Thursday, September 28, 2017

Memories of Catalunya

Barcelona, 1936
The people of Catalonia will vote October 01, 2017 in a referendum to decide if they want to secede from Spain. Catalonia's High Court and Spain's Constitutional Court have already declared the referendum illegal. The minority right wing government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has seized millions of ballots and moved troops and Gardia Civil  police to prevent the vote, and hundreds of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets to defend their right to self determination. How did it come to this?
The Catalan Revolt
Originally a principality within Aragon, it lost its independence during the war of Spanish Succession in the 18th century, though Catalan Nationalism resurged in the mid 19th century with the promoting of their language and culture. But the Catalan Revolt goes back a lot further; its political tradition of independence The rebellious nature of Catalans has been noted since 1285.
Catalonia was awarded limited autonomy in 1931 by the Socialist Government of Spain but there still was unrest. The right won back government in 1933 and the Catalan Independence Declaration of 1934 was defeated by troops and autonomy suspended. This, and the Asturias miner's strike led to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-38. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco imposed a new constitution depriving Catalonia of autonomy though it continued to agitate, driven by its 'rebellious nature' perhaps?
The present drive for autonomy:
The October 1 vote is the culmination of a fallout between Barcelona and Madrid that started in 2003, when Catalonia sought a deal to increase autonomy — and failed.
Even though separatist parties were elected to the regional parliament and tried to negotiate greater autonomy on terms of language and finance, the central government and Constitutional Court, perhaps not acting in good faith, watered down and rejected almost all the proposals. When the final decision was handed down in 2010, a million people protested in Barcelona "We are a nation, we decide!".

With each request for negotiation being denied the movement for an independence referendum grows. The central government is caught conspiring with news agencies to discredit separatist officials.

Final clash: September 06, 2017
The Catalan parliament passes a referendum law and the regional government formally calls the October 1 referendum on secession from Spain. The parliament also passes a law that would regulate the transition to independence if there was a Yes vote. Madrid's central government says these laws represent the "death of democracy" and brings them to the Constitutional Court, which calls for an immediate suspension. The Socialists and Ciudadanos support Rajoy's call to stop the vote.
This is where we're at now. What next, after October 01? Funny, but I wrote a chapter in my book
Man From Atlan and it's called The Man Of Spain-1936 A.D.

You can read it here

The Man of Spain Part I
The Man of Spain Part II

It's a work of fiction, it's a true story of my past life in Catalonia. It's not a story about politics though set in the background of the Spanish Civil War, it's a love story about a man who avoids war but is forced again and again, to fight for his ideals. Some excerpts:
The Bull had always been there in the field that he passed by on his way to school. He remembered the first day. He had looked into the field and saw far away the proud black figure of the Bull. "Ay, Toro," he whispered and knew the Bull heard him. He had seen it there every day for many years, and always it was the same as on the first day. He was as it was and one day he would fight it.
The father looked at him sadly, knowing that his son was set on becoming a matador. "I had hoped you would be a doctor." 
"Why a doctor?" 
"Because this is what Catalonia needs. It is growing so fast, and already people are realizing how much we're lacking in the people we need. Scientists, engineers, doctors. Soon we will need them even more." 
"Because one day we will be independent." 
From then on, they talked often about the politics and history of Catalonia. Rapidly becoming one of the most industrialized areas in Spain, Catalonia resented the tariffs the other more influential provinces were putting on their products, so that it was at a disadvantage. The Catalans had always felt different from the rest of the Spanish peoples and for many years agitated for a separate homeland. Its industrial base, its trade unions and political parties were lifting its people out from the poverty which was still rife in the rest of Spain. It was a problem to the government in Madrid. 
Yet because it was a problem which hadn't been solved for so long, the extremists were coming to the fore. Political murders were being committed almost every day in Barcelona, the capital. There were moderate people like his father who wanted Catalonia to have more independence but still be a part of Spain. Yet, they had been crushed so many times whenever they agitated for freedom for Catalonia that the moderates and the militants together planned for a time when Catalonia could declare its independence. 
These were things which meant everything to the people of Catalonia, yet his father could see they meant nothing to him. His son wanted to be a matador, so let it run its course and in time it would die, as did all the dreams of children. 
He knew it would not, for he saw the Bull waiting for him.  
 Read the rest; it's a lovely story I think. It was a glorious time, fighting for a good cause, not "Independence" but people who resisted fascism. No, I wasn't too fond of the communists and anarchists who splintered the Spanish loyalists but it's a wonderful memory, still.

The picture above? 17 year old Marina Ginestà.
Marina Ginestà - obituary
Marina Ginestà, who has died aged 94, was believed to have been the last surviving French veteran of the Spanish Civil War. As a 17-year-old member of Spain’s Unified Socialist Youth she was immortalised in a photograph taken on the roof of the Hotel Colón in Barcelona in the first flames of the conflict; it was to become one of the most famous photographs of the war.

What next for Spain?

Looking at its national horoscope, I don't see independence for Catalonia but Spain will suffer in its association with other regions and with Europe. There will be continued unrest as people demand an end to austerity policies and its economy takes several hits. There will be continued repression, and while I don't think people really wanted to be independent, just a greater autonomy within Spain, the central government's heavy response can only make people more willing to split with it.

A final word from:

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
GENEVA (28 September 2017) - UN experts* have called on the Spanish authorities to ensure that measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum on 1 October do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation.
And there you have it. Maybe Catalonia does not have a constitutional right to secede. But the government's actions have been an appalling violation of human rights. I wish the people of Spain, and Catalonia, well.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rohingya crisis

Why am I writing about Rohingya crisis? It's in the news  but there are so  many atrocities taking place. Still, Are Myanmar’s Rohingya facing genocide or ethnic cleansing?
THE HAGUE: Muslim Rohingya fleeing their homes in Myanmar are facing “ethnic cleansing” but whether they are victims of genocide remains unclear, international justice experts told AFP.
About 422,000 refugees from the stateless Muslim minority have fled Myanmar’s westernmost Rakhine state to Bangladesh since August 25, alleging torture and rape by Myanmar troops and Buddhist militias.
Their plight has sparked UN accusations of military-led ethnic cleansing, but French President Emmanuel Macron has said the attacks amount to genocide.
September 22 – Seven judges of the Rome based Permanent People’s Tribunal on Myanmar have unanimously declared Myanmar guilty of genocide against Rohingyas and crime against humanity against other ethnic minorities.
Recently, however, I've seen too many "independent" journalists play loose with the facts, downplaying for ideological reasons, the scale of this tragedy. I hate this, because if reporters can't be trusted to report truthfully, what price democracy and a free society?
First, the lie the Rohingya are "Bengali immigrants". No, they've been there centuries Who are the Rohingya? 
The Rohingya are Muslims native to the northern Arakan region of Burma, which borders Bangladesh. The name Rohingya is taken from "Rohang" or "Rohan," which was the name used for the Arakan region during the 9th and 10th centuries. According to Rohingya history, the group is descended from 7th century Arab, Mughal, and Bengali merchants who settled in Arakan territory. The Rohingya live alongside the Rakhine, a people descended from Hindus and Mongols who make up the ethnic majority in the region. 
The Rohingya language is known as Rohingyalish and is linguistically similar to the Chittagonian language spoken in the southernmost area of Bangladesh bordering Burma. While the language has been successfully written in scripts including Arabic, Hanafi, Urdu, and Burmese, the modern adaptation uses a script based on the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet with two additional Latin letters. 
The Rohingya had autonomous rights till the military dictatorship of 1962 disenfranchised them all, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize winner is a figurehead unable to do anything to stop this. The West, with its eye on Burma's mineral wealth would like to normalize relations with Myanmar

The dirty fossil fuel secret behind Burma's democratic fairytale

but now that China has plans to develop an extension of its "silk road" to the Burmese coast there are all of a sudden competing geo-political interests, and, a lot of misinformation, sigh.

The Rohingya Of Myanmar - Pawns In An Anglo-Chinese Proxy War Fought By Saudi Jihadists

While the ethnic conflict in Rankine state is very old, it has over the last years morphed into an Jihadist guerilla war financed and led from Saudi Arabia. The area is of geo-strategic interest:
Rakhine plays an important part in [the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative] OBOR, as it is an exit to Indian Ocean and the location of planned billion-dollar Chinese projects—a planned economic zone on Ramree Island, and the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port, which has oil and natural gas pipelines linked with Yunnan Province’s Kunming. 
Pipelines from the western coast of Myanmar eastwards to China allow hydrocarbon imports from the Persian Gulf to China while avoiding the bottleneck of the Strait of Malacca and disputed parts of the South China Sea.
Whenever people, even in this case with the best intentions, go on about "jihadists" I get annoyed and ask for sources. They certainly are the worst "Saudi-armed jihadists" I've ever seen, having to get arms by raiding police stations. Sure, the leadership of the resistance might ne based in Saudia, but it's a stretch otherwise. And the mistreatment began in 1962, with Buddhist mobs and police
attacking Rohingya villages since 2012, and the refugee crisis then. So resistance beginning in 2016 is cause for genocide?

His article and comment, and I generally enjoy them, is a pastiche of poorly sourced opinion, and the analysis particularly weak. Posted a reply which is still not up, so I'm writing here.

Hi, M of A,

Not sure where you get "minor ethnic violence in Myanmar" and "The refugee wave is quite small compared to other events" but UNHCR says "number of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar edges towards half a million" so obviously it is a humanitarian catastrophe not excusable by the presence of a few poorly armed "Islamic insurgents" and "Tafkiris" attacking police stations and army outposts

Likewise, some quibbles about the Pakistani newspaper Dawn report there are more than 500,000 Rohingya in Karachi. Those, discredited figures by the defunct Pakistani agency NARA were based on "estimates by senior officials". Other estimates by the same agency say 200,000 but no one knows for sure, since, the agency never counted them. Indeed, a Sindh High Court judge censured them for not keeping track of foreign nationals and the President merged the agency into NADRA.

On the one hand, those born in Bangla Desh have a right to Pakistani citizenship, on the other, those falsely called Rohingya can be denied essential services in Karachi. Too many sources to link here, but there are competing interests to ensure those figures are inflated or underestimated.

Likewise, the Muslim presence in Myanmar goes back to the 9th century and since then, the Muslim Tatar armies of the Mongols also invaded Burma around the 13th-14th centuries. It is shameful that later immigration by Bengalis in the 19th century should be used to deny the Rakhine Muslims (Rohingya is a misnomer) their civil rights.

Now, your major, geo-political theme about nefarious interests trying to disrupt the Chinese silk road. Ataullah has already made peace overtures to Myanmar; stop persecuting Muslims, make peace. If Myanmar won't listen, and refuse to allow UN inspectors, fine. But the major plan by China is not to build a pipeline through Myanmar, but through the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The Iran/Pakistan gas pipeline's already well under way, and eventually carry up to China. This will be built along the China-Pakistan highway as part of the China-Pakistan economic corridor.

Gwadar - a port built by China - is the absolute key. It is the essential node in the crucial, ongoing, and still virtual Pipelineistan war between IPI and TAPI. IPI is the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline", which is planned to cross from Iranian to Pakistani Balochistan - an anathema to Washington. TAPI is the perennially troubled, US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, which is planned to cross western Afghanistan via Herat and branch out to Kandahar and Gwadar.--Pepe Escobar, "Balochistan is the ultimate prize," Asia Times, May 9, 2009 

So whoever "wins" Balochistan incorporates Pakistan as a key transit corridor to either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field or a great deal of the Caspian wealth of "gas republic" Turkmenistan.--Robert D. Crane, "Baluchistan: Pivot of Asia, Revisited,", May 9, 2009

There is indeed, a hybrid war against China taking place, but that is in Pakistan. Why should oil tankers go around India to dock in Myanmar when Gwadar, a deep sea water port is a lot closer? The gas pipeline from Iran’s Pars field extend from there to China?

This is where the next battle between US and Chinese interests will take place. The Rohingya, sadly, are grist for the mill.