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The Unionists in Catalonia Turn to the Latin American Coup Playbook

Those who study the history of authoritarian coups against progressive, establishment-threatening  political movements know, or should know,  a few things.

1) The proponents of the anti-progressive position are seldom a majority in the society. Rather, their core level of support usually hovers—at the most—between 30 and 35% of the population.

2) Hence, their greatest strategic objective is to achieve “force multiplication” in the eyes of the media, and from there, what political insiders call “low information” citizens.  They realize that if they can sufficiently exercise and/or frighten 15-20% of these people they can begin to “punch over their own weight” in the civic disagreement concerning the future shape of the society.

3) They know that the best way to exercise the sentiments of these “low information” citizens who, like most of us, just want to live in peace, but unlike many of us have little stomach for, or ability to, sift through differing claims in discerning fashion, is to foment violence.

Why?

Because they know such people will not do their homework about who is actually generating the disturbances, and that big corporate media, which has a clear interest in perpetuating the status quo, can be counted on to not only to obfuscate the 35 percenters’ role in provoking the violence, but,  in many cases, to pin  the blame on the peaceful insurgents.

4) This playbook has been used again and again over the last 4-5 decades because it works. Chile in 1973 was perhaps the first full-scale deployment of the method. In recent years it has been used to great effect in, just to mention a few instances, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Honduras and Venezuela.

It now appears that the establishment in Spain, working through the mysteriously financed set of Unionist forces fronted by the Ciudadanos party, is recurring to this well-worn playbook

The Failure of Operation Decapitation

After the October 27th, 2017 declaration of the Republic in Catalonia, the Spanish government sought—to use the term swaggeringly employed by the main architect of its Catalan policy, Soraya Sanz de Santamaría—to  “decapitate”,  and thus kill for the foreseeable future, the movement for Catalan sovereignty. How? Through the law-bending imprisonment of its leadership class  and the de factomilitary occupation of the country.  They   were confident that, after the imposition of these  measures,  the elections of December 21, 2017 (characterized, in addition to the complete absence of the upper tier of the independentist leadership class, by numerous restrictions on the free flow of information) would give them a Unionist majority in the Catalan parliament.

But the Catalanists said “not so fast” and won the election. And despite the central government’s use of all sorts of legally questionable gambits to prevent it, the victorious pro-sovereignty forces managed to finally swear in a firmly independentist  Catalan president in the late spring.

Meanwhile, the legal cases for rebellion and sedition against the exiled Catalan president Puigdemont have crumbled precipitously in the Belgian and German courts.  Judges in both countries have refused to extradite him on the trumped up charges issued by the Spanish state. This has led, in turn, to the instant collapse of the cases against the five other exiled cabinet ministers and new doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecutions against the Catalan officials currently in Spanish jails.

In short, operation “decapitation” has completely failed.

This is why the Unionists, led by Ciudadanos, are now recurring to the old Latin American coup playbook to achieve their ends.

You don’t need to believe me. Just listen to the words of Eduardo Llorens a prominent voice from the unionist camp, referring to the concerted efforts of the unionist forces to remove and destroy the yellow ribbons arrayed all around Catalonia in support of the unjustly imprisoned and exiled Catalan government leaders.

“This is a good approach, very good. Violent reactions by the independentists must be forced. We’ve done a good job of constructing the narrative of social division, but violent acts on their part are still needed to consolidate it. In the end they’ll react. It’s just a matter of our being persistent.”

There you have it, in black and white.

 

Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  A Citizen’s Democracy in Authoritarian Times: An American View on the Catalan Drive for Independence  (University of Valencia Press, 2018).

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