Senator Ron Wyden sent a detailed list of questions on the case to Zuckerberg, which he should answer by April 13. Two members of the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate called for a hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google.

The hashtag #DeleteFacebook, which gained popularity in 2015 is now being used again and also #WheresZuck is becoming popular.

What happened?
The privacy of 50 million Facebook users has allegedly been violated and their personal data, used without their consent for the election campaign of Donald Trump. This happened two years ago, but those affected have not yet been informed and possibly have not even been identified by Facebook.

The scandal, whose complete repercussions are not yet known, has opened an immense crisis of confidence. Washington, London and Brussels have demanded explanations. Cambridge Analytica is shifting more and more into focus: A company that was considered the great prodigy of electoral alchemy for years and now, after an investigation by The New York Times and The Observer, threatens to disintegrate everyone involved. A time bomb that is equally capable of blackmailing politicians and fiddling with the demons of the Russian plot and its great protagonists. From the fallen National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, to Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and presidential son-in-law, Jared Kushner. 

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One third of Spanish pensioners charge below the poverty line

About 3.1 million pensioners, which is an equivalent of 32.6% of all retirees, charge less than 8,200€ per year, therefore earning below the poverty threshold. This data is derived from a report by the Technicians of the Ministry of Finance (Gestha).

The need to increase minimum pensions is highly urgent for Gestha. The revaluation of the pensions is contingent upon the Government’s approval of the General State Budgets for 2018.

Canarias, Galicia and Murcia, with a percentage close to 40%, are the communities in which there is a greater proportion of pensioners who receive pensions below the poverty line. At the other extreme are Madrid and Aragón, with percentages close to 26%, and Asturias (23.8%). The region Catalonia, with 521,763 (30%) also has a great number of pensioners receiving below the poverty line.

According to Gestha, there is also a huge gender gap: 60,4% of pensioners receiving below the poverty line are female, an equivalent of 1,9 women. Women over 65 receive a pension almost 49% lower than men of that age group. Specifically, this gap is 5,770 euros.

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Venezuela ranks unhappiest place on the continent

Venezuela,  a country entangled in a deep economic and political crisis, ranks as the most unhappy country in Latin America. On the other hand, Costa Rica is placed as the happiest on the continent, followed by Mexico, Chile, Panama, Brazil and Argentina.

When looking at the happiest countries worldwide, Finland ranks first, according to The World Happiness Report, which was released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations on March 14. Finland is followed by last year’s winner Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.

For this report, countries are ranked by six key variables supporting their well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. Interestingly, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Finland have been placed in first place since the first report in April 2012. Finland also shows to have the happiest immigrants, another focus of the study.

The report reveals that 25% of respondents in Latin America would be willing to emigrate to another country. The nations with the highest proportion of potential emigrants were Honduras (47%), El Salvador (42%) and Peru (33%).

Spain is ranked 36th in the general ranking.

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]


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Impact of the Feminist March in Barcelona on Public Transport and Social Services

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, Barcelona is impacted by the feminist strike today, March 8. Various services are reduced to a minimum level and transportation, social services, and information services are particularly affected by this strike.

Renfe has canceled 105 AVE and Long Distance trains and 199 medium-distance trains scheduled for today. Travelers who were supposed to travel on trains that were canceled may choose between being relocated to another train or canceling their ticket at no cost.

In the case of commuter trains, at peak times the circulation of a maximum of 75% of trains is guaranteed and 50% for the rest of the day. For freight trains, minimum services of 25% have been established.

In the metropolitan area of Barcelona, means of transport will run 50% less frequently during rush hours (6.30-9.30AM and 5-8PM) and only 25% during less busy hours. The transport connecting Barcelona to its airport will be reduced to 50% of the usual service.

The assistance and social services, which include residences, assistance at home and social dining rooms, will operate normally. In the healthcare sector, emergencies and special units will offer normal service, although the outpatient care centers will limit the service to 25%.

As for the public service of radio and television, it is expected that the production and broadcasting or retransmission of the news program will be produced in 50% of the usual contents of its channels, stations, and portals. However, necessary information is guaranteed in case of an emergency for the population.

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The Susqueda Crime: Marijuana as a possible motive

The judge of Santa Coloma de Farners sent Jordi Magentí, the main suspect in the Susqueda crime, to prison yesterday. The decision was communicated late in the afternoon after an intense day in which the accused was taken to the courts and later to the crime scene in the Susqueda reservoir to reconstruct the facts. But Magentí refused to collaborate and did not contribute much to the investigation while he keeps claiming his innocence.

The crime was committed on August 24 and the following day Magentí returned to the swamp to dispose of the bodies by submerging them in the waters with backpacks filled with stones. He further got rid of the car and the kayak.

The Mossos are very clear that the suspect was in the swamp at the time of the assassination. This was confirmed by cameras who filmed the Land Rover traveling through the swamp and the subsequent day by the camera of a gas station. There are also telephone conversations held with relatives in which the accused unwittingly incriminated himself since he gave details that only someone who was in Susqueda at that time could know.

In 1997, Jordi Magentí cold-bloodedly murdered his ex-wife by shooting her in the back. For this, he spent 12 years in prison. Magent´i’s criminal record and the details of the investigation are reasons why the agents of the Unidad de Desaparecidos do not doubt his guilt.

But what were the motives for such a cruel act? One hypothesis is related to the cultivation of marijuana, to which Magentí was very dedicated. One of the plantations was in the swamp and close to where the crime occurred. Plausibly, the two young people surprised Magentí in his plantation to which he reacted violently.

The process will continue for several months. Carles Monguilod, Marc and Paula’s relatives’ lawyer, assured that the relatives are grateful for the work of the Mossos and “do not want the investigation to be closed in false.” They just want to know “what happened to their children.”

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]

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One in four Master graduates earns less than 1,000€

In Spain, University students who have studied five years to earn a Master degree, determined to start a professional, successful career, run a good chance of earning barely 1,000€ a month. More than a quarter of Master graduates, 27% to be more precise, are working for a salary of this kind and 8,8% of them even for less than 600€.

This data stems from the “Barometer of employability and university employment”. The report is centered on 50 public and private universities with a sample of more than 6,700 students surveyed in 2017. It further says that salary is one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction.  16.3% earn between 1,000 and 1,200€; 18.5% between 1,200 and 1,600€; 18.4% between 1,600 and 2,100€ and 13.1%, from 2,100 to 3,000 euros per month.

When being asked whether the Spanish University is culpable, Roberto Fernández, rector of the University of Lleida, stated that “it’s not entirely to blame. It’s a state issue, just as you have to do reforms in the University to contribute to well-being with greater employability, you need deep reforms in society. This Problem cannot be fixed by the University.”

It clearly is not only a matter of higher education but also of the current job market. Not only do many graduates work below their actual value, but also often in completely different fields than what their studies were about.

In order to improve the current situation, Universities can help by means of including more English courses, introducing obligatory internships and more spin-offs (companies created within the campus), according to Fernández. But, of course, in an improvement of the budget is essential for such a change.

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]

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“Beast of the East” leaves more than 20 dead in Europe

This Wednesday, Europe was still frozen by the polar cold wave that claimed the lives of at least 24 people. Untypically, the snow has reached the shores of the Mediterranean and islands such as Corsica and Capri.

With glacial temperatures of up to -24ºC in some parts of Germany and -29ºC at night in Estonia, the most vulnerable people were warned, such as the elderly and the homeless, and several cities provided emergency shelter and assistance for those in need.

Most people died in Poland, with nine dead, followed by Lithuania, with five, and France, with four. The “Beast from the East” also led to two deaths in Spain: One in Hinojos (Huelva) and one in Galdakao (Basque Country).

The Red Cross, which established emergency teams throughout Europe, asked people to be especially attentive to neighbors and family members. The agency called for raising 10,000 blankets in France. According to a census carried out last week, at least 3,000 people are sleeping in the streets of Paris.

According to the British meteorological services, some rural communities could be isolated for days by snow, and warned about the possibility of “long interruptions of power supply and other services such as telephone and mobile networks.” The airline British Airways canceled about 60 flights to and from Heathrow airport.

In Barcelona, snowflakes could already be spotted last Tuesday around 1pm and on Wednesday numerous schools were closed. Starting this Thursday, temperatures will go up again and on Friday the sun will finally make it back to Catalonia.

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20.800 police officers and civil guards missing in Spain

Last October 31, the national police and civil guards had a deficit of 20.800 agents, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Of the 163.491 members that should have been active, only 142.691 were, which is 13% less. The most affected regions are Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Navarra. The provinces of Girona and Lleida do not even cover more than 30% of the police positions.

In the province of Lleida, the staff of the national police is set at 211 agents. Currently, only 136 are covered. 75 police officers are missing, which are 35.5% of the total. With the Civil Guards, something similar is happening, with 20% fewer Guards working than supposed. Lleida is an extreme case of a phenomenon that is seen all over Spain: A lack of members of the State Security Forces and Corps.

Deputy Miguel Ángel Heredia criticises that since Mariano Rajoy’s arrival in Government, the troops have been “brutally” cut and believes that these figures represent a degradation of public safety. Additionally, Heredia stated that this demonstrates that “the PP is committed to private security to the detriment of the public.”

“It is necessary to establish a fixed replacement rate above the political and economic swings. Spain can not afford to cut back on security, “says Ramón Cosío, spokesman for the Unified Police Union (SUP). In the same sense, Juan Fernández of the Unified Association of Civil Guards (AUGC) said: “For years we have been far from covering the places of those who were retiring.” The vice president of the Union of Officers (UO), Javier Montes, speaks of “the urgent need to reorganize the entire deployment of troops to minimize the effects of this deficit.”

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]



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Will Barcelona stay the headquarters for the Mobile World Congress?

From today on, the Mobile World Congress is held at the Fira de Barcelona until Thursday, the first of March. Annual attendance is generally more than 100,000 people. Until 2006, the event took place in Cannes and in 2011 it was announced that Barcelona had been chosen as the “GSMA Mobile World Capital” and continues to be the site of GSMA Mobile World Congress through 2023.

But, after political tensions, a debate has opened about the suitability of Barcelona as a host city for the Mobile World Congress. Several people and institutions have defended Barcelona, highlighting its outstanding tourist infrastructure. There is a lot at stake: the event puts the city at the center of the world and leaves more than 450 million euros.

The Minister of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda, Álvaro Nadal, stressed that Barcelona is “unbeatable” as the venue, and criticized that some want to “make it easy” for those who want to take advantage of the political situation in Catalonia to take it to another city. Nadal believes that hosting a congress of this type requires a city like Barcelona, a technological center of international relevance. He is aware that certain “political elements” may distort the operating of the fair and others want to take it to other countries, similarly to what happened with Brexit.

But Barcelona can not only count on political defenders but also on Telefónica Spain and the Vodafone group, whose CEOs expressed their support. Álvarez-Pallete, CEO of Telefónica Spain, assured at the inaugural session of the MWC, that “Barcelona is the best place to celebrate this event.” Amongst other advantages, Barcelona stands out for its art, culture, infrastructure, good weather, talent and one of the best football teams in the world, he further says.

Vittoria Colao, CEO of the Vodafone group, defended Barcelona and says the MWC and Catalan Capital have to stay together and what happened in the last couple of days does not affect the congress.

Laura Kabelka
[email protected]


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