Archivo para 29 noviembre 2012

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (Spain Watch): No photographs, “please”.

The protests and subsequent riots that took place in front of the Spanish Parliament on the 25th of September are still echoing.

The “Occupy Congress” protest came as the annual State Budget for 2013 was being debated in Parliament. After some scuffles, the riot police scattered the protesters and chased some of them into the nearby Atocha railway station, where they recklessly hit both protesters and commuters waiting for their trains at platforms and even fired rubber bullets at them.

But the police action was not only controversial on the grounds of the indiscriminate violence they displayed in a railway station, according to witnesses. Right after the incidents in front of Parliament, the images taken by some journalists and amateur photographers raised suspicions that plain-clothes police officers might have staged attacks on the riot police to spark the scuffles that led the police forces to split up the crowd (see links below).

The authorities were quick to react to those suspicions, as the day after a Government official suggested that, for security reasons, taking photographs at demonstrations should be banned. However, the response from journalists associations, civil-rights activists and the legal professions was so hard – this is not the first hint from the Spanish Government that some rights in connection with public protests might be restricted – that the Government seem to have discarded that idea. At least officially so.

However, some amateur photographers and professional journalists have recently received summons indicating that administrative proceedings had started which could lead to 300€ fines being imposed on them. The charges are obstructing the police action and refusing to provide their ID documents at the request of the riot police, whose action they were recording at Atocha railway station during the incidents.

“If I failed to identify myself, how is it that I have received a summons?” claims the journalist Alejandro López de Miguel, commenting on one of the videos below:

Actually, if you look at them you will hear the police officers’ voices insistently ordering the camera-holders to turn them off. As one of them politely asks a policeman to identify himself – “will you please give me your ID details?” – the officer threateningly retorts: “I’m going to give you something else…!” Notably, Spanish riot police don’t bear their ID plates in a visible place, as opposed to their colleagues in many other European countries.

On the other hand, trade union representatives have complained that the administrative-sanction proceedings initiated in connection with demonstrations over the last six months largely outnumber all those implemented since Franco’s death, back in 1975.

By the looks of it, the Spanish Government want to give foreign lenders and investors the message that our laws will give them a beneficial position (see and that their interests will be “fiercely” – a truer word was never said – protected.

Probably, international human rights organizations should consider closely monitoring further developments in Spain, before it is too late.

PD: I’m not a native English speaker. Comments on anything jarring in this or any of my articles in English will also be most welcome.

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (Spain Watch): More on a dwindling state of law

After its publication in the State’s Official Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado) on November the 21st, the new law on court fees – see – came into force yesterday. This means that, as from yesterday, anyone earning more than 1.100€ gross per month would become the subject of the new fee system if they were to take any dispute to court, which, of course many will have to think twice before doing. Indeed, according to the new system, if it is a small amount in dispute, the court fee will be roughly twice as much as the amount at stake, but what if the kind of money at stake is much higher, such as that usually involved in road accidents, medical malpractice cases, legacies, compulsory purchase or real state disputes? Then the court fee can soar to thousands of Euros. Needless to say, this development is very likely to put many people, already in a distressed situation, in even deeper trouble: imagine your only alternatives are seeking funding to institute legal proceedings to assert your rights, thus making your financial situation even more burdensome, or foregoing your claim, so being bound to negotiate with a much stronger opponent, namely a bank, a real estate agency or an insurance company. By the way, in some cases you may have to pay the court fee even as a defendant if you are sued. For instance, if it were challenging the foreclosure of a mortgage, even though you would be in the defending position, you would be subject to the applicable fee. It’s no great surprise this is the precise scenario where banks are always involved!

It should be kept in mind that this scheme has been put to work in a country which is being stricken by a financial crisis, where a worker’s average salary was about 25.000€ gross a year a few months ago – who knows how much it is now? -. Not to be forgotten either that there is an ever increasing number of families where one or both of its senior members are unemployed, which in its turn has led to a widespread housing crisis in Spain.

Last week, people as rarely prone to be rowdy as the Chairman of the General Council of the Legal Profession took to the streets, loudspeaker in hand, to cry out in protest over the impending approval of the new court fee system and today unprecedented protests from Judges and Public Prosecutors have taken place in front of the Ministry of Justice in Madrid and all Provincial Courts in Spain. Right after its approval, the main opposing party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or “PSOE” for short) has announced that they will lodge an appeal of unconstitutionality against the new law, which will never be decided by the Spanish Constitutional Court before many a large company has taken a great deal of advantage of it.

Now, to lighten a little bit the gloomy tone of this brief account, the anecdote: after rushing so much in order to have their bill approved in the shortest possible term, the Government has just found out that the new fee cannot be levied in the few coming weeks because the official payment forms are not available yet.

However, foreign investors can feel comfortable here, as they are well protected by our equitable laws. And so can Spanish citizens, as we are under a Government of true philosophers. No doubt they are prominent disciples of Voltaire’s character Dr. Pangloss, whose ever accompanying motto was: “We live in the best of all possible worlds. Collective wellbeing stems from individual misfortunes. Hence, the more individual misfortunes take place, the more collective wellbeing will be attained”.

Oh God, keep us safe from those who promote evil and seek to harm!



Es difícil transmitir algo de la filosofía cartesiana de una forma tan visual, intuitiva y directa como lo hace la obra teatral “Cyrano de Bergerac”. La historia del enamorado que conquista a su amada gracias a las cartas escritas por otro es una lección sobre el dualismo cuerpo – alma que resulta casi tan genial como el pensamiento que la inspira. Desde entonces, la expresión dramática de tal dualismo abunda en dos variantes: héroe que conquista el objeto anhelado valiéndose del producto de un espíritu ajeno, el antihéroe – caso de “Cyrano” o, sin ir más lejos, de “El ladrón de palabras” –, o bien antihéroe, generalmente inteligente y sensible, a quien su sentido de la responsabilidad le impone vivir bajo la indiferencia de la persona amada, a la sombra de las hazañas de un héroe que no es otro que él mismo en versión enmascarada– caso, por ejemplo, de Spiderman/Peter Parker -. Ambas situaciones son un excelente caldo de cultivo para la aventura o el drama o las dos cosas a la vez, porque no sólo se prestan al equívoco, no sólo cuestionan la autoría de los actos o de las palabras, sino que nos asoman al vértigo al plantearnos qué hay realmente detrás de quien ejecuta aquéllos o pronuncia aquéllas: ¿a quién ama de verdad Roxana? ¿Seguiría enamorada de la imagen que tiene de Christian si a ésta la despojáramos del ingenio de Cyrano? ¿Ella se hubiera enamorado de Cyrano sólo por su riqueza de espíritu, aun carente del porte de Christian? ¿Qué hay detrás de las palabras pronunciadas por quien parece capaz de abrir el corazón de los demás? ¿Quizás no haya más que la imagen mental que tenemos del otro y que hemos dado en llamar “persona”? ¿Y si ese “otro” es tan sólo una palabra más de esas que nos fascinan?

Como ya hemos apuntado, “El ladrón de palabras” pertenece al primer género de drama: héroe cuya apariencia, objeto de reconocimiento unánime, corre el riesgo de verse contrastada con la realidad; ¿qué quedará de él para los demás y para sí mismo si eso ocurre?

En el S. XVII Descartes trató de resolver su duda frente a la imagen del mundo que percibimos por los sentidos apelando a la bondad divina: si Dios es, por definición, la Suma Bondad, no cabe imaginar que Él nos haya dotado de unos sentidos que, de forma general y permanente, resulten engañosos. De esta manera, cuanto percibimos del mundo, en principio meras apariencias, quedaría convalidado sólo porque una consideración moral nos asegura que, con carácter general, es verdadero; es decir, la apariencia, aun aceptada, quedaría, por principio, subordinada a la verdad. Pero hoy en día, cuando ya hace tiempo que Nietzsche firmó el certificado de defunción de Dios, tal vez el lugar de la verdad y de la apariencia haya cambiado.

En efecto, al margen de la consistencia del concepto del “yo” o de la “persona, “El ladrón de palabras” plantea si el valor moral de mantener la coherencia con el engaño cometido puede ser superior en ocasiones al de respetar la verdad. En tal caso, ¿cuál sería el coste personal de semejante actitud? El conflicto consiguiente alberga unas posibilidades dramáticas inmensas, huelga decirlo, pero en esta cinta todas ellas naufragan desde el principio en lo empalagoso, como casi siempre que una película americana se empeña en apuntar demasiado hondo. Para mi gusto el único atractivo de la cinta, por el campo de fuerza dramático que envuelve al actor como un microclima, es la interpretación de Jeremy Irons. Los demás, simplemente están correctos y en particular Dennis Quaid – que nunca ha sido santo de mi devoción – no es capaz de sacar más partido de su rostro del que sacaría de una careta de Carnaval. No quiero ni imaginarme lo que habría sido esta historia en manos de algún director que yo me sé con actores de otros tiempos.

Billy Wilder, que estás en los cielos, santificadas sean tus películas, venga a nosotros tu reencarnación y la de unos cuantos actores de tu época y hágannos una nueva versión de “El ladrón de palabras” con tu sello de la casa. Amén.


TO WHOM THIS MAY CONCERN (Spain Watch) – The end of the due process of law in Spain –

Justice will no longer be free for the average Spanish citizen, but only for those clearly sitting below the threshold of poverty. Furthermore, not only won’t it be free, but it will also be unaffordable for most of those “affluent” families whose overall revenues are higher than 1.200 €/month, the top amount to be entitled to litigate for free.

Or at least that’s what the Spanish Government had in mind when drafting the bill aimed at setting up a brand-new court’s fee system [hereby a link to the bill, as published in the Official Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado):].

The bill has just passed the so called “Higher Chamber” of Parliament (Congreso) and is only pending endorsement by the “Lower Chamber” (Senado), a pure formality bound to take place on November 14th, since the Government party (Partido Popular or “PP” for short) has an overwhelming majority in each of said chambers. Moreover, in order to speed up the enactment of the projected law, not least so as to avoid media exposure as much as possible, the Government have decided to go for the “fast lane” and use the abbreviated procedure, getting their bill passed by the Higher Chamber through a small commission specifically appointed thereby to decide on most legislative matters. It is worth noting that all non – PP Members of Parliament (Diputados) appointed to such commission have left it to protest against the impending reform, with such protest being supported by Bar Associations, Judges, Public Prosecutors and University professors through a number of demonstrations held in front of many courthouses across the country during the last days.

As per the system currently in place, only legal persons – basically corporations – have to pay a fee if they are to introduce a claim or to lodge an appeal before court, but the reform to be brought about by the Government means that: (a) everybody, including natural persons – except for those entitled to free justice -, will have to pay a fee if they are to assert their rights before court; (b) that the fees will be the same, irrespective of the claimant’s income; (c) that the fees will be high enough to deter ordinary people from going to court, or even to make it absolutely unaffordable for them; and (d) that, in contrast to the foregoing, that is not likely to be the case for corporations, thus becoming the only beneficiaries of the purported legal reform.

The new court fee, to be levied all over the country on top of other fees that regional authorities might impose in their local jurisdictions, consists of a fixed amount plus an additional sum to be determined as a percentage of the amount involved in the lawsuit. In the case of ordinary lawsuits, such as a consumer filing a small claim against a company for a faulty product, the court fee floor will be 200€; if it is challenging a fine before court, in most of the cases the fee will be not less than 400€. In both situations, the amount of the concerned fees is likely to be as much as the money involved in the potential claims. It follows easily that the new system will be the end of consumers’ or citizens´ court protection in most of their day to day conflicts. But when it comes to labour law it’s even worse: challenging an unfair dismissal in the first instance is not subject to fees, but if the ex-employee is to lodge an appeal against the first instance court decision, the fee to be paid will be 500€ plus 0,5% of the amount claimed as a legal compensation for the unfair dismissal, which, in practice, means that right to appeal will be money-barred for most redundant workers, whose number is ever-increasing in Spain. Mind you, the said fees are, obviously, additional to the solicitor’s, counsel’s and expert’s fees

To give a final flavour of how outrageous this impending legal reform is, I will refer to the real case of a driver left paralyzed as a result of a road accident. The amount sought as a compensation for the injuries sustained and their severe after-effects, including the need for permanent assistance forever, adds up to 1.300.000€. Well, according to the court fee system to come into place very shortly, the overall amount of the fees to be paid by this gentleman if he has to go to court up to the Supreme Court – which is not unlikely given the amounts at stake – will be 19.550€. This is the same amount a millionaire or a multinational would pay as court fees in a case where the same kind of money was involved. But here and now there is a real person behind these figures, and it is someone who is not entitled to free justice, as his family earned 1.600€/month overall, and who is very close to financial collapse because the cost of the permanent help he needs is ten times as much as the illness allowance he is receiving from the national health insurance system (Seguridad Social). The only alternatives for him are organizing a charity collection or accepting whatever the insurance company will condescend to offer to him. No doubt the new law will be a bargain for banks, insurance companies, service providers and all sorts of powerful entities. This case is real, it is being handled by the lawyer José Miguel Caride Domínguez, anyone can check on this information [hereby a link to the Ourense’s Bar Association web site:  showing the name and details of the said lawyer].

The above goes to show that the purported new court fee system is tantamount to the end of the due process of law in Spain. To put it bluntly: anything slightly resembling effective court protection is being taken away from ordinary people in this country. The contemplated bill is clearly unconstitutional, but it will take years before our Constitutional Tribunal decide on the case, and in the meantime large corporations will have made their pile, even more so than they’re doing right now, at the expense of the average citizen.

Dramatic as the foregoing may be, it is not but another milestone of Spain’s current trend towards the systematic destruction of what has been considered as basic citizen’s rights so far. By the looks of it, we’re relentlessly drifting towards some form of “soft dictatorship”.

Spain is a stunning country. The meeting point of many influential cultures throughout History, it is a lively, extremely complex country with unparalleled contrasts and an overwhelming cultural legacy. As a result of the recession, our country is currently feeding other better-doing economies with well trained, talented professionals. There is much more to Spain than just good food and nice beaches. I’m afraid there’s not much you, people from overseas countries who may be reading this, can do for us, but at least I want you to be aware of what’s going on in Spain. I hope I will get back to you with more details on all of this.

Una frase:

"El tiempo es lo que impide que todo suceda de golpe."


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