Puerto Rico Here Are The Reasons You Don’t Matter

Puerto Rico Here Are The Reasons You Don’t Matter

 

Folks these are just my thoughts on the reality of what is, showing them does not mean that I agree with the Theology. Our Media here in the U.S. has been neatly formed into creating an atmosphere of all things being seen in only Black and White. We know that Hollywood shows say the world is ‘gray’, not black and white, how often do we hear of anyone else though? I am just going to give you my thoughts on why things on the ground in Puerto Rico are the way they are. Give it a read, see if we agree any at all on these issues.

 

I am a white guy who has traveled all over the lower 48 and several thousands of miles in Canada. Though I have been all over the Border with Mexico, I have never been over into Mexico. I am not a racist person at all, I know that there are good intention-ed and bad intention-ed people in every race and skin color. My faith system is what I would call Fundamental Christian, I do know that there are some who will disagree. I have never felt that any one skin color was more beautiful than another but if I had to guess it, it has to be brown. The real world isn’t just Black and White, its Brown. White folks, especially during the summer try their best to get a good golden brown tan for the winter. Come to think of it these days, aren’t most ‘Black’ folks really, Brown?

 

By paragraph number one you can see that I am saying that it is my opinion that race is an issue here to varying levels. The second issue I am trying to highlight is that one of the reasons that Puerto Rico is still in the horrible condition it is in is because they were and are, a very poor group of people, and they are not Black or White. The third issue is that there are some folks in the U.S. who feel that being you are not even a State, we don’t really have to help you at all. There are many people here in the U.S. whom would like to see Puerto Rico to become our 51st State, I am one of those people. I say this because once again the people of Puerto Rico recently voted to become one of our legal States, let’s let them folks. They are already Americans, without a State-Hood.

 

Is it not a bit odd that we have a President who is all about making himself more money, and a huge amount of his wealth comes from real estate, yet there has been no overt talk of ‘re-building’? This is the perfect opportunity to completely, re-build Puerto Rico from the ground up? This is the perfect chance to remake this island. Re-build the infrastructure, rebuilding new homes and businesses, huge investments, in the people of Puerto Rico. This is when we American folks need to stand up and do the things we say we are made out of. This huge investment now is very pale when you compare it to the cost of sitting on trillions in cash, letting people die, and doing nothing. This is a case of ‘the haves’ in D.C. telling the ‘have not’s’ in Puerto Rico no, no because you are neither Black of White so the ‘Race Card’ isn’t being played. No because you are poor, we are not going to spend our money on the likes of you. Then number three, you’re not really ‘real’ Americans after all. America and our Government need to show the people of Puerto Rico and the whole world exactly how much they really care about you. By doing or by not doing, the story is shown.

Catalan Leader Proclaims Independence But Suspends It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Catalan leader proclaims independence but suspends it to allow talks with Madrid

The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy”.

WORLD Updated: Oct 11, 2017 00:18 IST

Reuters, Barcelona
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during a plenary session in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gestures during a plenary session in the Catalan regional parliament in Barcelona, Spain, October 10, 2017. (REUTERS)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday proclaimed the region’s independence from Spain but said its effects would be suspended to allow for talks with the Madrid government.

“I assume the mandate that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic … I propose suspending the effects of the declaration of independence to undertake talks to reach an agreed solution,” Puigdemont told the regional parliament in Barcelona.

Though Puigdemont stopped short of seeking the explicit support of the chamber for the declaration of independence in a vote, a move that would have closed the door to any negotiated solution, the declaration plunges Spain into the unknown.

The Spanish government has said any unilateral declaration of independence would be illegal and has promised action “to restore law and democracy” if the parliament of the autonomous and affluent northeastern region presses ahead.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could take the unprecedented step of dissolving the Catalan parliament and triggering new regional elections, the so-called “nuclear option”.

The Madrid government could also ask the courts to strike down a declaration of independence as unconstitutional.

Despite renewed calls for dialogue with Madrid, the proclamation makes a negotiated solution more difficult as Rajoy has said he would not talk to the Catalan leaders until they drop plans for independence.

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘WAGINGNONVIOLENCE.ORG)

 

How the Vietnam War prepared Puerto Ricans to confront crisis

Members of Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico picket the White House in March of 1965. (Claridad / Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

This week, as Puerto Ricans feel once again like a White House afterthought, it is hard not to conclude that Puerto Rico matters to Washington only when mainland political and business leaders need to conscript the island itself for some larger financial or military purpose.

Consider the impact of Vietnam War policy on Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new Ken Burns documentary and Hurricane Maria, the headlines have us talking simultaneously about Vietnam and Puerto Rico for the first time in 50 years. Today, few Americans remember the impact of the Vietnam War on Puerto Rico. Yet the war struck the island with the force of a political hurricane, tearing at Puerto Rico’s social fabric, raising the same questions of colonialism that are again in the news in the wake of Maria, and fueling its independence movement.

Not unlike Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis, the Vietnam War brought into sharp relief the island’s unequal status as a territory of the United States, particularly after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in 1965. Draft-age men in Puerto Rico were subject to the Selective Service Act and called for induction into the U.S. military — even though they had no representative in the Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and even though many did not speak English.

A political cartoon published by Claridad in August of 1968.

As a result, Puerto Rico’s independence movement quickly condemned the war and called for widespread draft resistance. In July 1965, Claridad, the newspaper of the Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico, or MPI, published its first antiwar and anti-draft column, stating: “Because Puerto Rico is an American colony, Puerto Ricans are obligated to serve in that country’s army, are used like cannon fodder in imperialist wars carried out against defenseless peoples, wars in which Puerto Rico has no interest.”

One week later the MPI called on Puerto Ricans to resist the draft and condemned American aggression in Vietnam as a guerra sucia — a “dirty war” — against “the heroic people of Vietnam.” In response, students for the first time protested outside the Selective Service’s offices in San Juan.

Soon, the MPI likened its own quest for independence with that of the United States’ enemy in Vietnam. As reported in Claridad, the MPI “expressed its full solidarity with the National Liberation Front in its just fight for independence from North American imperialist dominance” and called on the United States to honor the 1954 Geneva Accords, to withdraw from Vietnam, and “guarantee the independence and neutrality of all of Indochina.”

For the MPI, the draft represented a “blood tax,” a “taxation without representation” that Americans aware of their own revolutionary heritage should have understood. Independentistas pointed to the composition of local draft boards (which were called “juntas” in Spanish) as proof. According to Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey, draft boards were “little groups of neighbors,” best suited to look out for America’s sons. But the MPI complained that the local boards were made up of “members of the richest families, statehood proponents … members of the Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange, Citizens for State 51 and other fiends” who “funneled” the poor into the military. These draft board members were Puerto Rican mandarins, agents of the colonizers.

An image published in the Fall of 1970 by the U.S. Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners.

In 1965 and 1966, long before a coordinated draft resistance movement took shape stateside, 33 members of MPI and two others refused to be inducted. Prosecutors indicted them promptly. When they went to trial in federal court, the proceedings were conducted in English — which often meant that some of the best Puerto Rican lawyers were unavailable — and if one wanted to appeal a conviction, the appeal was heard 2,700 miles away, in Boston, also in English.

In August 1966, the first Puerto Rican draft resistance case, that of Sixto Alvelo Rodriguez, came to trial. Alvelo won support not only from the MPI — which enlisted the radical New York law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard for his defense — but also from mainstream supporters who formed Comite de Defense Sixto Alvelo. More than 200 students signed a statement in support of Alvelo, pledging that they, too, would refuse induction. In September, the court asked Alvelo’s draft board to re-induct him (it never did) and dismissed his case and all other MPI draft resistance cases.

The independence movement interpreted the court’s ruling as a major political victory. The MPI speculated that Alvelo’s case revealed “one of the most tyrannical manifestations of our colonial subjugation” and that Washington had backed down in the face of the threat of thousands of induction refusals in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans attending the Fifth Annual Youth Conference of the Pro Independence Movement in Santurce on January 21, 1967. (Claridad / El Mundo, Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

At the same time, however, the Selective Service continued to call Puerto Rican men for induction, and support for the draft resistance movement continued to go mainstream. On Mother’s Day in 1967, Puerto Rican mothers organized a protest against the draft in San Juan. The Puerto Rican Bar Association passed a resolution in 1968 calling for the exemption of Puerto Ricans from compulsory U.S. military service, and one year later, the Puerto Rican Episcopal Church passed a resolution at its Diocesan Convention condemning both the war and the conscription of Puerto Ricans.

Federal prosecutors ultimately indicted more than 100 Puerto Rican men, most of whom were convicted. On the day that Edwin Feliciano Grafals — a 26-year-old MPI member who described himself as a “nonreligious conscientious objector” — became the first Puerto Rican draft resister convicted since World War II, students at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras burned down the campus ROTC building. Six weeks later, 10,000 Puerto Ricans marched through San Juan protesting against the draft. “This is the time to decide; you’re either a Yanqui or you’re a Puerto Rican,” MPI leader Juan Mari Bras told the crowd. “Not one more Puerto Rican should convert himself into a criminal by fighting against the Vietnamese people.”

In the end, Puerto Rico’s draft resistance did not end the Vietnam War nor did it win independence. But it did help to prevent further escalation of the war in 1968, and it brought many Puerto Ricans both to the antiwar movement and to the cause of independence. Moreover, draft resistance in Puerto Rico combined with draft resistance throughout the United States to compel the Nixon administration to introduce a draft lottery and, ultimately, end conscription altogether.

Protest against the draft in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States worked because it targeted an institution that few could defend as fair. Today, with the federal government seemingly unable to deliver post-hurricane relief to Puerto Rico in a manner equal to its assistance in Texas and Florida, we have yet one more example of discrimination against a people who right now need only compassion, sympathy and generous aid.

The devastation of Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis (a crisis rooted in mainland lending policies) has now been compounded by natural disaster. It is in moments like these when, as during the Vietnam War, the second-class treatment of Puerto Rico by Washington is most obvious. The island itself has been treated as a conscript by successive U.S. governments for more than a century, for far too long.

The question is how islanders will respond to Washington this time. Will they protest? If so, what form will the protest take? Now may be a good time, in fact, for Puerto Ricans (and for the rest of us) to look to the island’s resistance to the Vietnam War as a model worth following. Fifty years later, it is worth remembering the place of Puerto Rican draft resisters in the American tradition of dissent. And it is worth remembering its place in a tradition of resistance to American colonialism. By escalating protest against the war and by risking their own freedom, Puerto Rican draft resisters kept alive the notion that resistance is a valid mode of citizenship.

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Middle-East Plans Genocide Against Kurdish People: World Stays Silent

Genocide Is Being Planed Against The Kurdish People

 

The President of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has for a long time been committing mass murder against the thousands of Kurdish people who live within the borders of Turkey. He and his government consider these people as his  enemy when these people really only want peace and a small piece of the land they already live on, to be their own. The Kurdish people are the fifth largest ethnicity in the middle-east, yet they technically have no homeland.

 

Now that the Kurdish people in Iraq have voted to ‘take’ the piece of land they already live on as their own Nation, more than just Erdogan’s hate has been turned upon these people. There are millions of Kurdish people who live in the region of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey so now these countries leaders are going to ban together against the Kurdish people also.

 

Hypocrisy Against The Kurd’s

 

Particularly in Iraq the Kurdish people have helped the Government in Baghdad to stay alive, and in power. Even the governments in Iran and Syria have greatly benefited from the Kurdish people fighting against the oppression of ISIS. Particularly in Iraq the governments military ran like scalded dogs when they were attacked by Isis. If not for the Kurdish fighters the ISIS fighters would right now have Baghdad as their Caliphate capitol. The government in Baghdad owes the Kurdish people their very lives yet they collude with Asps in Iran, Syria and Turkey to eliminate them. If it had not been for the Kurdish fighters all of these aforementioned countries would have had to have spent billions of more dollars and thousands of their won lives in defeating ISIS and kicking them out of their own countries. There are two other groups that I have not yet mentioned in this situation and that is the Hezbollah government in Lebanon and the government in Washington D.C..

 

Personally I first remember hearing of the Kurdish people in about 1990. What I have learned during this time is that the U.S. Government has used them in a ‘proxy since’ for at least this long and before it. We have used them and their desire for freedom and democracy as a tool of the CIA to fight against extremest in that area of the world. We make promises to them over and over again, then turn and walk away from them when they need us the most. Today, we send them items like military trucks and some small arms in their fight for their won right to life as a free people. The United States and the U.N. should at this very moment be working out a plan with the other countries in this region to create a Kurdish homeland, one homeland, not a ‘homeland’ inside all of the different countries.

 

Does the U.N. and the United States just stand by and allow a total elimination of millions of people whose only crime is wanting to be a free people? It is just my opinion but to me this whole region would be better served, the people of all of these countries would be better served with a peaceful Kurdistan as a neighbor, than to have another un-needed war. Give to these people the land they already possess as a thank you for the sacrifices they have given to help keep these other governments in power, especially concerning Iraq. It is the only intelligent path to be taken, one of free trade with all their neighbors along with friendship between the people and the governments. The other path leads only to genocide and if this is the chosen path that the War Drums beat, the leaders of the U.N. and in Washington should be taken to Times Square and flogged publicly with the tongues of the World for their hypocrisy. Then deported to live with their friends in Gaza City.

 

 

Free Speech Does Not Harm Minorities Or Majorities, It Protects Them

(THIS IS A COMMENTARY FROM SOHRAB)

 

The rising tide of anti-free speech sentiment on the American left has now engulfed the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s principled position on the First Amendment has long seen it come to the defense of Nazis, neo-Confederates, and sundry other groups with rancid ideologies. But now it is facing pressure, from within and without, to dial down its commitment to free speech for all.

The New York Times on Wednesday reported on an open letter, circulating inside the ACLU, that urges the organization’s leaders to balance free-speech rights against racial equality. The writers argued that “our broader mission—which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment—continues to be undermined by our rigid stance.”

Meanwhile, at the College of William and Mary last week, Black Lives Matter activists heckled and silenced Claire Gastañaga, an ACLU representative who was to speak on “Students and the First Amendment.” These spectacles have become commonplace on university campuses, but the latest footage is chilling all the same.

When it became clear that she was being “no-platformed,” Gastañaga said: “I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this”—meaning the gathering BLM intifada—“illustrates very well.” But she got further as the mob began howling: “ACLU, you protect Hitler too!”; “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution!”; “Liberalism is white supremacy”; and so on. Afterward, the BLMers went so far as to prevent individual students from asking Gastañaga their questions.

Give the William and Mary BLMers points for honesty. At least they made it clear that their real beef is with America’s constitutional order. Like all totalitarians, they see things like free speech and due process as pesky obstacles on the path to utopia. More dismaying is that some ACLU staffers—and I’m willing to bet they tend to be the younger ones—have come to view free speech as inimical to free speech.

This is a grave mistake. In fact, free speech is the best tools for securing other rights, including the right to equal treatment before the law. This is why free-speech rights were high on the civil-rights movement’s list of demands. As Martin Luther King noted in 1968:

If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could . . . understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.

If America is going in an ugly majoritarian dimension, as liberals fear, then it is all the more crucial to rally to the First Amendment. That means defending the right of unpopular groups and minorities so as to secure it for everyone. The fact that young lawyers at the ACLU—the ACLU!—don’t understand the ideas behind the First Amendment is a reminder that the country is in a very dark place.

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Catalan head says already feels like the president of a free country

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Catalan head says already feels like the president of a free country

Catalonia will move to declare independence from Spain on Monday.

WORLD Updated: Oct 04, 2017 21:26 IST

Reuters, Barcelona/Madrid
President of the Catalan regional government Carles Puigdemont (2R) and Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police on September 10.
President of the Catalan regional government Carles Puigdemont (2R) and Josep Lluis Trapero (R), chief of the Catalan regional police on September 10.(AFP File Photo)

Catalonia will move on Monday to declare independence from Spain following October 1’s banned referendum as the European Union nation nears a rupture that threatens the foundations of its young democracy.

Mireia Boya, a Catalan lawmaker from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, said on Twitter that a declaration of independence would follow a parliamentary session on Monday to evaluate the results of the vote to break away.

“We know that there may be disbarments, arrests … But we are prepared, and in no case will it be stopped,” she said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont earlier said he would ask the region’s parliament to declare independence following the poll, which Spain’s government and constitutional court say was illegal and in which only a minority of Catalans voted.

“This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and therefore we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week,” he told the BBC in remarks published on Wednesday.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Puigdemont said he already felt like “a president of a free country where millions of people have made an important decision”.

He said the Madrid government’s refusal to negotiate had left Catalonia “no other way” than to declare independence and accused it of authoritarianism.

“The Spanish government is letting political opponents be arrested, it is influencing media and blocking Internet sites. We are under observation day and night,” Puigdemont said.

“What is that other than an authoritarian state?”

Spain was only restored to democracy following the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco, under whom the Catalan language and traditions were suppressed.

The constitutional crisis in Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-biggest economy, has shaken the common currency and hit Spanish stocks and bonds, sharply raising Madrid’s borrowing costs.

The cost of insuring against potential losses on Spanish bank debt and Spanish, Italian and Portuguese sovereign debt has also jumped, suggesting an impact on the wider euro zone.

Bank stocks were hit especially hard as the Ibex stock index, fell below 10,000 points on Wednesday for the first time since March 2015. In a sign of the nervous public mood, Catalonia’s biggest bank, Caixabank, and Spain’s economy minister had earlier sought to assure bank customers that their deposits were safe.

Influential Catalan business lobby Cercle d’Economia said it was extremely worried by the prospect of Catalonia declaring independence and called for both sides to start talks.

“Such a declaration would plunge the country into an extraordinarily complex situation with unknown, but very serious consequences,” the group said in a statement.

Read more

Evening statement

Puigdemont’s comments appeared after Spain’s King Felipe VI accused secessionist leaders on Tuesday of shattering democratic principles and dividing Catalan society, as tens of thousands protested against a violent police crackdown on Sunday’s vote.

The Catalan leader is due to make a statement at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday.

Spain has been rocked by the Catalan vote and the Spanish police response to it, which saw batons and rubber bullets used to prevent people voting. Hundreds were injured, in scenes that brought international condemnation.

Catalans came out onto the streets on Tuesday to condemn the police action, shutting down traffic, public transport and businesses, and stoking fears about intensifying unrest in a region that makes up one-fifth of the Spanish economy.

Road closures related to the protests briefly halted production at Volkswagen’s Catalonia plant. Stoppages also affected production at Nestle’s instant coffee plant in Girona.

“As a businessman, as a Spaniard and as a person, I am very worried and I am scared by what’s going on (in Catalonia),” said Juan Roig, chairman of Spain’s biggest food retailer Mercadona.

“Irresponsible behaviour”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hard line on Catalan independence faces a huge challenge to see off the issue without further unrest and potential damage to his minority government.

Pro-independence parties which control the regional government staged the referendum in defiance of a Constitutional Court ruling that the vote violated Spain’s 1978 constitution, which states the country is indivisible.

Catalonia has its own language and culture and a political movement for secession that has strengthened in recent years.

Participants in Sunday’s ballot — only about 43 percent of eligible voters — opted overwhelmingly for independence, a result that was expected since residents who favour remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the referendum.

Outside Catalonia, Spaniards mostly hold strong views against its independence drive. In his televised address, the king said the “irresponsible behaviour” of the Catalan leaders had undermined social harmony in the region.

“Today Catalan society is fractured and in conflict,” he said. “They (the Catalan leaders) have infringed the system of legally approved rules with their decisions, showing an unacceptable disloyalty towards the powers of the state.”

The king said the crown was strongly committed to the Spanish constitution and to democracy, and underlined his commitment to the unity and permanence of Spain. He had earlier met Rajoy to discuss the situation in Catalonia.

Opinion polls conducted before the vote suggested a minority of around 40 percent of residents in the region backed independence. But a majority wanted a referendum to be held, and the violent police crackdown angered Catalans across the divide.

17 dead after protests in Cameroon English-speaking areas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTAN NEWS PAPER ‘DAWN’)

 

 

Cameroon police officials with riot equipment patrol along a street in the administrative quarter of Buea some 60kms west of Douala on October 1. — AFP
Cameroon police officials with riot equipment patrol along a street in the administrative quarter of Buea some 60kms west of Douala on October 1. — AFP

Cameroon’s military is heavily deployed in the country’s English-speaking regions and few people are on the streets after 17 people were killed over the weekend in protests in support of independence for some Anglophone regions.

Tens of thousands of English-speaking Cameroonians hoisted flags on Sunday to show that they want independence from the country’s French-speaking majority, defying security forces and bans for gathering in some areas.

Security forces shot dead 17 people in Cameroon during gatherings on the 56th anniversary of the incorporation of Anglophone regions into Cameroon, according to Amnesty International. The group expressed worry over the government’s “ongoing campaign to silence any form of dissent”.

The Northwest province on Friday banned meetings and travel for 72 hours.

The rights group called on security forces to cease unnecessary violence and called on protesters to be peaceful.

“The worrying escalation witnessed over the weekend has now reached a crisis point. The use of excessive force to silence protests in the west and southwest regions of Cameroon is not the solution,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.

“All deaths related to these protests must be promptly and effectively investigated.”

Local media had reported at least a dozen people killed in the English-speaking northwest and southwest regions, some shot by military helicopters, while at least 40 others were arrested, according to local media. Six soldiers were attacked and severely wounded, reports said.

No declarations were made by separatists, but protests have been ongoing since late last year with the country’s English-speaking population saying it is discriminated against by the majority French-speaking population.

Social media platforms such as WhatsApp have been blocked in the English-speaking regions and residents express fear about restrictions imposed by the government.

In Yaounde and all major towns in the French-speaking regions, political parties, lawmakers and the government organized rallies denouncing the separatist groups.

Lawmaker Tabe Tando from Cameroon’s English-speaking southwest region read a declaration at a mass rally organised by Cameroon’s senate and national assembly in Yaounde.

“The members of parliament condemn outright any action aimed at destabilising our beloved and beautiful country. Reaffirm their attachment to a Cameroon which is one and indivisible as enshrined in the constitution. Express their brotherly solidarity to the populations of the northwest and southwest regions, victims of the unscrupulous acts of enemies of the fatherland and peace,” it said.

Some experts called for dialogue to avoid ongoing tensions.

Schools have been closed in the northwest and southwest since November when lawyers and teachers called for a strike to stop what they believe is the overuse of the French language. Violence erupted when separatists joined in and started asking for complete independence.

President Paul Biya has made clear he is not open for any negotiations on separate states.

Catalonia’s Independence Vote Descends Into Chaos and Clashes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

The Spanish police blocked the entrance of a Barcelona school that was to be used as a polling station in the Catalan independence referendum on Sunday. CreditEmilio Morenatti/Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes.

Over the course of the day, the referendum took on an almost surreal cast. The voting went ahead in many towns and cities, with men and women, young and old, singing and chanting as they lined up for hours to cast ballots, even as confrontations with the police turned violent elsewhere.

The police, sent by the central government in Madrid from other parts of Spain, used rubber bullets and truncheons in some places. The clashes quickly spoiled what had been a festive, if expectant, atmosphere among voters, many of whom had camped inside polling stations to ensure that they would remain open.

Continue reading the main story

Photo

The Spanish police fired rubber bullets at Catalans trying to vote in Barcelona on Sunday.CreditEmilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Proponents of the referendum immediately pointed to the heavy use of police force as a blight not only on the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, but also on Spain’s still relatively young democracy.

Continue reading the main story

“The image of the Spanish state has reached levels of shame that will stay with them forever,” the leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, told a crowd in the town of Sant Julià de Ramis, the scene of clashes.

The Catalan vote has been watched with rising trepidation — and no sign of support — by a European Union wary of stoking forces of fragmentation already tugging at the bloc and many member states, where populist and nationalist parties have surged in recent elections.

Nationalism in Spain, a country with a long and painful 20th century history that included civil war and fascism, has been all but dormant since the coming of democracy after the death of the dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975. There are already signs that Catalonia’s threat to fracture the country is changing that.

Because of the tensions Sunday, F.C. Barcelona, the soccer club, played a match behind closed doors in its Camp Nou stadium, where the opposing Spanish team came with special uniforms emblazoned with the Spanish flag — something unusual here.

Yet none of the tensions or lack of support has dimmed aspirations for independence in Catalonia, a prosperous region with a distinct language, history and culture.

Yearnings for a separate state have ebbed and flowed for generations, but rose in recent years as Catalans complained that Madrid was unfairly siphoning off their wealth and denying them the right to choose their own political destiny.

The Madrid government, with the backing of Spanish courts, declared the referendum unconstitutional and ordered the vote suspended. But that did not stop Catalans from lining up before sunrise on Sunday, massing on rain-slicked streets in towns and cities across the region.

The turnout was an extraordinary show of determination in the face of a steady drumbeat of threats from Madrid. Though it was far from clear that Sunday’s vote would yield a reliable result, both sides quickly claimed victory — and victimization.

Spanish authorities accused the separatist government of irresponsibly encouraging voters to violate Spanish law and declared that the referendum had been successfully disrupted.

Continue reading the main story

Photo

Pro-referendum supporters blocked a gate to a polling station in Barcelona as members of the Spanish police arrived to control the area. CreditChris Mcgrath/Getty Images

The Catalan authorities maintained that balloting had proceeded in almost three-quarters of polling stations and seemed determined to use the vote as further evidence of the legitimacy of their claim for a separate nation.

Mr. Puigdemont, the Catalan leader, accused the Spanish government of using “unjustified and irresponsible” means to stop Catalonia’s voters, “with truncheons against ballot boxes.”

“Today, the Spanish state has lost a lot more than it had already lost, and Catalan citizens have won a lot more than they had won until now,” he said.

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, Spain’s deputy prime minister, later praised the Spanish police for blocking a vote that “couldn’t be celebrated and wasn’t celebrated.”

She told a news conference that the Catalan government had acted “with absolute irresponsibility, which had to be overcome by the professionalism of the security forces.”

Continue reading the main story

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Some Catalans managed to cast ballots at a school in Barcelona on Sunday. CreditJon Nazca/Reuters

More than 460 people were injured in the crackdown and scuffling that ensued, according to Catalan officials, while a dozen Spanish police officers were wounded, according to Spain’s interior ministry.

Ada Colau, the left-wing mayor of Barcelona, called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign over his “cowardly” and unjustified police intervention.

“Today, we’re not talking about independence or not, but about a breakup between Mariano Rajoy and his government with Catalonia,” she told reporters.

Overnight, Catalans had used tractors to block police access to some rural municipalities so that the vote could go on. In other places, residents removed the doors of polling stations to ensure that the police could not bolt them on Sunday.

As Sunday approached, the Madrid government tried everything it could to thwart the referendum: disabling the internet, confiscating ballots, detaining some officials and threatening scores more with prosecution.

The Referendum

What’s at stake? Catch up on the election here.

  • Catalonia is voting on independence Sunday despite opposition from Madrid. What are the origins of the secessionist movement, and who is trying to block the vote?

The vote took place anyway in an atmosphere of cat and mouse and in improvised conditions, with a disputed census used as the voting list.

Catalan officials instead relied on privately printed ballots, and changed the voting rules an hour before polls were scheduled to open, to allow voters to cast a ballot at any poll station, without using an envelope and whether registered there or not.

Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s representative in Catalonia, said the last-minute change turned what was already an illegal referendum into “a joke.”

Mr. Millo deplored the fact the national police were forced to take over from Catalan police officers who failed to stop the voting. “We’re being forced to do what we didn’t want to do,” he said.

Some videos posted on social media even showed arguments and some tussling between Spanish national police and the Catalan police.

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Photo

Protesters made a fascist salute during a demonstration in Barcelona by far-right groups against the Catalan referendum on Sunday. CreditPau Barrena/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Catalan police also intervened in Barcelona’s main downtown square to prevent clashes between separatists and a small group of far-right partisans of Spain.

A few outsiders had traveled to Catalonia from other countries to act as observers, saying they wanted to make sure that the police did not use force against voters.

Dimitrij Rupel, a former foreign minister of Slovenia, led a delegation of 35 foreign officials invited by the Catalan government. After watching the police intervene, he said that the “police have nothing to do with the democratic process — they shouldn’t be here.”

Others compared the situation in Catalonia with that in their own independence-minded regions, precisely what has concerned European Union officials and neighboring governments.

“Every person in the world should have the right to decide their present and future, which of course means the right to vote,” said Andrea Favaro, an Italian lawyer, who waited inside a polling station early on Sunday. Mr. Favoro is from the Veneto region that has held a nonbinding ballot on independence from Italy.

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Photo

Catalan police officers walked by people camping out at the entrance to a Barcelona elementary school, one of the designated polling stations for the independence referendum. CreditJon Nazca/Reuters

Recent opinion polls suggest that slightly less than half of Catalonia’s 7.5 million people support separation from Spain, but separatist parties won a majority in the region’s Parliament in 2015 and their influence has grown.

Many say Catalonia would face a perilous and uncertain future outside Spain, the market for most of the region’s goods, and would not be assured of being readmitted to the European Union.

Others complained that the thrust for independence had deepened divisions within the region, whose vibrant economy has attracted families from inside and outside Spain.

Olga Noheda, a doctor in Centelles, said one of her patients, an older man, began crying in her examination room, and explained that his granddaughter had begun expressing dislike for Spaniards.

“He was very sad, because he didn’t understand where it all came from,” she said. “He migrated to Catalonia many years ago, from Seville, and he was wondering if his granddaughter was aware that he was a Spaniard.”

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Photo

A tractor was used to block police access to a polling station in Sant Julià de Ramis. CreditDavid Ramos/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the vote, school principals had received letters threatening them with sedition charges, which carry a 15-year prison term, if they willingly allowed their buildings to be used as polling stations.

In one city, the local newspaper editor discovered he faced a criminal complaint after he printed a list of schools that would be holding votes.

Still, in some Catalan cities like Berga, people lined up to vote early, aware that the Spanish police could intervene later in the day. A car toured the city with a megaphone, calling on citizens to go to their polling stations “to defend the ballot boxes and democracy.”

In the southern port city of Tarragona, Emilia Roldan Cano, a 58-year-old sales assistant, was the first — and last — person to vote before police confiscated the ballot box at her polling station. She said she was pleased to have been among the many people who cast a ballot.

“I am Catalan and I love Catalonia,” said Ms. Roldan Cano, whose parents moved to the region from Andalusia in the 1950s, looking for work. “And now I like it more, seeing all that I see.”

With kids in tow, Catalonia’s pro-independence parents occupy polling stations in mass act of civil disobedience  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

With kids in tow, Catalonia’s pro-independence parents occupy polling stations in mass act of civil disobedience

 Play Video 3:17
Families occupy polling stations in Catalonia ahead of independence referendum
Parents and their children have occupied school buildings serving as polling stations in Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s planned independence referendum for the region to secede from Spain. (Raul Gallego Abellan/The Washington Post)
 September 30 at 5:50 PM
 In a mass act of civil disobedience, organized by WhatsApp groups, encrypted messages and clandestine committees, a small army of parents and their children occupied hundreds of polling stations across Catalonia on Saturday, hoping to thwart efforts by the central government to shut down an independence referendum that Madrid calls illegal.The remarkable occupation of elementary and high schools, which in Spain serve as polling stations, set the stage for an almost surreal confrontation between pro-independence Catalans and their central government.

The defenders of the vote were not trained cadres of activists, but ordinary, overextended and stressed parents from the neighborhoods, who carried babies on their hips and entreated rambunctious children to stop teasing their siblings.

As the occupiers were gulping coffee and sharing plates of pastries brought by volunteers, police units on Saturday started to sweep the schools to warn the parents that the buildings must be emptied by 6 a.m. Sunday, three hours before the controversial plebiscite is scheduled to begin.

Police have been instructed to clear the polling places but to use limited force.

 Play Video 4:28
‘We are not the silent majority anymore:’ Pro-Spain Catalonians make their voices heard
Catalonia is vowing to press ahead with a vote on Oct. 1 on whether to declare independence from Spain. The referendum has divided Catalonians, and the Spanish government has called it illegal. (Raul Gallego Abellan/The Washington Post)

As children in playgrounds ran around chasing soccer balls and scribbling with crayons in classrooms, their parents were huddled in the hallways, sneaking a quick cigarette, scrolling their cellphones and worrying.

“I would not deny that we are nervous, because we don’t know what is going to happen,” said Roger Serra, a parent who spent the night at Enric Casassas primary school here alongside about 50 others.

The people who came to occupy the buildings to defend the referendum were almost in disbelief, that in a prosperous, stable and globalized country in Europe in 2017, they suddenly found themselves at a modern-day version of the old barricades.

The families spent a restive night, watching Disney movies and curled in sleeping bags.

Catalonia’s secessionists, led by the region’s pro-independence president Carles Puigdemont, vow to press ahead with the vote in rebellion against the central government, in Madrid, and the Constitutional Court, which has declared the referendum illegal and the results, whatever they might be, illegitimate.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has moved thousands of national police and Guardia Civil militia into Catalonia to stop the plebiscite.

National security forces have confiscated more than 13 million ballots, shut down websites, arrested 14 functionaries and demanded that he region’s 700 mayors desist from supporting the vote.

On Saturday, national police took over the regional government’s telecommunications center in Barcelona. A court in Barcelona ordered Google to delete a mobile app the Catalan government was using to distribute information about how and where to vote.

Officials with the central government told reporters that police had secured some 1,300 of 2,315 schools in Catalonia used as polling stations. The same officials also said that activists had occupied 163 schools. Those figures could not be verified and were challenged by pro-independence activists who said many more schools were filled with supporters of Sunday’s vote.

The activists, who asked that their identities remain anonymous because their activities are deemed illegal, said it was also possible that even if normal polling places are closed, the vote could be staged down the block at another public building that someone has the key to.

“Can we vote, or not? For me the great question is who is going to bring the ballot boxes and ballot papers? Will they come from a hidden place, some clandestine, secret place, that could be in our town and from there they are going to distribute it? I don’t see how this will work,” said Victor Colomer, who spent the night in the school with his wife.

The regional government says it has printed millions of ballots and has stashed them around Catalonia, playing a cat-and-mouse game with police.

Alongside the hidden ballots are thousands of plastic tubs, marked with the Catalan regional government’s emblem, with numbered, red strips normally used to the secure the ballots after they are dropped in the boxes.

At a news conference, Catalan officials showed off one of the ballot boxes. Puigdemont told reporters that more than 6,000 were being cached.

One Catalan pro-vote activist told The Washington Post that the referendum would proceed “as normal as possible in an abnormal situation” — that citizens would go to their traditional polling station, usually a neighborhood school, show their identification card, be checked against the voter registries maintained by the regional government and cast their ballot — yes or no for independence.

After the vote, the volunteers would tally the count and report it to the regional government, which will announce the result.

But it is far from certain that this will happen as promised by Catalonia’s separatists.

The Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, told Sky News that there would be no real vote.

“There are no voting places, no ballot papers, no authorities to check the authenticity of the results,” Dastis said. “There may be some type of simulation of a vote in certain places and streets, but I don’t believe that there will be any referendum.”

Police have threatened not only to shut down the schools but also to issue large fines to anyone assisting an illegal vote.

The mayor of Sabadell, the fifth-largest city in Calalonia, said there were 54 polling stations here. He guessed that half were occupied by parents on Saturday.

“I cannot tell you how the people will vote. Many want independence, many don’t. Some are not so sure,” said Sabadell Mayor Maties Serracant, who declined a summons to appear before prosecutors last week.

“The situation is incredible,” the mayor said. “If you would have told me a few months ago that parents would be occupying this school to vote, I would have laughed.”

The potentially chaotic vote raises immediate questions of its legitimacy. Catalan officials have also sent mixed messages: Is the referendum binding? Or if the vote tilts toward independence, is it just the beginning of new round of negotiations with the central government?

Those who want an independent Catalonia often say they’ve never been a true part of Spain, that they belong to a unique region with its own language, history and culture. They say they have surrendered too much control — and too many euros in taxes — to the central government in Madrid.

Those who want to remain in Spain say the country is indivisible, that it is better to belong to “Big Spain” than “Little Catalonia,” a country that would hold just 7 million people.

Many, especially those who want to remain a part of Spain, said they were afraid to vote. Others said they would not enter a building illegally — or did not want to walk through a phalanx of police officers in riot gear.

“I think the vote is illegal. I don’t want to vote tomorrow. I will stay at home. It’s their game — we don’t want to play with them,” said Jarei Gual Navarro, an engineering student. “We Catalans have always been a part of Spain.”

There were demonstrations by pro-Spain voices in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon.

“This vote is not legal, not legitimate and not fair,” said Carlos Abril, a finance manager, who came out to wave a Spanish flag.

Abril called himself a proud son of Catalonia but said he opposes independence, which he calls disaster for the region. “No debate, police in the streets, lies, fear, violations, propaganda! Man, this is no way to stage a vote.”

Raul Gallego Abellan contributed to this report.

 

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

In Iraq’s tinderbox city, referendum sparks fears of sectarian war

Updated 11:08 AM ET, Fri September 29, 2017

Kirkuk, Iraq (CNN)Major Adnan Majeed stands in front of a cement wall scrawled with the names of Kurdish fighters killed by ISIS. A mural of the Kurdish flag with a rising sun at its center, blanketed with specks of sand, forms the heart of this makeshift memorial.

It sits just steps away from the boundary of the would-be independent state of Kurdistan that Iraqi Kurds are seeking following the independence referendum this week.
“Whenever I pass through this memorial, I see the names of my friends and I feel sad,” says Majeed, head of this garrison in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

Majeed says scores of his troops have been killed fighting ISIS.

A meters-long bridge was once all that separated the Peshmerga from ISIS here. Majeed says scores of his troops were slain at this outpost while repelling the terror group’s repeated attempts to take control of the area.
It took the Peshmerga a year — and air cover from the United States-led coalition — to push ISIS back. These days, the terror group is a more comfortable 4 kilometers away from the outpost, holed up in the town of Hawija, the group’s last stronghold in Iraq.
American-supplied mine-resistant vehicles, known as MRAPs, are parked outside the outpost, and some soldiers wear patches reading “Shoulder to Shoulder with the US” sewn into their fatigues. But although Kurdish forces here are trained and supplied by the US, they do not have America’s support in their bid for independence.

The view from a sandbag sentry position looks out at ISIS territory in the distance.

The outpost was supposed to be one of the staging grounds to retake Hawija, but that hasn’t happened yet. Since the referendum was carried out against the wishes of Baghdad, much of what pertains to the operation remains in flux. Majeed and his men expected Iraqi army units to arrive on Tuesday, but there’s no sign of them. The commander is still waiting.
“I’m here and ready,” Majeed said. “Why the Iraqi army aren’t here, I don’t know.”
An Iraqi armed forces spokesman told CNN the Peshmerga were never expected to play a key role in the push on Hawija. He wouldn’t comment further on the timeline of his force’s arrival, citing security concerns.
Iraqi forces and Shia paramilitary groups have almost completely encircled Hawija, with the exception of a path to Kirkuk from the west, which stretches out in front of the watchtower. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the second phase of the campaign against Hawija Friday.
Retaking Hawija raises the specter of a large military build-up of Iraqi troops — and their paramilitary counterparts — just outside the Kurdish outpost. It is here that the next chapter in Iraq’s war-weary history may erupt.
Kurdish fighters can sometimes see the fight from their sandbag sentry post on the hillside, as jets from the US-led coalition whizz overhead.
Their military position defends Kirkuk, an oil-rich city claimed by both the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Baghdad has vehemently opposed the referendum, which was held across the KRG’s autonomous region and in disputed territories like Kirkuk.
Shortly before the referendum results were announced, Iraq’s parliament voted to authorize the deployment of troops to contested areas.
Iran and Turkey, which have their own sizable Kurdish populations, have repeatedly condemned the referendum. The United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations Security Council also opposed the vote, which they said would impede the fight against ISIS.
In what may signal the start of a series of punitive measures against Kurdish officials, Baghdad has ordered a halt to international flights to airports administered by the KRG, beginning Friday evening.

Kirkuk: the referendum’s tinderbox

Kirkuk has emerged as a flashpoint in Iraqi Kurdistan’s standoff with Baghdad for the same reasons ISIS fought so hard to capture it.
The province has one of the biggest oil fields in the country, something that is abundantly clear to anyone driving through the city, as the smell of oil wafts through the car windows. It also has an electricity plant that powers much of the surrounding areas.
Kurdish forces first took control of the city in 2014 amid their campaign against ISIS. The governor is Kurdish, as are most of the province’s council members.

The mural at the outpost on the edge of Kirkuk, just 4 kilometers from ISIS-controlled Hawija.

On Thursday, Kirkuk seemed quiet. Pedestrians were a rare sight on streets lined with bullet-scarred houses.
A multi-ethnic city whose population is made up of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, and includes those from Christian, Shia and Sunni Muslim backgrounds, this place is no stranger to conflict; in recent days, however, tensions here have hit fever pitch.
Sheikh Burhan al-Mezher, an Arab tribal leader, says his community is “constantly under threat and at risk.” Showing CNN anonymous Facebook messages containing threats to harm his children, he says he “can only pray that this will end and God will bring peace and stability to the whole of Iraq.”
Skirmishes occurred almost nightly in the run-up to the referendum and at least one person died in the fighting, according to Ali Mehdi, the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
The day before the poll, Mehdi told CNN that non-Kurds in the city were being pressured to vote “Yes.”
“The policies of the Kurds in Kirkuk (are) Saddam Hussein’s polic(ies),” says Mehdi, referring to the former Iraqi dictator, ousted following the US-led invasion in 2003.

A Peshmerga fighter looks at a billboard of Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani.

There have violent clashes between Turkmen and Kurds in Kirkuk in the wake of the vote. Turkey has warned that any attack on the region’s Turkmen minority would constitute a military red line.
“(The) Turkish army will intervene immediately if our Turkmen brothers (in the disputed Kirkuk province) are physically targeted,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Fears of revenge attacks

Those fears are echoed elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan, albeit in hushed tones.
“We believe that the Kurdish people have the right to determine their fate … but Arabs are worried that any clashes that might happen in Kirkuk will lead to revenge attacks on us here,” says Ahmad Tayeb, 30, who has lived in the Kurdish capital of Erbil for 10 years. “We can handle a blockade, but we’re afraid of sectarian wars.”

Children holding Kurdish flags run through the streets of Kirkuk on Monday.

A few feet away from Tayeb, a former Peshmerga fighter squeezed on a bench next to a group of friends says he looks forward to the day Kurds are physically separated from Arabs.
“I want to be split from the Arabs,” says Bewyar Abdullah, 28. “For that reason, I voted — to break away from them. All of our history with them is violent. We are not Arab and people have to understand that.”
Two Arab women sit within earshot as he speaks, but Abdullah says he doesn’t care if they overhear him.
Other Kurds say they voted “Yes” because they want to see a democratic state that will respect the rights of minorities, something KRG President Masoud Barzani has pledged in multiple interviews.
“There would be no difference between Arab, Turkmen, Kurd, Persian or anyone in this state,” Kafiah al-Raouf Sadi, a voter, told CNN at a polling station in Erbil on Monday.

‘A right to defend ourselves’

Despite the possibility of military confrontation with Baghdad and Ankara, Kurdish troops in Kirkuk say there is nothing to fear.
“We’ve been like a thirsty man desperate for water, that’s how we’ve longed for our own own state, for our country,” says the Peshmerga’s Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Youssef.

Peshmerga inside the sentry post on the outskirts of Kirkuk

And Maj. Majeed says that for now, at least, it’s business as usual at his garrison.
“We are helping the Iraqi army because we have one enemy, which is ISIS,” he says. “Our headquarters has told us that we are not fighting Iraq. We are extending our hand in peace.
“But if they attack us, we have a right to defend ourselves.”

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