Spanish Delegate wants to Ban Public Protests

By LUIS MIRANDA| THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 3, 2012

Cristina Cifuentes wants to limit the right of the Spanish people to protest in public.

No self-entitled bureaucrat likes to be contested, questioned or responded to. Despite the existence of a constitutional right to publicly protest on the streets, there are people who think it is a good idea to limit or simply ban such action. In fact, there are people who support banning or limiting public protests while encouraging police violence against protestors.

This is the case of Cristina Cifuentes, a Madrid Delegate who last week praised the acts of police brutality against some of the thousands of protesters that arrived outside Congress to raise the heat against the deadly austerity measures imposed by the Mariano Rajoy administration. On Tuesday, Ms. Cifucentes went beyond its praise of violence to call for legal reform to limit and eventually ban public protesting.

It’s not me, it’s the law, said Cifuentes on Friday after a colleague of hers, Ana Botella, complained about “too many” demonstrations in the capital of Spain. On Tuesday, Cifuentes said that the law is “very permissive and wide” regarding the right of assembly and that the demonstration was out of control. She questioned whether it was necessary to debate and approve the imposition of limits to the right to protest.

Although Cifuentes commented on such limitations in a very spontaneous way, she rapidly proposed to put in place “modular” laws to “rationalize the use of public space.” The bureaucrat also attempted to clarify that it would not change the Constitution, but it would check out the Organic Law governing this right, not to “cut it” but to expand the room for maneuvering that the Administrations has to change routes and schedules.

Cifuentes’ speech is very well known in other parts of the world such as the United States, where the government called for ‘rational’ ways to limit free speech and protesting by designing a plan through which people could only protest in so-called ‘free speech zones’. These zones are designated by the government and are usually located far, far away from public offices or events such as G10 meetings or secretive encounters of world re-known philanthropists.

But what does the Spanish Constitution say about public protesting?

The right of expression and assembly, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, which reads: “The right of peaceful assembly, without arms. The exercise of this right shall not require prior authorization.” Add that to the “case of meetings in public places and events,” will  need to inform “the authority,” which can only forbid it if there are “substantial grounds for disorderly conduct, endangering persons or property” .

This last sentence is very important, because it is from there where people like Cifuentes may seek the legal backing to impose limitation to  both free speech and public protesting. As it has happened in many occasions, governments could use agent provocateurs to cause disorderly conduct, hurt police or protesters in order to limit the right of the peaceful mass to protest in front of Congress, for example.

In an interview with National Public Radio (RNE), Cifuentes reiterated that Madrid is “a complicated city because demonstrations are permanent and disproportionate”, a view based on one fact that people in Spain are sick and tired of government robbing them of their livelihoods and decided to take to the streets in numerous occasions. There have been almost 2,200 rallies and demonstrations in Madrid this year. Last Friday alone 2732 stood outside Congress and thousands more occupied the same place on Saturday and Sunday. Back in  2011 there were 1380 public demonstrations.

“The theme of the protests is a timely issue that is given by the political moment and encouraged because there are groups trying to get on the street that have failed at the ballot box,” she argued, blaming the Socialists without naming them, for the increase of street protests.

Cifuentes said that she knows there is a Constitutional right to protest in public, but that the rights of the rest of the people are also as important, which is the reason why she is proposing to limit or ban such activity. This is the traditional collectivist point of view that seeks to impose a particular way of thinking and is often excused by the ‘it is in the best interests of the majority’ argument.

Cifuentes is proposing a ‘compatible solution’ with the right of the rest of the population “to be in a livable city.” According to her, this means that people are “able to move with ease, without incidents, riots, or problems of public order.” In this sense, Cifuentes defends changes in legislation, but has not detailed how it would work. “What I want is to open a debate because any amendment must be adopted by a broad consensus.

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Spanish People Take it to the Streets of Madrid

Citizens protesting against harsh austerity measures were met with violence from the police.

AFP | JULY 20, 2012

Spanish police fired rubber bullets and charged protestors in central Madrid early Friday at the end of a huge demonstration against economic crisis measures.

The protest was one of over 80 demonstrations called by unions across the county against civil servant pay cuts and tax hikes which drew tens of thousands of people, including police and firefighters wearing their helmets.

“Hands up, this is a robbery!” protesters bellowed as they marched through the streets of the Spanish capital.

At the end of the peaceful protest dozens of protestors lingered at the Puerta del Sol, a large square in the heart of Madrid where the demonstration wound up late on Thursday.

Some threw bottles at police and set up barriers made up of plastic bins and cardboard boxes in the middle of side streets leading to the square and set them on fire, sending plumes of thick smoke into the air.

Riot police then charged some of the protestors, striking them with batons when they tried to reach the heavily-guarded parliament building.

The approach of the riot police sent protestors running through the streets of the Spanish capital as tourists sitting on outdoor patios looked on.

A police official told AFP that officers arrested seven people while six people were injured.

The protests held Thursday were the latest and biggest in an almost daily series of demonstrations that erupted last week when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced measures to save 65 billion euros ($80 billion) and slash the public deficit.

Among the steps is a cut to the Christmas bonus paid to civil servants, equivalent to a seven-percent reduction in annual pay. This came on top of a pay cut in 2010, which was followed by a salary freeze.

“There’s nothing we can do but take to the street. We have lost between 10 and 15 percent of our pay in the past four years,” said Sara Alvera, 51, a worker in the justice sector, demonstrating in Madrid.

“These measures won’t help end the crisis.”

Spain is struggling with its second recession in four years and an unemployment rate of more than 24 percent.

Under pressure from the European Union to stabilise Spain’s public finances, the conservative government also cut unemployment benefits and increased sales tax, with the upper limit rising from 18 to 21 percent.

As Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party passed the measures with its majority in parliament Thursday, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro defended them, insisting they were needed to lower Spain’s borrowing costs.

“There is no money in the coffers to pay for public services. We are making reforms that will allow us to better finance ourselves,” he said.

Protestors angrily rejected this claim.

“There isn’t a shortage of money — there are too many thieves,” read one sign hoisted in the Madrid crowd.

Critics say the government’s new austerity measures will worsen economic conditions for ordinary people.

Cristina Blesa, a 55-year-old teacher, said she and her husband would struggle to pay their son’s university tuition fees because of the cuts and tax hikes.

“We’re earning less and less and at the same time the price of everything is going up,” she said at the Madrid protest.

“Now with the rise in VAT everything is going to be even more expensive. It’s more and more difficult at the end of the month.”

Spain is due this month to become the fourth eurozone country, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, to get bailout funds in the current crisis, when it receives the first loan from a 100-billion-euro credit line for its banks.

Eurozone leaders were expected to finalise the deal in a telephone conference on Friday.

Spain had to offer investors sharply higher interest rates in a bond sale on Thursday, suggesting investors remain worried over the country’s ability to repay its debts.

Protestors complained that they were being made to pay for the financial crisis while banks and the rich were let off.

“We have to all come out into the street, firefighters, street-sweepers, nurses, to say: enough,” said Manuel Amaro, a 38-year-old fireman in Madrid holding his black helmet by his side.

“If we don’t, I don’t know where this is going to end.”